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    Zverev Defeats Djokovic and Will Play Medvedev in ATP Finals

    The world No. 1 is increasingly under threat on hardcourts from younger, taller players — like the two men who will play in the finals on Sunday.TURIN, Italy — There will be no record-tying sixth victory in the ATP Finals for Novak Djokovic.Alexander Zverev made sure of that. So did the top-ranked Djokovic’s uncharacteristically shaky play early in the third set, which gave the long-limbed, big-serving Zverev all the elbow room he required to close out his 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3 victory in the semifinals on Saturday night.There was also no clarity on whether Djokovic will try to win a record-extending 10th singles title at the 2022 Australian Open, the first Grand Slam tournament where players will be required to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Djokovic, who has declined to divulge his vaccination status, had said that he would make his decision about traveling to Australia once the tournament announced its policy. It became official on Saturday, but he chose to remain noncommittal about the event, which begins on Jan. 17.“Now that I know, we’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.Djokovic has had a remarkably successful season, winning three major singles titles and coming within one match of completing the Grand Slam at the U.S. Open. At age 34, once considered an advanced tennis age, he will finish the year at No. 1 for a record seventh time.But he is also increasingly under threat on hardcourts, be they outdoors or indoors, from the younger and taller set. Zverev and Daniil Medvedev have taken turns thwarting Djokovic’s big plans and tennis dreams in the past four months. It is hardly a great surprise that the second-ranked Medvedev and the third-ranked Zverev will meet in the final on Sunday.“We’re not that young anymore, 25 and 24, so not that young,” said Zverev, who turned 24 in April. “And we’re starting to break through. He’s a Grand Slam champion, and I’m an Olympic gold medalist, and maybe we both put that on the line tomorrow.”Alexander Zverev last won the ATP Tour Finals in 2018.Alessandro Di Marco/EPA, via ShutterstockBoth achievements came at Djokovic’s expense. Djokovic has never won an Olympic gold medal, and he was on the brink when he faced Zverev in the semifinals of the Tokyo Games in July. He won the first set 6-1 and went up an early service break in the third. But Djokovic’s level dropped significantly from there.“It was almost as if he wanted it too much,” Roger Federer, one of Djokovic’s career-long rivals, said in an interview with Sky Italia on Saturday.Zverev rallied to win the gold medal, the most significant victory of his career.Djokovic, deflated, did not play again until the U.S. Open, where he won his first six matches, including a five-set thriller against Zverev in the semifinals, to give himself the chance to play for the Grand Slam against Medvedev.But instead of Djokovic breaking his tie with Federer and Rafael Nadal by winning a 21st Grand Slam singles title, Medvedev became a first-time Grand Slam champion.Djokovic thinks Zverev, who has yet to beat Djokovic in a best-of-five-set match, is close to joining the club. It was hard to dismiss the notion after watching Zverev rip serves in the clutch and often get the better of Djokovic in grueling, high-velocity baseline rallies.“He’s a great guy, fantastic tennis player, I’m sure soon to be a Grand Slam champion,” Djokovic said late Saturday night after embracing Zverev at the net.It was easy to forget amid the bonhomie that Zverev remains under investigation by the men’s tour because of allegations of physical abuse from a former girlfriend Olya Sharypova. She has filed no formal charges but has given a detailed account of the accusations in media interviews. Zverev, who has denied abusing Sharypova, has welcomed the investigation as a chance to clear his name. He has managed to thrive on court despite the controversy.But the Olympic gold medal has boosted Zverev’s confidence. It is a happy memory he taps into by frequently wearing his German Olympic team warm-up suit before matches.Both he and Medvedev won the ATP Finals when this elite, itinerant eight-man event was held at the O2 Arena in London: Zverev in 2018 and Medvedev in 2020. Now, they will face each other in Turin, where the tournament has moved for a five-year run with a similar deep-blue color scheme and a rather quicker court.Both are 6-foot-6 with big wingspans and excellent mobility, which can make them exceedingly difficult to break down. But Medvedev has had the clear edge, winning their last five matches over the past two seasons, including their round-robin match this week by the narrowest of margins, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (6).Daniil Medvedev defeated Casper Ruud to earn a berth in the ATP Tour Finals.Marco Bertorello/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe speed of the court does not make Medvedev’s huge and elastic serve any easier to handle. But the conditions may help Zverev’s bigger serve even more. Djokovic, the game’s supreme returner, could break him just once on Saturday and even when Djokovic guessed correctly on the location of Zverev’s serves, he was often unable to reach them.Djokovic also served brilliantly through much of the match, using his precision to hit 15 aces to Zverev’s 14. But at 1-2 in the third set, he played his worst service game, opening with a smooth forehand winner, then making three consecutive forehand unforced errors and eventually losing the edgy game by dumping a backhand into the net.“Just wasted really the match in that game,” Djokovic said. “Four unforced errors. In the conditions like this where you have one of the biggest servers in the game, it’s just difficult to come back from that.”The result deepened Djokovic’s drought at the ATP Finals, which he last won in 2015. Though Djokovic has broken or matched some of Federer’s most significant records, including total weeks at No. 1, Federer still holds the record for most victories at the ATP Finals with six.While Federer, now 40, is sidelined indefinitely because of major knee surgery, Djokovic plays on, although perhaps not in Australia in 2022. He has made it clear that he does not believe vaccination for Covid should be required, and yet the state government of Victoria in Australia has made it mandatory for the Australian Open.Zverev went out of his way on Saturday to compliment and support Djokovic: “He’s the greatest player of all time, and people forget that sometimes,” Zverev said in his post-match interview. “I think everybody should appreciate that.”He said he hoped Djokovic would be able to play in Melbourne but acknowledged the obstacles.“Look, this is a very tough one, because it’s very political,” Zverev said. “This is about the virus that is going on, right? This is not about a tournament or tennis. We are visiting a different country. At the end of the day, the country is allowing us to enter. We need to follow the rules and follow the guidelines.”Tournament officials have given no indication that any exceptions will be made to the policy, and the Australian Open could be the first of numerous tour events to require vaccination next season.“At the end of the day, I’m No. 3 in the world, so if he doesn’t play, it’s easier to win the tournament,” Zverev said.But even though Djokovic did play in Turin, he is no longer in the running. The trophy will go to one of the two other, younger men who have shined most brightly on court in 2021. More

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    Australian Open to Require Players to Be Fully Vaccinated

    The Australian Open in January will become the first Grand Slam tennis tournament to require that players be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, a decision that casts doubt on the participation of Novak Djokovic of Serbia, the No. 1-ranked men’s player who has declined to divulge his vaccination status.Craig Tiley, the Australian Open tournament director, confirmed the tournament’s policy on Saturday in Melbourne, Australia, in a television interview.The announcement ended months of speculation and mixed messages from Australian government officials. Federal authorities had indicated that unvaccinated players might be able to enter Australia and compete in the tournament in Melbourne after a 14-day quarantine period. But Daniel Andrews, the premier of the state of Victoria, has been adamant that players will need to be fully vaccinated, just as Australian Open spectators and on-site employees will be required to be vaccinated.Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, has experienced some of the strictest coronavirus measures in the world, with six separate stay-at-home orders over an 18-month period.“It is the one direction that you can take that you can ensure everyone’s safety, and all the playing group understands it,” Tiley said of requiring players to be vaccinated. “Our patrons will need to be vaccinated. All the staff working the Australian Open will need to be vaccinated, but when we’re in a state where there’s more than 90 percent of the population fully vaccinated — they’ve done a magnificent job with that — it’s the right thing to do.”Steve Simon, the chairman and chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association, said in an interview this week that “over 70 percent” of the WTA’s top 300 singles players and top 100 doubles players had been vaccinated and that all the singles and doubles players who competed in the recent WTA finals in Mexico had been vaccinated. Andrea Gaudenzi, chairman of the men’s tour, said on Friday in an interview that the vaccination rate for the top 100 men’s singles players was “above 80 percent.”“We are moving toward 90 percent, 95 percent of fully vaccinated,” Gaudenzi said. “A lot will do it in the off-season with one shot.”But it seems all but certain that some qualified players will not make the journey to Australia because of the policy.“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Gaudenzi said of mandatory vaccination, speaking shortly before the tournament’s announcement. “I really hope in the future, in America and after that, there’s going to be a change: at the minimum, providing exceptions even with a hard quarantine of seven or 14 days, but allowing entry.”All four Grand Slam tournaments, including the U.S. Open, allowed unvaccinated players to participate this year, as have regular tour events, including the ATP Finals currently underway in Turin, Italy.Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open singles champion, has yet to confirm whether he will defend his title next year. He and his wife, Jelena, contracted the coronavirus in June 2020 during an exhibition tour he had helped to organize in Serbia and Croatia. He has expressed concern about vaccines.“How are we expecting that to solve our problem when this coronavirus is mutating regularly from what I understand?” he told The New York Times last year.He has said, repeatedly, that he would wait for the Australian Open’s policy to be made clear before making a decision on participating.That moment has come with Djokovic set to play the No. 3-ranked Alexander Zverev of Germany in the semifinals of the Turin tournament on Saturday.“He has always said the Australian Open is the event that puts the wind in his sails,” Tiley said of Djokovic. “So I hope we get to see Novak.” More

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    It’s Been a Long Season on the ATP Tour

    With injuries and fatigue, it has taken its toll on the players, who say they will work through the challenges during these finals.Winning on the ATP Tour means surviving perpetual battles of endurance inside a war of attrition. Relentless baseline rallies lead to longer, more draining matches in a season that runs nearly year-round.There was additional concern that after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, this year’s schedule might take an even greater toll as players get back into shape.“Our season is too long given the physicality of today’s tennis,” the third-ranked Alexander Zverev said in late October. “We don’t really have time to let our injuries heal.”Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem were sidelined by injuries this year, and at the Paris Masters last week, the fourth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas retired with a nagging arm injury. Tsitsipas said he dropped out to preserve his shot at an even bigger prize, the year-end Nitto ATP Finals.The finals, which moves this year to Turin, Italy, from London, is what the game’s elite have been grinding to reach. The tournament has the game’s top eight players split into two groups of four that confront each other in a round-robin format before two from each half advance to the semifinals.Stefanos Tsitsipas retired from his Paris Masters match with an arm injury.Christophe Archambault/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesBrad Gilbert, an ESPN analyst, said the move to Turin should not impact the style of play because, like London’s O2 Arena where the event was played last year, it is indoors with a hard court made by GreenSet, which has produced relatively slow, low-bouncing surfaces.“So we could have more long rallies,” he said. He said that the week off between the Paris Masters and the ATP Finals should benefit the players if there were long points. (This final does not even end the season, with the Davis Cup Finals coming a few days later.)Paul Annacone, who coached Pete Sampras and Federer and is a Tennis Channel analyst, said the players who made it to the ATP Finals feel a sense of accomplishment. “They understand the magnitude of this event, featuring the best of best, so they’ll do whatever they can to win.”The players said that they would indeed play through their fatigue after a grueling season. Zverev, Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev also said they would not change tactics with bigger serves or ground strokes, more drop shots or a race to get to the net — just for the sake of ending points quickly.“I’ll play the way I play,” Zverev said, who at the United States Open semifinal against Novak Djokovic won a 53-shot rally in a game where the other five points averaged nearly 20 shots each.Novak Djokovic is ranked No. 1 and will be favored to win the ATP Finals.Sarah Stier/Getty ImagesTsitsipas said his game had not changed just because of the time of year, so the players strategies would not budge much either. “If there’s some sort of difference it will be very small.”Rublev said that Tsitsipas, who had the ability to charge the net and the finesse to win on drop shots, was perhaps best suited to change his game if the match demanded it, whereas he was set in his ways. “I’m an aggressive player, and I like to be the one to lead the rally, to dictate the point,” Rublev said. “This is the goal for all the matches.”The home crowd should give an advantage to Matteo Berrettini, ranked No. 7 in the world, the only Italian in the final.“Berrettini has a huge serve and a huge forehand, so he can keep points short,” Annacone said. “And this is a new event for Italy, featuring one of their top young superstars, so I expect the crowd to sound like a concert of Italian fanatics. Berrettini could be right there with the top players.”Annacone said Daniil Medvedev and Zverev had a strong shot at winning because they had proved their stamina, playing excellent tennis since the summer, adding that they had big serves and first strikes so they could shorten points without changing tactics.And Zverev proved his staying power in those long U.S. Open rallies, while Medvedev thrived on counterpunching and could wear tired opponents down, Annacone said. By contrast, Tsitsipas and Rublev have faltered in the second half of the season, making them less likely to survive this gantlet.Still, Djokovic, the world No. 1, remains the favorite. While second-ranked Medvedev beat him in the finals of the U.S. Open on a hard court, and indoors in last year’s ATP Finals, Djokovic has not lost an ATP match in the last two years to any of the other competitors. (Zverev beat him in the Olympics.)Djokovic also took time off after the U.S. Open, meaning he may be fresher than his rivals, which Annacone said could prove crucial.“It will come down to who is freshest and healthiest,” he said, “and can find their form that week.” More

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    Alexander Zverev Under ATP Investigation Into Domestic Abuse Allegations

    The German tennis star has denied he abused Olya Sharypova during a series of physical altercations she says took place in 2019.After months of delay and complaints from players and tennis officials, the men’s professional tennis tour announced Monday that it would investigate Alexander Zverev after accusations of domestic abuse made by a former girlfriend.Zverev, 24, a rising star from Germany ranked fourth in the world in men’s singles, has strongly denied accusations that he was violent with Olya Sharypova during a series of physical altercations, and did so again in a statement on Monday. Sharypova, a Russian national, has not filed any criminal charges over the incidents, which, she said, took place in 2019. The two began dating when they were teenagers, but the relationship ended more than a year ago.Ahead of the U.S. Open, Zverev sought an injunction in court in Germany to prevent further reporting on the allegations by Slate, which had published a lengthy article on them by Ben Rothenberg, a freelance tennis writer who sometimes writes for The New York Times. The court granted the injunction, and Zverev pointed to it as a confirmation of his innocence.While the court stopped short of that, it agreed with his argument that the evidence presented in the article was not sufficient under German law to justify the impact on him. The decision stated that such an article needed to have enough balance so that it did not leave the impression that Zverev was guilty of the acts Sharypova accused him of committing. Slate has continued to stand by the reporting in the story and has not removed it from its site.Multiple players have said the ATP needs to address the Zverev situation directly and change its policies about domestic violence allegations.In his statement on Monday, Zverev said: “I have always been in full support of the creation of an ATP domestic violence policy. Moreover, I welcome the ATP investigation in the matter and have been asking the ATP to initiate an independent investigation for months.”Andy Murray, a former world No. 1, has complained several times this year about how he felt the ATP was dragging its feet on the issue, long after several North American sports leagues changed their policies to allow players who are the subject of domestic violence allegations to be suspended.“Obviously it was something that needed to change in terms of how some of the situations have been handled, I think, this year,” Murray said after the ATP said it would consider changing its policy. “I just didn’t really feel like the sport had much of a sort of stance on it, really.”On Monday, the ATP said it fully condemned any form of violence or abuse and would investigate such allegations related to conduct at an ATP member tournament.Massimo Calvelli, chief executive of the ATP, called the allegations against Zverev “serious.”“We have a responsibility to address them,” Calvelli said in a statement. “We hope our investigation will allow us to establish the facts and determine appropriate follow-up action.”The ATP announced in August that an independent panel would review and make recommendations for changes to its policies regarding player conduct, including those players who are the subject of abuse allegations.Zverev has suggested he will cooperate with an investigation, but it is not clear what form that cooperation will take. The ATP has until now not had any clear rules for investigating and taking action against players who are the subject of domestic abuse allegations before the matters are adjudicated in a court of law.Sharypova has said she has no intentions of filing charges or a suit against Zverev for the altercations, which allegedly took place in the United States, China and Switzerland while Zverev was competing.Zverev is scheduled to play at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., this week and is planning to play at the ATP Tour Finals in Italy next month.Since the allegations, Zverev has parted ways with his agents at Team8, the agency founded by Roger Federer and his agent Tony Godsick, though he did participate last month in Federer’s tournament, the Laver Cup. Zverev’s main sponsors include Adidas and Rolex, which so far have stuck by him despite the allegations. More

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    Laver Cup: Team Europe Wins Fourth Straight Title

    After Europe’s fourth straight win, an organizer promised Team World would win “at some point.” He didn’t say when.BOSTON — After three down-to-the-wire editions, the Laver Cup finally came up short of drama.It happens, and considering European players’ long-running dominance of men’s tennis, it is frankly more surprising that the first three Laver Cups were suspense magnets than that this year’s edition was a disappointing blowout.Even without the stars who make up the Big Three in men’s tennis — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic — Team Europe had nothing but top 10 players in its six-man squad in Boston. Its opponent, Team World, did not have any, and it showed in the final score, 14-1, which was by far the most lopsided in the event’s brief history.Despite all the careful planning and big investment in this team competition, the bottom line is that Team Europe and Bjorn Borg, its captain, have won every Laver Cup. They have an excellent chance of remaining undefeated in London next year and beyond considering the youth and talent of rising stars like the 2021 U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev, his Russian countryman Andrey Rublev, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and Alexander Zverev of Germany.That competitive imbalance is potentially a big problem for the Laver Cup, the international team event created by Federer and his management company Team8 in 2017.“I think a Team World win would be good for everyone,” said John McEnroe, Team World’s captain. “I think the event needs it. I was wondering why Russia was part of Europe. I don’t think it is, but that’s just me.”One cannot blame McEnroe for thinking creatively, even desperately, at this stage. Unfortunately for McEnroe, much of Russia is indeed in continental Europe, and the country traditionally takes part in European sporting competitions. Even if eastern Russia is in Asia, Medvedev and the Russians will remain part of Team Europe, according to Tony Godsick, the Laver Cup’s chief executive.“We won’t make the change,” Godsick said Sunday night. “We’re not going to adjust this thing. It will be cyclical. I promise you, the world team will win at some point.”The Laver Cup, with its three-day format and blue and red color scheme for team uniforms, was modeled after golf’s venerable and successful Ryder Cup, and certainly took the modeling too far this time by being played in the same country on the same weekend.That was not to the upstart tennis competition’s benefit, even though the crowds and the atmosphere were terrific in Boston. A search of “Cup” on Google news on Sunday night produced a top-10 that was all Ryder Cup results from Whistling Straits.Godsick said the scheduling overlap was not intentional. Both events were postponed in 2020, and he said that the Laver Cup has a designated week on the tennis schedule that could not be changed.The Ryder Cup, which was first contested in 1927 in Worcester, Mass., had to evolve to become a major event and commercial juggernaut. Originally a competition between the United States and Britain, it only became a runaway success after players from other European nations joined the British team in 1979.But if the Russians are remaining part of Team Europe in the Laver Cup, not much other tinkering can be done in the geography department. Team World already is open to every non-European nation and had players this year from Argentina (Diego Schwartzman), Australia (Nick Kyrgios), Canada (Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime) and the United States (Reilly Opelka and John Isner).For now, McEnroe is 0-4 as its captain, and his Laver Cup rivalry with his old friend Borg has not been nearly as balanced as their rivalry when they were playing classic Grand Slam finals in the 1980s.“I normally do like you,” the gray-haired McEnroe said to the gray-haired Borg on Sunday at the awards ceremony in the TD Garden. “I hate your guts right now.”McEnroe was only half kidding. Arms folded in his courtside chair, he looked like a man experiencing indigestion for much of this long weekend.Technically, the Laver Cup is an exhibition. It offers no ranking points even though it is a sanctioned ATP Tour event.But the captains and the players have never treated it as an exhibition, and Team World’s failure to compete in Boston was certainly not linked to a failure to care. Their expressions were often anguished and their body language often tense as they lost critical point after critical point, usually in the match tiebreakers that substitute for third sets.“It’s not an exhibition,” Opelka said. “If this was an exhibition, it would not have been 14-1. I can guarantee you that.”Opelka, a towering and bearded player at 6-foot-11 who lost both his matches in his Laver Cup debut, confessed that he had been skeptical until he experienced the event himself this year.“It looked too good to be true,” he said of the close finishes in 2017, 2018 and 2019. “And then I got here, and the way Johnny Mac started speaking about it changed everything. He’s a true legend. That was priceless being able to spend time with him.”The Laver Cup’s capacity to bring together tennis’s past and present stars for meaningful exchanges is one of its strengths. So is its format, in which victories are worth one point on the first day, two points on the second and three points on the third. That was intended to prevent a meaningless final day. But while four matches were scheduled on Sunday, Europe clinched victory after only one, with Zverev and Rublev defeating Opelka and Shapovalov, 6-2, 6-7 (4), 10-3. It was yet another close match that went Europe’s way. It was also a potentially edgy one.After Zverev lost in doubles on Friday night with Matteo Berrettini, McEnroe said that Zverev told him that would be the last match Team World was going to win. McEnroe later acknowledged that Zverev was teasing, but McEnroe said he was eager for “bulletin-board material.”After McEnroe informed his team of the comment on Friday, the response was predictably bellicose and Opelka responded with: “He also said he’s innocent.” That was an apparent reference to published allegations of domestic violence from Zverev’s former girlfriend, Olya Sharypova.Alexander Zverev was on court for the decisive point in the Laver Cup for the third straight iteration of the competition. Adam Glanzman/Getty Images For Laver CupSharypova has not filed criminal charges against Zverev over the incidents, which she told the publication Slate occurred in 2019. Zverev has repeatedly denied abusing Sharypova and has continued to play on the ATP Tour, winning the Olympic gold medal in singles in Tokyo and reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Open earlier this month before competing in the Laver Cup.On Sunday night, Laver Cup organizers announced before Team World’s final news conference that the team would field only “tennis-related questions.” In a separate interview, Opelka later declined to speak about Zverev.The ATP Tour announced earlier this year that it would review its approach to handling players who are accused of domestic abuse or sexual misconduct. It currently has no formal policy.Zverev turned out to be correct, though, that the Friday’s doubles win would be Team World’s last victory in Boston. His victory on Sunday with the hard-hitting Rublev marked the third straight time that Zverev has won the decisive point in the Laver Cup.He looked very much like Team Europe’s new leader in Boston on the court and in the post-match interviews. Though Federer made the trip to Boston, he did so only as a spectator and cheerleader, navigating the TD Garden on crutches after knee surgery in August.At age 40, it is unclear when or if he will return to the tour, but what is clear is that this European team was still unstoppable without him or the other members of the Big Three: Nadal and Djokovic.Carrying the Laver Cup forward without that superstar power will be a much bigger challenge.“I’m definitely not worried about the event’s future,” Godsick said. “Tennis always produces new superstars. It always has, and it always will. There are new people holding up Grand Slam trophies. You see it coming now. If anything, I think we were lucky to be able to launch it in the era of such incredible tennis players.” More

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    Novak Djokovic Reaches U.S. Open Final, One Victory From a Grand Slam

    Djokovic beat Alexander Zverev, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, and has a chance to become the first man since 1969 to win a calendar-year Grand Slam. He will play Daniil Medvedev in the final on Sunday.Twenty-seven down, one to go.With a five-set win over Alexander Zverev of Germany on Friday night, Novak Djokovic moved to within a single match victory of pulling off the most hallowed achievement in tennis.After winning the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon this year and knocking out his first challengers at the U.S. Open, Djokovic now has to defeat only Daniil Medvedev of Russia in Sunday’s final to become the first man to win the Grand Slam in a calendar year in 52 years.And he got there in style, coming from behind early on, then surviving an onslaught from an opponent who seemed for a time that he might just have Djokovic’s number. Zverev came close, forcing Djokovic to go the distance in a grueling 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 win, but the razor-thin margin only made Djokovic’s number at the Grand Slams in 2021 seem more mysterious.Djokovic needed 3 hours and 35 minutes to defeat Zverev.Ben Solomon for The New York TimesThe win on Friday night set the stage for one of the most remarkable weekends in tennis. On Saturday, the teenage sensations Emma Raducanu of Britain and Leylah Fernandez of Canada, who have captivated their countries and the crowds at the U.S. Open, will compete for the women’s title in the unlikeliest of finals.Raducanu, 18 and ranked 150th in the world, was barely known two weeks ago and now is the first player to reach a Grand Slam final after making it into the main draw through the qualifying tournament. Fernandez, who turned 19 this week and is ranked 73rd, was until a few days ago known as little more than a scrappy, undersized battler whose future was anyone’s guess.On Sunday, Djokovic will take on Medvedev and play for history. He is tied with his biggest rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, in the race for the most career Grand Slam titles with 20, a competition that Djokovic is determined to win so he can cement his legacy as the greatest player ever. But that race may take a few more years to reach its conclusion. At this point, though, it is nearly impossible to believe that Federer and Nadal, who are battling age and injury, can win a calendar-year Grand Slam. It is the thing that would make Djokovic the biggest of the Big Three forever.“The job is not done,” Djokovic said just past midnight Saturday morning. “The excitement is there. The motivation is there, without a doubt. Probably more than ever. But I have one more to go.”Djokovic went into Friday night’s battle with the fourth-seeded Zverev after playing what he said were the three best sets of the tournament in a quarterfinal defeat of Matteo Berrettini: a four-set, come-from-behind win over a younger, bigger and more powerful opponent.Alexander Zverev won the first and fourth sets.Michelle V. Agins/The New York TimesDjokovic, 34, was going to need a repeat performance against Zverev, a so-called next generation star who has figured out in the last year how to keep his cool in the biggest moments. In the U.S. Open final last year, Zverev blew a two-set lead, and even served for the championship, only to lose to Dominic Thiem in a tiebreaker at the end of a fifth set that descended into a parade of slices, errors and double faults.That version of Zverev has disappeared in recent months, especially against Djokovic. At the Tokyo Olympics, Zverev roared back from a set and a service break down to overwhelm Djokovic in a semifinal.When the draw for the U.S. Open came out two weeks ago, a rematch with Zverev in the semifinal round loomed as one of the biggest potential obstacles for Djokovic in his hunt for his sport’s holy grail. Zverev, 24, stands 6 feet 6 inches tall, floats around the tennis court with the grace of an N.B.A. shooting guard, and can unleash 130 m.p.h serves and rocketing forehands at will when he is playing well.For the first time since the tournament began, though, the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium was firmly in Djokovic’s corner. He has long been far more respected than loved, but a former girlfriend has accused Zverev of abusing her repeatedly in 2019. No charges have been filed and Zverev has denied the allegations, but the off-the-court situation disqualified him from being embraced as an endearing underdog.Chants of “Nole” — Djokovic’s favored nickname — began early in the night and spurred him as he mounted his latest comeback.Fans reacting during the third set.Ben Solomon for The New York TimesThe match started as so many others have for Djokovic — with an early hiccup that made the mountain he would have to climb that much steeper.This slip occurred as Djokovic served with the score tied at four games each, a moment fraught with danger against someone with a serve as powerful as Zverev’s.Zverev played his most aggressive game of the young night, whipping forehands that forced Djokovic to stretch on his backhand. Zverev inched ahead, and then Djokovic double-faulted to give the big German a chance to serve out the set. He did not waste it. Zverev won the opening set, just as Djokovic’s previous three opponents had.But Djokovic is as good at flipping the script as anyone who has ever picked up a racket.Berrettini has said Djokovic somehow gains energy from losing a set, rather than becoming demoralized. Just as he had in his last three matches, Djokovic raised the level of his game and surged to a second-set lead as Zverev began swatting untimely second serves into the net and getting lulled into the kinds of long rallies that are Djokovic’s strength. An hour-and-a-quarter after they began, Djokovic and Zverev were back where they started, all tied up.The turning point of the match came nearly an hour later. With Zverev serving to stay in the set, Djokovic put on a display of tennis genius and played a game that may be the one historians point to as the moment the finish line of the Grand Slam finally came into sight.No one in Arthur Ashe Stadium knew better than Zverev that rallying with Djokovic would result in a slow and painful death. And yet, somehow, Djokovic managed to play a kind of tennis Tai chi, sustaining rallies of 18, 32 and 12 shots to get to triple set point. Zverev survived rallies of 21 shots and an absurd 53 to save the first two.If he defeats Daniil Medvedev on Sunday, Djokovic can also become the career leader for singles wins by a man in the Slams, with 21.Ben Solomon for The New York TimesThen, on the 15th shot of the sixth point of the game, he could do no better than float a desperate lob to Djokovic, who was waiting at the net to swat it down to take the lead for the first time all night.Zverev would not go quietly, though. He took a page out of the Djokovic playbook and somehow seemed to draw energy from falling behind. With Djokovic serving at 1-1, Zverev battled to turn the third game into a mini-marathon, digging in and clinching it with a slick forehand passing shot that Djokovic could not come close to touching. With Zverev’s serve cranking up beyond the 130 m.p.h mark, Djokovic could not find the opening to get even. Djokovic’s chance at history was down to a single set.Djokovic’s run to the precipice of the Grand Slam has had its share of five-set escapes. There was an early-round escape in Australia in February, when he overcame a torn abdominal muscle and the American Taylor Fritz. In Paris, he came back from two sets down to Lorenzo Musetti midway through the tournament and against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.Now came the chance for one more, and he did not waste any time jumping on it. Holding a 1-0 lead, Djokovic — and likely everyone else in the stadium — could sense Zverev growing shaky, the old Zverev returning. A double-fault gave Djokovic a sniff at a break at 15-30. A backhand error gave Djokovic the break point. Then one more rally went the wrong way for Zverev, and the set became a seemingly inevitable series of Zverev misses, including one leaping overhead smashed wildly out of bounds.One last backhand error for one last service break and after 3 hours and 35 minutes, Zverev was finally done.A match that could have gone either way, Zverev called it. “It went his way,” he said. “Very often it does.”And now the Grand Slam math becomes very, very simple: The only numbers that mattered were these — 27 matches down, one to go.Ben Solomon for The New York Times More

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    Novak Djokovic Beat Alexander Zverev, Will Play for Grand Slam at U.S. Open

    Djokovic beat Alexander Zverev, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, and has a chance to become the first man since 1969 to win a calendar-year Grand Slam. He will play Daniil Medvedev in the final on Sunday.Twenty-seven down, one to go.With a five-set win over Alexander Zverev of Germany on Friday night, Novak Djokovic moved to within a single match victory of pulling off the most hallowed achievement in tennis.After winning the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon this year and knocking out his first challengers at the U.S. Open, Djokovic now has to defeat only Daniil Medvedev of Russia in Sunday’s final to become the first man to win the Grand Slam in a calendar year since Rod Laver did it in 1969.And he got there in style, coming from behind early on, then surviving an onslaught from an opponent who seemed for a time that he might just have Djokovic’s number. Zverev came close, forcing Djokovic to go the distance in a grueling 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 win, but the razor-thin margin only made Djokovic’s number at the Grand Slams in 2021 seem even more mysterious.The win on Friday night set the stage for one of the most remarkable weekends in tennis. On Saturday, the teenage sensations Emma Raducanu of Britain and Leylah Fernandez of Canada, who have captivated their countries and the crowds at the U.S. Open, will compete for the women’s title in the unlikeliest of finals.Raducanu, 18 and ranked 150th in the world, was barely known two weeks ago and now is the first player to reach a Grand Slam final after making it into the main draw through the qualifying tournament. Fernandez, who turned 19 this week and is ranked 73rd, was until a few days ago known as little more than a scrappy, undersized battler whose future was anyone’s guess.On Sunday, Djokovic will take on Medvedev and play for history. He is tied with his biggest rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, in the race for the most career Grand Slam titles with 20, a competition that Djokovic is determined to win so he can cement his legacy as the greatest player ever. But that race may take a few more years to reach its conclusion. At this point, though, it is nearly impossible to believe that Federer and Nadal, who are battling age and injury, can win a calendar-year Grand Slam. It is the thing that would make Djokovic the biggest of the Big Three forever.Djokovic went into Friday night’s battle with the fourth-seeded Zverev after playing what he said were the three best sets of the tournament in a quarterfinal defeat of Matteo Berrettini: a four-set, come-from-behind win over a younger, bigger and more powerful opponent.Alexander Zverev won the opening set.Michelle V. Agins/The New York TimesDjokovic, 34, was going to need a repeat performance against Zverev, a so-called next generation star who has figured out in the last year how to keep his cool in the biggest moments. In the U.S. Open final last year, Zverev blew a two-set lead, and even served for the championship, only to lose to Dominic Thiem in a tiebreaker at the end of a fifth set that descended into a parade of slices, errors and double faults.That version of Zverev has disappeared in recent months, especially against Djokovic. In the Tokyo Olympics, Zverev roared back from a set and a service break down to overwhelm Djokovic in a semifinal.When the draw for the U.S. Open came out two weeks ago, a rematch with Zverev in the semifinal round loomed as one of the biggest potential obstacles for Djokovic in his hunt for his sport’s holy grail. Zverev, 24, stands 6 feet 6 inches tall, floats around the tennis court with the grace of an N.B.A. shooting guard, and can unleash 130 m.p.h serves and rocketing forehands at will when he is playing well.For the first time since the tournament began, though, the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium was firmly in Djokovic’s corner. He has long been far more respected than loved, but a former girlfriend has accused Zverev of abusing her repeatedly in 2019. No charges have been filed and Zverev has denied the allegations, but the off-the-court situation disqualified him from being embraced as an endearing underdog.Chants of “Nole” — Djokovic’s favored nickname — began early in the night and spurred him as he mounted his latest comeback.Fans react during the third set.Ben Solomon for The New York TimesThe match started as so many others have for Djokovic — with an early hiccup that made the mountain he would have to climb that much steeper.This slip occurred as Djokovic served with the score tied at four games each, a moment fraught with danger against someone with a serve as powerful as Zverev’s.Zverev played his most aggressive game of the young night, whipping forehands that forced Djokovic to stretch on his backhand. Zverev inched ahead, and then Djokovic double-faulted to give the big German a chance to serve out the set. He did not waste it. Zverev won the opening set, just as Djokovic’s previous three opponents had.But Djokovic is as good at flipping the script as anyone who has ever picked up a racket.Berrettini has said Djokovic somehow gains energy from losing a set, rather than becoming demoralized. Just as he had in his last three matches, Djokovic raised the level of his game and surged to a second-set lead as Zverev began swatting untimely second serves into the net and getting lulled into the kinds of long rallies that are Djokovic’s strength. An hour-and-a-quarter after they began, Djokovic and Zverev were back where they started, all tied up.The turning point of the match came nearly an hour later. With Zverev serving to stay in the set, Djokovic put on a display of tennis genius and played a game that may be the one historians point to as the moment the finish line of the Grand Slam finally came into sight.Djokovic serving.Ben Solomon for The New York TimesNo one in Arthur Ashe Stadium knew better than Zverev that rallying with Djokovic would result in a slow and painful death. And yet, somehow, Djokovic managed to play a kind of tennis Tai chi, sustaining rallies of 18, 32 and 12 shots to get to triple set point. Zverev survived rallies of 21 shots and an absurd 53 to save the first two.Then, on the 15th shot of the sixth point of the game, he could do no better than float a desperate lob to Djokovic, who was waiting at the net to swat it down to take the lead for the first time all night.Zverev would not go quietly, though. He took a page out of the Djokovic playbook and somehow seemed to draw energy from falling behind. With Djokovic serving at 1-1, Zverev battled to turn the third game into a mini-marathon, digging in and clinching it with a slick forehand passing shot that Djokovic could not come close to touching. With Zverev’s serve cranking up beyond the 130 m.p.h mark, Djokovic could not find the opening to get even. Djokovic’s chance at history was down to a single set.Djokovic’s run to the precipice of the Grand Slam has had its share five-set escapes. There was an early round escape against in Australia in February, when he overcame a torn abdominal muscle and the American Taylor Fritz. In Paris, he came back from two sets down to Lorenzo Musetti midway through the tournament and against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.Now came the chance for one more, and he did not waste any time jumping on it. Holding a 1-0 lead, Djokovic — and likely everyone else in the stadium — could sense Zverev growing shaky. A double-fault gave Djokovic a sniff at a break at 15-30. A backhand error gave Djokovic the break point. Then one more rally went the wrong way for Zverev, and the set became a seemingly inevitable series of Zverev misses, including one leaping overhead smashed wildly out of bounds.One last backhand error for one last service break and after 3 hours and 35 minutes, Zverev was finally done, and the Grand Slam math was very, very simple: The only numbers that mattered were these — 27 matches down, one to go.Ben Solomon for The New York Times More

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    Lloyd Harris Plays Alexander Zverev in U.S. Open Quarterfinals

    Harris, a South African player, is followed with great excitement in his home city of Cape Town, and specifically at the unique academy that helped launch his career.The WhatsApp text chain has grown to about 100 people, many in Cape Town with others spread around the globe, playing tennis and sending their congratulations and enthusiastic messages of support to Lloyd Harris.“They are all on there congratulating me,” Harris said. “It’s such a special feeling. They are like my family.”The thread includes the coaches, administrators, parents and kids that train at the Anthony Harris (no relation) academy, where Lloyd Harris developed as a professional tennis player. Lloyd Harris is their inspiration, their affirmation of success, an example that it can work. But most important to all of them, he is their academy brother.“He means so much to these kids and they all look up to him,” Anthony Harris, who has served as Lloyd Harris’s main coach since he joined the academy in 2012, said in an interview from Cape Town. “They are staying up late and talking about how he great is doing. It’s a fantastic inspiration for everyone.”What Lloyd Harris, 24, has done is barge into the quarterfinal round of the U.S. Open men’s singles draw to cap a summer that included a win over Rafael Nadal in Washington last month. When he arrived in New York, he beat three seeded players — Karen Khachanov, Denis Shapovalov and Reilly Opelka — to reach his first major quarterfinal, where he will play the No. 4 seed, Alexander Zverev of Germany, on Wednesday.“I always knew I had the ability,” Harris said. “I never had a problem beating some of the top guys. But it was consistently playing at that level, which was a little bit more challenging for me.”Harris’s rapid climb is followed with great excitement in Cape Town, his home city, and specifically at the unique academy that helped launch his career. His parents heard about the program and asked Anthony Harris if he would take their son. Lloyd Harris joined in 2012 when he was 14 years old, and quickly became the program’s most accomplished student.“I told his mum,” Anthony Harris said, “‘Your son is special. He has a chance to do something big in this sport.’ She said, ‘Let’s go for it.’”Lloyd Harris, center with Anthony Harris, right, and coach Eitan Adams, left, after winning ITF Pro Futures tournament in Stellenbosch, South Africa, in 2016.Courtesy Anthony Harris Tennis AcademyThe Anthony Harris Tennis Academy, a modest enclave tucked into the tony Bantry Bay area of Cape Town, has grown since Lloyd Harris first joined. It now boasts five coaches, three blue hard courts and one clay court. There is a small residence hall for the most financially disadvantaged students, some of whom lived in shanties before they moved in and attended for free.It is not a glamorous, corporate academy, but it helped shape Harris into the player and person he is, and both Harrises think of it as family.“I’ve never once been to the academy where it’s been a bad atmosphere or a bad vibe,” Lloyd Harris said. “It’s always positive energy, the coaches are having fun with the kids, but working hard. It’s just this really special thing.”Lloyd Harris, who is currently ranked 46th, grew up in a middle class household, but many of the students at the academy are from underprivileged backgrounds.While academics and human development are a core part of the program, tennis is at the forefront of the academy’s mission. Those who meet certain criteria, regarding their progress through the junior tennis ranks, are given funding to travel the world as they attempt to become professionals. The rest focus on getting a university scholarship.At first, there were only a handful of kids. Now there are a dozen, and the hope is to be able to accommodate about eight more. The academy has taken one child who was found rummaging for food, and another who showed promise at tennis but was kicked out of a different program for behavioral issues.“Maybe we can change their life,” Anthony Harris said. “It’s like the old fable about giving someone a fishing rod. We can’t help a thousand kids. But maybe we can help 15 or 20.”Leo Matthysen, 15, lives in Mitchells Plain, outside of Cape Town, and is the top-ranked junior boy age 15 and under in all of Africa after spending the last several years at the academy.Kelly Arends and Mikaeel Woodman, also longtime members of the academy, recently earned scholarships to play for Tyler Junior College, a Texas school with one of the premier junior college tennis programs in the United States, and they arrived there two weeks ago to begin their freshman seasons.Leo Mattysen, Robbie Arends, Mikaeel Woodman, Jordy Gerste, and Kelly Arends.Courtesy Anthony Harris Tennis AcademyWoodman, 18, also grew up in Mitchells Plain, in what he called “a really rough area.” He said had it not been for the academy, he might have ended up in a gang.“It got me off the street and changed my life,” Woodman said after his practice at Tyler Junior College on Tuesday. “I went when I was 10 and I got to watch Lloyd for seven or eight years. I really want to play professionally, one day, like him.”With Anthony Harris as the head coach on a staff of eight, tennis is seen as vehicle for success, and Lloyd Harris is their Model T.Soon after he joined up in 2012, he and the coach began traversing the continent with Lloyd playing tournaments in Kenya, Nigeria, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Morocco and Egypt, to name a few, and then moved on to tournaments in Europe and Asia before he turned pro in 2015.“One of the things I’m most proud of, and I told Lloyd this,” Anthony Harris said, “is that he never got one wild-card entry into a top-tier tournament. He had to work for everything he got.”Funding is always an issue for the academy. The family of Nathan Kirsh, an Eswatini billionaire businessman, is a principal contributor and Lloyd Harris is hosting a golf tournament in Cape Town in November to help raise funds for a program that is so dear to his heart.“We’ve come such a long way and from where it started, this small little program, to what it’s become now,” Lloyd Harris said. “It’s a home for so many kids from underprivileged backgrounds, who now have these amazing opportunities.”With the demands of his profession, and the difficulty of traveling to and from one of the most remote parts of the earth (at least for tennis travel), Lloyd Harris relocated to Dubai, where he now trains. He has not been back to South Africa all year because of pandemic travel restrictions. He has been working with Xavier Malisse, the former top professional player, in conjunction with Anthony Harris.But before his pandemic-induced temporary hiatus, Lloyd Harris regularly returned to the academy to practice and hit with the kids on court.Lloyd Harris, bottom left, at the Academy last year in February.Courtesy Anthony Harris Tennis Academy“You should see how they gravitate to him and how he responds,” said Dionne Harris, Anthony’s wife and the main administrator who makes the academy operate smoothly. “He brings them equipment and things and lets them return his serves. He is like the hero.”Lloyd Harris does not go that far. But he recognizes his role in the lives of all the children on that WhatsApp thread, cheering him on.“They see how I’m behaving, how I’m working but also enjoying myself on the court,” Lloyd Harris said. “I know they are watching. Hopefully, I can teach them well.” More