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    Nadal Reaches French Open Final on Zverev’s Abrupt Injury

    Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev had taken more than three hours to get toward the end of a second set. Then Zverev twisted his right ankle and had to stop.PARIS — Sweat dripping off their faces as the grueling rallies piled up, Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev played for more than three hours in the Paris humidity and appeared set, whether they liked it or not, to play for hours more.Égalité, the French word for deuce, began to sound more like a mantra than the score as the chair umpire kept repeating it, game after close game.But then suddenly, this French Open semifinal, which looked ready to run and run, came to an abrupt and painful halt as Zverev, the tall and lanky German star, rolled his right ankle chasing a Nadal forehand late in the second set.Zverev screamed, released his racket and tumbled to the red clay. Nadal who had just won the point, quickly stopped pumping his fist and crossed to Zverev’s side of the net and stood nearby. He was somber as Zverev was helped to his feet and carted off the Philippe Chatrier Court in a wheelchair in tears for treatment and examination.It was tough to observe and surely much tougher to experience for a 25-year-old man like Zverev who was within range of his first Grand Slam title and the No. 1 ranking.Several minutes later, he reappeared on crutches, his right foot bare and his eyes red from crying, with Nadal walking by his side, to inform the chair umpire that he was retiring with Nadal leading, 7-6 (8), 6-6.Nadal, already a 13-time French Open champion, is back in the final at Roland Garros, which has come to feel like a Parisian rite of spring. But this was certainly not the way he wanted to celebrate victory on his 36th birthday.“Of course, for me, as everybody knows, being in the final of Roland Garros one more time is a dream without a doubt,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “But at the same time, to finish that way, I have been there in the small room with Sascha before we came back on court, and to see him crying there is a very tough moment. So just all the best to him and all the team.”Nadal, who first won the French Open at 19 in 2005, is now the oldest men’s singles finalist at Roland Garros since Bill Tilden in 1930. Nadal could become the oldest man ever to win the title if he defeats the No. 8 seed, Casper Ruud, on Sunday.Ruud, 23, became the first Norwegian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final with a victory, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, over No. 20 Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion who has been resurgent in Paris at age 33.The match was interrupted for about 15 minutes when a young protester attached herself to the net during the sixth game of the third set. In a statement, the French Tennis Federation said that “the security team needed to formally identify the objects she used to get onto the court before they could remove her.”Both players left the court, but when they returned, Ruud, the more natural clay-court master, maintained control as Cilic’s unforced-error count kept climbing.It will be the first meeting on tour for Ruud and Nadal, but they know each other well. Ruud has trained regularly at Nadal’s academy in Mallorca for several years, and Nadal has been his inspiration for his skill, sportsmanship and combative spirit.“He’s been my idol for all my life,” said Ruud, who has played numerous practice sets with Nadal.Asked how many of Nadal’s 13 French Open finals he had watched, he replied, “probably all of them,” reeling off the names of most of his opponents.Ruud, whose father and coach, Christian, is a former professional player, had not been past the fourth round in a Grand Slam tournament until now. He rose into the top 10 last year for the first time on the strength of his victories in regular tour events.But he took full advantage of his spot in the more welcoming bottom half of the men’s draw in this French Open and now will try to do what no man has ever managed defeat Nadal in a French Open final.“It might sound like an impossible task. But of course I will give it a shot like the other 13 people before me,” Ruud said. “We all know what a great champion he is and how well he plays in the biggest moments and the biggest matches. I’m just going to try to enjoy it. I will be the underdog, and I will try to tonight and tomorrow night dream about great winners and unbelievable rallies, because that’s what it’s going to take if I want to have any chance, and I will need to play my best tennis ever.”Nadal managed to come through the gantlet in the top half, defeating Felix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round in five sets and then ripping his forehand with vintage depth and precision in the quarterfinals to defeat his longtime rival Novak Djokovic.The third-seeded Zverev, who had played some of his finest and gutsiest tennis in a quarterfinal victory over the Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz, was another big hurdle, all the more so under a closed center-court roof that traps the humidity — call it the greenhouse effect — on a rainy day like Friday.The heavy conditions keep Nadal’s extreme topspin from kicking quite so high off the clay, but he adapted by using slices and drop shots to bring Zverev forward out of his comfort zone.“Lots of people think incorrectly that slow conditions are better for clay-court specialists,” Nadal said. “But it’s quite the contrary. Slower conditions and heavier balls favor the guy who hits it flatter with the more direct strokes..”The lack of wind under cover also helps a powerful server like Zverev. At 6-foot-6, he has one of the best first serves in the game (the second one is quite a bit shakier), and he had beaten Nadal in three of their four previous encounters, two of them indoors.But Zverev, for all his evident talent and his Olympic gold medal from Tokyo last year, has yet to beat Nadal or the other members of the Big Three — Djokovic and Roger Federer — in a Grand Slam tournament in which singles matches are best-of-five sets instead of best-of-three.“He started the match playing amazing,” Nadal said. “I know how much it means to him, to fight to win his first Grand Slam.”The first set was one of the closest and longest imaginable in the tiebreaker format, lasting 91 minutes with breaks of serve and extended rallies the rule. Nadal was dripping sweat after just a few games, and the set would have ended much more quickly if Zverev had been able to convert more of the big opportunities he created with his serving and phenomenal two-handed backhand that Nadal termed “probably the best in the game.” (Others would surely still vote for Djokovic’s two-hander.)But Zverev’s finishing skills, particularly in the forecourt and at the net, are still hit or miss. Serving at 4-3 and up a break, Zverev moved forward to put away a short forehand and clubbed it wide as his racket slipped out of his hand to face a break point, which he lost by missing another short ball.It was a big opportunity squandered and hardly the last. Up 6-2 in the tiebreaker, Zverev failed to convert four set points as Nadal rallied and closed out the set on his sixth set point with a fast-twitch forehand passing shot winner down the line that left even Nadal standing statue-still for a moment in surprise. The shot also left a few spectators, most of whom were Nadalites on Friday, with both hands on their heads in disbelief.It was a big finish to an up-and-down set, and to Zverev’s credit, he got right back to work and to pushing Nadal to his considerable limits from the baseline. One exchange in the third game of the second set lasted 44 strokes before Zverev cracked. After just over three hours of play, Zverev was on the cusp of another tiebreaker, but there would be no more tennis in this match after his injury.It remains unclear how badly injured Zverev is or how long he will be out of the game: Wimbledon begins in little more than three weeks. But there is no doubt what comes next for Nadal: a chance at No. 14 against a Norwegian of all things.Endure long enough and all sorts of surprises await. More

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    Alexander Zverev Beats Carlos Alcaraz at the French Open

    PARIS — Alexander Zverev, the No. 3 seed, returned to the semifinals of the French Open with a 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7) victory over Carlos Alcaraz on Tuesday, ending the Spanish 19-year-old’s stirring run at Roland Garros.Zverev, a 25-year-old German, also snuffed out Alcaraz’s rousing comeback in this quarterfinal. Zverev, beaten by Alcaraz in the Madrid Open final ahead of the French Open, was the more consistent and convincing player for nearly three sets. “I think letting him go ahead in the match and letting him get the confidence was going to be a very difficult thing for me to come back from,” Zverev said.But Alcaraz, on the brink of being quickly eliminated, did lift his game. As usual, that was quite a sight, as he produced delicate drop shots, audacious returns, reflexive volleys and full-cut forehand winners that left the 6-foot-6 Zverev staring wistfully at the ball marks on the red clay court.Alcaraz, like the top-seeded Novak Djokovic, is half tennis player, half gymnast. And with a flurry of brilliant and acrobatic tennis, Alcaraz, the No. 6 seed, took the third set. With another surge late in the fourth set, he broke Zverev’s serve when he was serving for the match at 5-4. This all-court duel, by this stage, was well worthy of a tiebreaker, and both men produced excellence under duress yet also cracked.Alcaraz had a set point at 6-5 in the tiebreaker and failed to convert it when he made an unforced error with his backhand into the top of the net. Zverev missed a backhand of his own on his first match point during the tiebreaker.It was now 7-7 and the chants of “Carlos, Carlos” were only getting louder. But Zverev, with the crowd and the flow against him, steeled himself, winning the next two points to close out the match. He finished off the victory with a bold backhand return winner down the line that Alcaraz, one of the quickest men in tennis, could not come close to reaching.“It is one shot I like, it’s true,” Zverev said, grinning throughout his post-match news conference, which he started by raising both his arms in triumph.“I’ve done it a lot in my career,” he said of his backhand return winner. “But I had to win the match myself, I felt I was going to either miss it by a country mile or hit a winner, and I hit a winner, which I’m quite pleased about.”Alcaraz, in the midst of a breakthrough season, has still played in only four Grand Slam tournaments.“I leave the court, leave the tournament with the head very high,” he said. “I fight until the last ball. I fought until the last second of the match, and I’m proud of it.”But the best-of-five-set format remains another type of challenge than the best-of-three-set variety played on the regular tour. For now, Alcaraz’s best results in the majors are quarterfinal runs at the U.S. Open last year and now in Paris.“I didn’t start well, and in this level, quarterfinal of a Grand Slam, you are playing against the best players in the world, so you have to start the match better than I did today,” Alcaraz said. “I have to take the lesson. I mean, I have to improve to the next Grand Slam or next matches. But I would say I’m not far away to reach a semifinal or be able to win a Grand Slam.”Zverev, a semifinalist at Roland Garros last year, clearly felt the odds were against him on Tuesday in light of Alcaraz’s recent results. Alcaraz had won the Barcelona and Madrid titles back-to-back on red clay and resumed rolling at Roland Garros after saving a match point against his Spanish compatriot Albert Ramos-Viñolas in the second round.“I knew I had to play my absolutely best tennis today from the start, and I’m happy I did that,” Zverev said. “Obviously he kept on coming back. He’s an incredible player. I told him at the net, he’s going to win this tournament a lot of times, not only once, and I just hope I can win it before he starts beating us all, and we’ll have no chance at all.”Zverev, despite his fine performance (and evident relief) on Tuesday, is still a long way from winning his first Grand Slam singles title. In the semifinals, he will face the winner of Tuesday’s second match: a night session between Djokovic and the fifth-seeded Rafael Nadal, who has won the French Open a record 13 times.“It’s not really getting easier from here,” said Zverev, still looking delighted. “But I said a lot of times, I’m not 20 or 21 years old anymore; I’m 25. I am at the stage where I want to win, I’m at the stage where I’m supposed to win, as well.” More

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    Two High Seeds Need Five-Set Thrillers to Win at French Open

    Alexander Zverev and Carlos Alcaraz saved match points in the men’s singles tournament before turning things around.PARIS — The thrills were separated only by a short stroll through the formal gardens at the French Open on Wednesday.First, Alexander Zverev saved a match point and won in five sets on the main Philippe Chatrier Court. Then, Carlos Alcaraz did the very same thing on Simonne Mathieu Court, covering the red clay like few men have ever covered it at Roland Garros as he sprinted into the corners and seemingly beyond.The fresh-look French Open, revamped to the point that old hands could use a guided tour to avoid running into a new wall or a freshly planted shrub, has certainly not lost its capacity to test its combatants to the limit.The old guard, led by the world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and the 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, has had it relatively easy so far in the men’s tournament, but the leaders of the new wave have been right on the edge of breaking.On Tuesday night in the first round, the No. 4 seed, Stefanos Tsitsipas, champion in Monte Carlo and finalist in Rome, had to rally from two sets down to shake free of Lorenzo Musetti, a young Italian whose one-handed backhand is pretty enough for the Uffizi but whose legs do not yet seem sturdy enough for the rigors of best-of-five-set matches.There are calls to scrap best-of-five altogether from those who consider it ill-suited to the digital age of social media highlights and entertainment overload.But the format favors the better players over the long run and certainly worked plenty of long-form magic in the second round on Wednesday. Zverev, the No. 3 seed, dueled with Sebastian Baez for 3 hours 36 minutes before prevailing, 2-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 7-5, after saving a match point with a big and bold serve up the T that Baez failed to return in the 10th game of the final set.“You just have to find a way,” said Zverev, who is 8-1 in five-set matches at Roland Garros, which is both good news and bad news (perhaps he should not be going the distance quite so often).“Some players, the greats, Rafa, Novak and Roger, always find a way in the most difficult moments,” he added. “That’s why they are who they are. I’m never going to be at that level, but I’m just trying to get closer to them.”Alcaraz, the No. 6 seed, dueled with his Spanish compatriot Albert Ramos Viñolas for 4 hours 34 minutes in what certainly looked like the match of the tournament so far.The Mathieu Court is nicknamed the Greenhouse because it was built amid botanical gardens and is surrounded by exotic plants. But the Funhouse may have been more fitting in this instance as Alcaraz extended rallies far beyond the probable with his foot speed and improvisational skills on the run that recall Nadal in his vamos-barking, scissor-kicking youth.It was not Alcaraz’s best match of 2022. Far from it. But it certainly looked like his grittiest as he found a way to advance, 6-1, 6-7 (7), 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4.“These are the kinds of matches that help you grow in your career,” said Alcaraz, a 19-year-old who started the season being considered a star of the future but has become a star of the present instead.He has won four titles, including the Miami Open on hardcourts and the Barcelona Open and Madrid Open on clay. He beat Nadal and Djokovic back to back in Madrid before taking a break to rest and recover for Paris.For all his self-evident talent, it is quite a challenge to arrive at a Grand Slam tournament in your teens as one of the favorites. And Alcaraz often did look tighter than usual on Wednesday: forcing the issue with his groundstrokes and drop shots, rather than waiting for the prime time to strike.Meanwhile, Ramos, a 34-year-old lefthander with a yen for clay, expertly changed pace and shuffled tactics. Ramos looks like a lightweight — slight to the point of gaunt — but his full-cut, inside-out forehand is a heavyweight’s punch, and he overwhelmed even Alcaraz with it time and time again.But after carefully and cleverly building the platform for an upset, Ramos could not quite finish the construction job. Serving for the victory at 5-4 in the fourth set, he had a match point and tightened up just enough on his forehand to hit the tape instead of clearing the net.Two points later, Alcaraz evened the set at 5-5 and then dominated the tiebreaker after failing to convert three set points in the 12th game.The momentum seemed clearly with the youngster, but Ramos, to his credit, refused to buy into that line of reasoning, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the fifth set before Alcaraz roared back to 3-3 with his rare blend of offense and defense.They traded breaks of serve again, but Alcaraz was not done running and digging. With Ramos serving again, Alcaraz produced his most dazzling defense of the match: stretching to slap a forehand in one corner and then sprinting across the clay to extend the rally again, which gave Ramos, understandably on edge by now, the chance to miss a volley in the net.“Great point,” Alcaraz said. “Long match. To be able to run like this and get the point like I did, it’s amazing.”The comeback was still not complete, however, and in a match full of abrupt shifts in momentum, another turn was hardly out of the question in the Funhouse. But Alcaraz instead made it no fun at all for Ramos. With the crowd chanting “Carlos” between points, he served out the victory at love with a forehand winner and three aces.Next challenge: Sebastian Korda, a 21-year-old American whose star is also rising and who is the only man to have beaten Alcaraz on clay this season, defeating him in three sets in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters last month.“I’ve obviously played a lot of matches on clay and played many more hours on the court since then,” Alcaraz said. “I am feeling good.”So is Korda, who defeated the French veteran Richard Gasquet, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-3, on Wednesday in 2 hours 19 minutes.It would come as no surprise if his rematch with Alcaraz took quite a bit longer than that. More

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    In Tennis, Racket Smashing Gets Out of Hand

    Long accepted as an entertaining idiosyncrasy of the sport, the act of hurling one’s racket has led to some close calls, as ball people and chair umpires dodge injury.After blowing a golden opportunity to break his opponent’s serve late in the second set of his match on Monday at the Miami Open, Jenson Brooksby, the rising American star, whacked his foot with his racket several times in frustration.It was progress for Brooksby, who earlier in the tournament had escaped an automatic disqualification that many tennis veterans — and his opponent — thought was justified after he angrily hurled his racket to the court and it skittered into the feet of a ball person standing behind the baseline.Gets away with it. #Brooksby pic.twitter.com/QGRFA5Uy5w— Tennis GIFs 🎾🎥 (@tennis_gifs) March 24, 2022
    A week earlier, Nick Kyrgios, the temperamental Australian, narrowly missed hitting a ball boy in the face when he flung his racket to the ground following a three-set loss in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif. The ATP punished Kyrgios with a $20,000 fine and another $5,000 for uttering an obscenity on the court, but he was allowed to play a few days later in Miami.Kyrgios was at it again on Tuesday during his fourth-round match against Italy’s Jannik Sinner. He threw his racket to the court on his way to losing a first-set tiebreaker, prompting a warning and a point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct as he shouted at the umpire, Carlos Bernardes. Then, during the changeover, he battered his racket four times against the ground, earning a game penalty.“Do we have to wait until someone starts bleeding?” an exasperated Patrick McEnroe, the former pro and tennis commentator, said recently when asked about the flying rackets.Racket-smashing tantrums have long been accepted as part of the game. Like hockey fights, they are a way for players to blow off steam. But as the broader culture becomes less tolerant of public displays of anger, and with an increasing number of close calls on the court, racket smashing suddenly no longer seems like an entertaining idiosyncrasy.Mary Carillo, the former player and longtime commentator, said the tantrums have never been worse, especially on the ATP Tour, calling them “the most consistently uncomfortable thing to watch.” But chair umpires still resist meting out the most serious punishment.“The reason for conspicuous leniency is that they have to somehow keep a match alive; there are no substitutions,” Carillo said of the chair umpires. “Tennis players, especially tennis stars, know they have incontestable leverage over the chair.”Alexander Zverev smashed his racket on the umpire’s chair after losing a doubles match at the Mexican Open in February.MexTenis, via Associated PressLike most people in tennis, McEnroe was stunned when the ATP recently handed down a suspended eight-week ban to Alexander Zverev, who repeatedly beat on the umpire’s chair at the end of a doubles match at the Mexican Open in February, coming with inches of cracking his racket into the official’s feet.Psychologists have found that expressing anger physically tends to hurt performance and can encourage subsequent outbursts. In an oft-cited 1959 study by the psychologist R.H. Hornberger, participants listened to insults before being divided into two groups. One group pounded nails. The other sat quietly. The group that pounded nails was far more hostile to those who criticized them.And yet these days, racket smashing feels contagious. There was Naomi Osaka’s display during her third-round loss to Leylah Fernandez at the U.S. Open last year. Novak Djokovic’s during the bronze medal match at the Tokyo Olympics. Even Roger Federer has had his moments. Rafael Nadal, by contrast, is famously gentle with his equipment and has said he never will smash his racket.Even Andy Roddick, the former world No. 1, got cheeky on the subject, taking to Twitter last week with a tongue-in-cheek tutorial on how to safely smash a racket and whack a ball without endangering anyone.Smashing and throwing a racket, not to mention swats of the ball — that hit, or nearly hit, and possibly injure people on the court or in the stadium — fall under equipment abuse in the sport’s rule books. To the frustration of some of the biggest names in tennis, those codes are more gray than black and white.Martina Navratilova, the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion who is covering the Miami Open for Tennis Channel, expressed the sentiments of many after Brooksby’s racket made contact with the ball person.“If it hit the ball boy, they need to disqualify him,” she said.Brooksby and Kyrgios lost in Miami on Tuesday, but Zverev advanced to the quarterfinals and has a good chance of winning one of the top titles on the ATP Tour, even though some in tennis believe he should be on the sidelines serving a suspension.A spokesman for the ATP, which does not publicly discuss individual penalties, said Brooksby received a $15,000 fine, $5,000 less than the maximum $20,000 a player can receive for an incident from tournament officials. That amounted to less than half of the $30,130 he guaranteed himself by winning the match, and the $94,575 he ultimately collected for making it to the fourth round.Kyrgios was fined $20,000 for nearly hitting the ball boy following his loss to Nadal at Indian Wells, where he collected nearly $180,000 for making the quarterfinals. He, too, will earn, $94,575 in Miami, less whatever fines he receives for his behavior on Tuesday.Zverev, who has earned more than $30 million in career prize money, had to forfeit his earnings from the Mexican Open, and the ATP fined him $65,000, but the suspended ban has allowed him — in less than two tournaments — to more than triple in prize money what his outburst cost him.The ATP is considering whether, given recent increases in prize money, an increase in fines could deter players. Fines for racket abuse on the ATP Tour begin at $500, compared with $2,500 on the WTA Tour.Other than that, the codes for men and women are similar: No violently hitting or kicking or throwing a racket — or any piece of equipment for that matter, and no physical abuse or attempted abuse against ball people, umpires, judges or spectators.Still, tennis officials have a somewhat ambiguous understanding of when disqualification is warranted. It goes sort of like this: If you throw a racket, or whack a ball at someone intentionally in an attempt to hit or intimidate them, then you are automatically disqualified, whether you succeed or fail. However, if you throw or smash a racket or whack a ball without consideration of its direction, and it ends up hitting someone, then tournament officials have to assess whether an injury has occurred.If someone is indeed injured, as when Djokovic inadvertently hit a line judge in the throat at the 2020 U.S. Open, the player is automatically disqualified. But if no one is injured, as when Brooksby’s racket skittered into the ball person’s foot, the umpires will assess a penalty and tournament officials will fine the player — no disqualification necessary.Both Brooksby and Zverev quickly posted apologies for their actions on social media and personally apologized to the people involved. “I was grateful to have a second chance,” Brooksby told Tennis Channel on Monday.Kyrgios is a repeat offender. In a news conference following the Indian Wells match, he berated journalists who questioned him about the racket toss that nearly clipped a ball boy’s head, and was unapologetic.“It most definitely wasn’t like Zverev,” he said. “It was complete accident. I didn’t hit him.”Only after an avalanche of criticism on social media did Kyrgios issue an apology. The next day, he posted a video of himself giving the boy a racket.Following his match on Tuesday, Kyrgios played the victim, criticizing Bernardes for speaking to the crowd while Kyrgios was trying to serve. He seemed not to understand why the ATP had come down so hard on him for the incident at Indian Wells, given, he said, that Dennis Shapovalov had inadvertently hit a fan with a ball and received just a $5,000 fine. In fact, Shapovalov hit a chair umpire and was fined $7,000.“I can throw a racket at Indian Wells,” Kyrgios said, “didn’t even hit anyone, and I’m getting 25 grand.” More

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    Zverev’s Swings Merited More Than a Slap on the Wrist

    After striking the umpire’s chair during an outburst at a tournament in Mexico, Alexander Zverev can avoid a fine and suspension if he does not commit further violations for one year.SAN DIEGO — Somehow, the men’s tennis tour is allowing the German star Alexander Zverev to play on. He will be in the field for the BNP Paribas Open, which begins this week in Indian Wells, Calif., despite his frightening, unacceptable abuse of an official just two weeks ago after a defeat in doubles in Acapulco, Mexico.“The conduct of Zverev was the most egregious example of physical abuse of an official that I have seen in my decades working in and observing men’s professional tennis,” said Richard Ings, a former executive vice president for rules and competition at the ATP Tour.After cursing at the chair umpire Alessandro Germani following a questionable line call, Zverev took four big swings at the umpire’s chair with his racket after the match. The first three blows landed close to Germani, causing him to flinch and shift his feet at one point to avoid being struck. After Zverev took a short break to curse at Germani some more, he returned for one more swing at the chair.He was appropriately defaulted from the tournament after winning his subsequent singles match, fined $40,000 and docked the prize money he would have earned from the event. But though the follow-up investigation by the ATP rightly determined that Zverev, 24, had committed a “major offense,” he received the equivalent of a suspended sentence on Monday.Zverev has been fined an additional $25,000 and given an eight-week suspension, but both the fine, a pittance to a top-10 player like Zverev, and the suspension will not be levied if he avoids further code violations for unsportsmanlike conduct or physical or verbal abuse for one year after the date of his outburst in Mexico.This is, at best, a firm slap on the wrist, and it is hard to think of another major professional sport that would opt for such half-measures if an official were physically threatened to this degree by a player. Tennis does not shrink from suspending players for gambling on matches or for doping. But the sport has been sending inconsistent signals on protecting umpires for too long now, and the recent uptick in players confronting officials may be one of the consequences — see Daniil Medvedev’s and Denis Shapovalov’s outbursts at this year’s Australian Open. With the wider use of electronic line calling, tension between players and umpires should be dropping, not increasing. But Zverev raised the temperature far too high in Acapulco.“Suspended sentences are a good tool when the player has a good conduct history, and I’ve used them, but in this case the misconduct was egregious and physically directed at the official in their place of work,” said Ings, who was in his ATP role from 2001-5. “A line has been crossed, and previous history is irrelevant. I would have imposed a four-week suspension, and I’ve held the exact job that made such decisions for the ATP.”Miro Bratoev, the ATP’s current senior vice president of rules and competition, did not provide an explanation for Monday’s ruling. He is relatively new to the role, which he assumed in 2020, but several factors could have nudged him toward leniency.Although Zverev has broken plenty of rackets, he has committed no major offense violations until now. The ATP investigation into accusations that Zverev abused his former girlfriend, Olga Sharypova, is ongoing, and thus could not play a role in Monday’s penalty.Zverev’s apology after the Acapulco incident also was profuse. “It is difficult to put into words how much I regret my behavior during and after the doubles match yesterday,” he wrote on social media. “I have privately apologized to the chair umpire because my outburst towards him was wrong and unacceptable.”There is also the matter of tennis precedent. Bratoev’s predecessor, Gayle David Bradshaw, favored probation and also chose the suspended-sentence route in 2019 with Nick Kyrgios, the combustible Australian player, after a series of tantrums that included Kyrgios verbally abusing the chair umpire Fergus Murphy and spitting in his direction. Kyrgios was given probation even though he already had been suspended once for a “major offense” after showing a serious lack of effort in a match in Shanghai in 2016 (that suspension was reduced from eight weeks to three after Kyrgios agreed to see a sports psychologist).Other leading players also have struck the umpire’s chair with their rackets in anger without being suspended. Karolina Pliskova, a former world No. 1, smacked the side of the chair after a loss to Maria Sakkari in Rome in 2018 and received only an unspecified four-figure fine from the women’s tour. Medvedev, now the ATP No. 1, struck the chair twice during the 2020 ATP Cup and was given a point penalty and a fine.But though both of those incidents also deserved stiffer penalties, neither Pliskova nor Medvedev came nearly as close to striking the chair umpire or to displaying the same level of fury as Zverev.“If a player breaks his racket on the umpire’s chair, and he is literally a few centimeters away from hitting the umpire’s leg, he should not be allowed to get on a tennis court until he’s gone through some kind of rehab, some kind of time,” said Mats Wilander, a former No. 1-ranked player and a Eurosport analyst, before the ATP ruling was announced. “We need to punish him accordingly and allowing him to come out and play professional tennis the week after — or two weeks after — that is too soon.”Zverev played in the Davis Cup in Brazil last week.Sergio Moraes/ReutersSerena Williams spoke about Zverev’s outburst in an interview with CNN last week, saying there was “absolutely a double standard” and that she “would probably be in jail if I did that — like, literally, no joke.”Monday’s soft punishment of Zverev likely did little to change her view, but its relevant to remember that Williams also avoided suspension in 2009 after a profanity-filled tirade against a lineswoman during her U.S. Open semifinal loss to Kim Clijsters. Williams, despite threatening to shove the ball down the official’s throat, was fined $82,500 and placed on probation for two years.Zverev, ranked No. 3, already has competed since the incident in Acapulco, representing Germany in a Davis Cup match in Brazil last week. The Germans won, but Zverev complained afterward that the crowd had crossed a line by directing personal abuse at his family and support team.Sharypova, a Russian player, has not brought formal charges against Zverev since her accusations of domestic abuse were first reported by Racquet Magazine in November 2020. He has denied abusing her, and the ATP did not announce its investigation until nearly a year later. The inquiry is, according to ATP officials, being conducted by an outside party.It has been a tense time for quite some time for Zverev, but he has managed to produce some brilliant tennis: He won the gold medal in singles at last year’s Summer Olympics, pushed Novak Djokovic to five sets in the semifinals of the 2021 U.S. Open and then defeated Djokovic and Medvedev to win the prestigious season-ending ATP Finals in Turin, Italy, in November.But this season has not begun auspiciously for a player who has yet to win a Grand Slam tournament singles title. One of the big favorites at the Australian Open, he was upset in the fourth round by Shapovalov in three error-strewn sets, demolishing a racket in frustration in the second.Then came Acapulco and a much more serious failure to control his temper. It should have cost him more than a default, a middling fine and probation, but the ATP has missed the opportunity to send the right message to its public, to its players and — above all — to its officials.“Umpires need to be protected in their workplace,” Ings said. “Player abuse of officials is growing based on recent incidents, and this soft sanction will do nothing to deter future misconduct.” More

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    With a Second ATP Finals Win, Alexander Zverev Proves He Is Rising

    This year gave the 24-year-old German star six singles titles, Olympic gold, an ATP Finals trophy, but also an ongoing tour investigation into allegations of physical abuse against a former girlfriend. TURIN, Italy — It was about the match at hand on Sunday as Alexander Zverev confidently rumbled to his second career title at the ATP Finals with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Daniil Medvedev.Zverev, ripping unreturnable serves and spectacular swing volleys, did not face a break point against an exceedingly talented opponent who had beaten him five times in a row and stolen quite a bit of his thunder in recent seasons as the most successful man in their age group.But Sunday was also about the matches and the season to come, which was why Zverev, who won the trophy in 2018, did not wait long in his post-victory interview to reference 2022 with a slight smile on his stubbled face.No man has won the ATP Finals twice who has not risen to No. 1 in the rankings and won multiple Grand Slam singles titles.For the moment, Zverev, 24, has yet to reach the top spot and yet to win one of the four major titles that remain tennis’ litmus tests of greatness.Will he be an unfortunate exception? It is hard to believe so with his up-to-date skill set.“I kind of have succeeded on every single level, and there’s one thing missing,” he said, referring to a Grand Slam title. “I hope I can do that next year.”He has exceptional power and reach and, like Medvedev, remarkable mobility at 6-foot-6. He has one of the best first serves and backhands in the world and improved court positioning and a shored-up forehand that was often a decisive punch down the stretch in Turin as he knocked out the world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in a three-set semifinal and then the second-ranked Medvedev in a match much shorter in length and thrills.“I feel like it’s inevitable Zverev is going to win a major,” said Patrick McEnroe, the ESPN analyst and former U.S. Davis Cup captain. “I’ve been saying for a couple years that he’s been knocking on the door. Now he’s banging on it.”He was already pounding loudly in 2020 at the U.S. Open, where he lost in a nervy, five-set final to Dominic Thiem in which Zverev lost a two-set lead and both players seemed to shrink from the prospect of breaking through.But though Zverev did not reach a Grand Slam final in 2021, this has been a reaffirming year with six singles titles, including the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo after stopping Djokovic along the way. Zverev, long considered soft when it mattered most, seems more clearheaded under duress and better at making tactical shifts and smart decisions on the fly.“He’s been a great player for a long time,” said Mischa Zverev, his brother, who has been coaching him in their father Alexander’s absence from the tour. “Sascha has all the shots, that big serve and big backhand and is moving well. But I think this week he really played intelligent tennis and was truly an all-rounder. I even saw him hit a backhand slice down the line and come to net to finish off the volley. He stepped it up when he needed to and was very patient when necessary. He mixed up his serve very well and mixed up the pace of his shots very well.”After complaining of weariness and losing quickly to Medvedev in the semifinals of the Paris Masters indoors earlier this month, Zverev came back at him with conviction in Turin, losing in the round-robin in a third-set tiebreaker after holding a match point and then raising the bar on Sunday, reading the flow of play, including Medvedev’s increasingly desperate drop shots.Daniil Medvedev was overpowered by Zverev.Julian Finney/Getty Images“It was almost like he used all his senses to play today,” Mischa Zverev said of his brother. “As much as seeing the ball and feeling it when it touches the racket, he was literally trying to think a few steps ahead, trying to listen to the crowd and the way the opponent hits the ball, soaking up all the information he could get and using it to his advantage.”It was an impressive performance but Zverev, despite his big-bang game and capacity to charm in three languages, remains a divisive figure who is difficult for many spectators to fully embrace because of the ongoing tour investigation into his alleged physical violence against a former girlfriend, Olya Sharypova. Other sports might have suspended him until the resolution of such an investigation, but men’s tennis, lacking a clear policy until this year, has allowed him to keep playing (and keep winning).He has denied the allegations of abuse, made by Sharypova in media interviews, and said that he welcomes the inquiry so he can clear his name. He has said he has been able to play so well in 2021 because he knows the truth and is confident that he will eventually be vindicated. But his performance has been a display of compartmentalization, surely not as straightforward as Zverev has made it look.“I’m his brother, so I’ve always had faith and belief in him from the day he was born,” said Mischa Zverev, who is 10 years older and preceded him on tour. “But yes, to win six tournaments, two Masters finals and Olympic gold, that’s a great year for anybody and especially with the things that were going on off the court, it’s more so impressive.”But there is a cost, both in lost sponsorship and lost support.“I think it’s affected him personally a lot more than he’s let on,” McEnroe said. “These allegations hanging over him are very uncomfortable, and we can only hope it works out for everybody, including the young woman in this situation. But the larger issue for tennis if I put on my ESPN hat and former U.S.T.A. hat is that, let’s be honest, these young guys at the moment are not moving the needle for tennis the same way the older guys have. They are not selling tickets the first week of the U.S. Open the same way that Nadal, Federer and Djokovic have been doing.”Medvedev shook hands with Zverev after their final match.Guglielmo Mangiapane/ReutersThere is an achievement gap, of course. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Djokovic have been dueling for 15 years and have won 20 Grand Slam singles titles apiece. But there is also an appeal gap with Zverev’s off-court issues and with Stefanos Tsitsipas, fairly or unfairly, having to fend off accusations of gamesmanship this summer because of his extended off-court breaks during matches and taking criticism after saying he didn’t see a need for someone his age to get a Covid-19 vaccine, though he later said he planned to get the shot.For now, Medvedev seems the most broadly appealing of the lead pack: an unorthodox, occasionally contortionist player and creative conversationalist who engages with and sometimes confronts a crowd (as he did again in Turin) but generally with a twinkle in his eye.He senses the concern about the future of men’s tennis but knows his history. There were doomsayers when Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe retired, doomsayers when Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi retired, but along came new champions and rivalries that gathered gravitas.“Tennis is a great sport, so I don’t see why our generation would miss on something,” Medvedev said. “Of course, maybe we don’t do 20 Grand Slams, yet nobody did before Roger, Rafa and Novak, so they were also worse than them if we can say like this. It’s definitely not going to be a shame.”For now, Medvedev, 25, has one major title, which came at this year’s U.S. Open where he stopped Djokovic’s Grand Slam attempt in the final. For now, Zverev has none and has yet to defeat a top-10 player in a Grand Slam tournament, but as he and his brother head to the Maldives for a break after a confidence-building season, Zverev is already flashing ahead to 2022.“My gut tells me and not even my gut, my brain, my eyes, my senses tell me he has the talent and has everything needed to win a Grand Slam,” Mischa Zverev said. “I believe it will happen soon, but that it will never happen is also a possibility. I can’t predict the future, but I always believed he could be No. 1 and will win Grand Slams, and I still believe that.” More

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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