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NOVAK DJOKOVIC SEASON IN LIMBO AFTER WINNING SEVENTH WIMBLEDON

Wimbledon belonged to Novak Djokovic once again, but the seven-time champion now finds himself relying on political intervention to continue his season.

Djokovic defeated Nick Kyrgios in four sets to make it four titles in a row at the All England Club and 21 slams in total to move him back to within one of Rafael Nadal.

Quite where Djokovic will play next, though, remains to be seen. After a couple of low-key weeks where most players take the chance for a break, the tour picks up again in North America at the end of July with the hard-court swing building up to the US Open beginning on August 29th.

But the United States and Canada both still require travellers to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to enter, meaning Djokovic, who has made it repeatedly clear that he will not take the vaccine, faces another major hole in his schedule.

“Whether or not I’m playing any tournament soon, I’ll definitely be resting for the next couple of weeks because it has been quite an exhausting and demanding period for me the last few months,” he said. “A lot of tennis, which I was very happy about. I got what I wanted here.

“Then I’ll wait hopefully for some good news from USA, because I would really love to go there. If that doesn’t happen, then I have to see what the schedule will look like.”

The removal of ranking points from Wimbledon over the barring of Russian and Belarusian players means Djokovic has dropped from three to seven in the standings, while Kyrgios has slipped from 40 to 45.

Djokovic will not be overly concerned about his place in the rankings and may not play much again until the tour returns to Europe in the autumn, with his place at the ATP Tour Finals virtually guaranteed by virtue of his Wimbledon victory.

“To be honest, I doubt that I’ll go and chase points,” he said. “I don’t really feel any pressure or necessity to play a certain schedule.

“I achieved that historic weeks at number one that I worked for all my life. Now that that’s done and dusted, I prioritise slams and big tournaments really and where I want to play, where I feel good.

“Could be Laver Cup (in London in September), Davis Cup is coming as well. I love playing for my country. I’m going to try to be part of that.”

Djokovic spoke after his victory about the emotional toll his deportation from Australia in January took, and the three-year ban on returning to the country that is automatically imposed in such scenarios means he may not be able to play another grand slam until the French Open next spring.

The Serbian’s team have lived through it all with him, and coach Goran Ivanisevic said: “It’s very emotional. If I can say it was a sh*t year, a tough year, especially for him, but also for us that were close to him.

“This was a huge thing what happened to him. We all expected from him after a couple of weeks, ‘OK, forget about Australia, let’s go back and practise’. It’s not happening like this. It took a long time.

“For some people, they don’t recover. They will never play tennis. This was a big shock. It was a shock for me, and I was there. I was free. Imagine for him.

“Unbelievable how he recovered and how he got through that. It’s really for me heroic because it was not easy to digest all the things and come back to play tennis.”

A huge amount of anticipation surrounded the final match-up, with Kyrgios playing for a slam singles trophy for the first time, but Djokovic handled the occasion exceptionally well, recovering from losing the first set and calmly exploiting his opponent’s moments of weakness.

Ivanisevic said: “You cannot prepare for a match against Nick Kyrgios. Nick Kyrgios is a genius, tennis genius. He doesn’t know what he’s going to play next in the point.

“We just concentrated on what Novak has to do, the things he has to be careful of. When somebody is serving like Nick Kyrgios, for me he is the best server in the game by far. Unbelievable tennis player.

“But also he knew, on this stage, when Nick starts to talk, he’s going to be vulnerable. It happened in the third set when Nick was 40-0 up, 4-4, suddenly Novak broke him and he was talking to his box. You need to take every chance you get because you don’t have too many.”

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RAFAEL NADAL WITHDRAWS FROM WIMBLEDON DUE TO INJURY

Rafael Nadal’s bid for the calendar year grand slam is over after he withdrew from Wimbledon due to an abdominal injury.

The 22-time grand-slam champion battled through the issue to beat Taylor Fritz in five sets on Wednesday to progress into the semi-finals in SW19 but scans a day later revealed the severity of the injury.

Nadal was set to play Nick Kyrgios in Friday’s semi-final but his Australian opponent will now receive a walkover into a maiden major final.

At a press conference on Thursday evening, Nadal said: “Unfortunately as you can imagine I am here because I have to pull out from the tournament.

“As everyone saw yesterday I have been suffering with a pain in the abdominal and something was not OK there. That is confirmed, I have a tear in the muscle and the communication is too late.

“I was thinking the whole day I was thinking about the decision to make but I think it doesn’t make sense to go, even if I try through my career to keep going. It is very tough circumstances but it is obvious if I keep going the injury will be worse and worse.”

Nadal looked set to retire during his quarter-final against American Fritz on Wednesday evening, but somehow recovered to claim a 3-6 7-5 3-6 7-5 7-6 (4) victory after a gruelling four hours and 20 minutes.

The 36-year-old had strapping on his stomach and at times appeared in so much pain that his father and sister, watching from the players’ box, were gesticulating for him to quit the match.

He practised at Wimbledon on Thursday afternoon but, in a 7.20pm press conference, he announced he was unable to continue, ending the Australian Open and French Open champion’s hopes of winning all four majors in the same year.

The Spaniard insisted he made his tough decision due to the abdominal issue preventing him from being able to serve.

“I never thought about the calendar slam, I thought about my diary and my happiness,” Nadal said.

“I make the decision because I don’t believe I can win two matches under the circumstances. It is not only I can’t serve at the right speed, it is I can’t do the normal movement to serve.

“After that to imagine myself winning two matches, and for respect for myself in some way, I don’t want to go out there and not be competitive enough to play at the level I need to play to achieve my goals.”

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SERENA WILLIAMS BEATEN BY HARMONY TAN IN LATE-NIGHT WIMBLEDON THRILLER

Serena Williams was unable to summon the old magic as her Wimbledon return ended in a first-round defeat to little-known Frenchwoman Harmony Tan.

Stepping out on court to play singles for the first time since leaving Centre Court prematurely and in tears after suffering a hamstring injury in the opening round 12 months ago, Williams was rusty and error-prone.

The will remained and, cheered on by a supportive crowd, she looked like she might stumble over the finish line after coming from a set down and then saving a match point in the 12th game of the decider.

But instead Williams suffered just her third first-round loss at a grand slam, going down 7-5 1-6 7-6 (7) in a deciding tie-break at 10.35pm after three hours and 10 minutes in what could well be her Wimbledon farewell.

Tan, a 24-year-old debutante ranked 115, is the type of player Williams used to beat before even stepping on court but no one, including probably the 40-year-old herself, knew what to expect here.

Williams was rusty in the extreme in the first two games, her footwork leaden and her ball-striking wayward, but she gradually began to find some rhythm.

The American was particularly vocal, shrieking at every winner and error, and it worked as she moved into a 4-2 lead.

But the main question mark was always going to be around Williams’ fitness and she was puffing hard as Tan eventually broke back after a long service game.

The Frenchwoman could not hope to match her opponent for power but had considerable success with deft drop shots and lobs and looked to be enjoying herself as she moved into a 6-5 lead.

Williams had a chance to draw level and force a tie-break but looked anxious and was unable to convert as Tan moved ahead.

With darkness closing in, a brief pause for the roof to be closed worked in Williams’ favour. She cut out some of the errors, and the shrieking, and set about retrieving the deficit, breaking Tan in the second game of the set after a remarkable run of 12 deuces.

When Williams, who won the last of her seven singles titles here in 2016, moved 3-1 ahead in the deciding set, it appeared the hard part was behind her.

But two doubles matches in Eastbourne last week were scant preparation for a return to grand slam singles and things became complicated once again.

Williams began to show her emotions once more, leaping to celebrate the good moments and waving her arms in despair at the bad.

She slid deeper into trouble after failing to serve out the match at 5-4 but put away a drive volley to save a match point at 5-6 and force a deciding first-to-10-points tie-break.

Williams moved into a 4-0 lead but, on the stage where she has triumphed on so many occasions, this time there was not to be a happy ending.

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ALEXANDER ZVEREV UNDERGOES ANKLE SURGERY AFTER FRENCH OPEN FALL

Alexander Zverev has undergone surgery on torn ankle ligaments following his fall in the French Open semi-final against Rafael Nadal.

Zverev fell and twisted his ankle at the end of the second set at Roland Garros on Friday, yelling in pain as Nadal rushed around the net to help.

The German was helped to his feet but taken off the court in a wheelchair for treatment.

After five minutes the 25-year-old re-emerged on crutches to inform the umpire that he could not continue.

Zverev has now confirmed he has had surgery on the injury but has not placed a time frame on his return.

Writing on Instagram, Zverev said: “We all have our own journey in life. This is part of mine. Next week I’ll reach a career high ranking of number 2 in the world, but this morning I had to undergo surgery.

“After further examination in Germany, we received confirmation that all three of the lateral ligaments in my right ankle were torn.

“To return to competition as quickly as possible, to ensure all the ligaments heal properly, and to reclaim full stability in my ankle, surgery was the best choice.

“My rehab starts now and I’ll do everything to come back stronger than ever!

“I am continuing to receive so many messages and would like to thank everyone once again for supporting me during such a difficult time.”

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Tennis

RAFAEL NADAL CONTINUES FRENCH OPEN DOMINANCE WITH RUTHLESS 14TH TITLE SUCCESS

Rafael Nadal reclaimed his crown as the king of clay with a dominant victory over Casper Ruud at the French Open.

Roland Garros royalty returned to the throne as Nadal roared to a 14th title courtesy of a 6-3 6-3 6-0 win over first-time finalist Ruud.

Nadal is two days past his 36th birthday and suffering with a chronic foot problem, which has prompted rumours of retirement.

But he brushed aside Norwegian eighth seed Ruud to claim a 22nd grand slam victory to take him two ahead of great rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer at the top of the all-time male rankings.

As expected the quarter-final win over Djokovic, the outgoing champion, proved Nadal’s biggest hurdle on his way to the ‘decimocuarto’.

By contrast, it was a walk in the Paris sunshine against Ruud, 17 years to the day since the Spaniard won his first title here.

Such is Nadal’s longevity he is now frequently coming up against players who idolised him as children.

Ruud, 23, is one of those, having been in the crowd when Nadal won his eighth title, against David Ferrer in 2013.

The Norwegian also trained at Nadal’s academy in Majorca, regularly playing practice sets with his hero.

This was their first competitive meeting, although the first set had all the intensity of a knock-about in the Spanish sun.

It was a rude awakening for the underdog when he was broken straight away, and although Nadal let him off the hook with a loose service game, the opening set was soon in the bag.

A double fault gave Ruud a break to love for a 3-1 lead in the second, but he was unable to press home the advantage as Nadal dipped into the energy reserves to hit straight back.

When a forehand winner zipped down the line to bring up set point, Ruud shook his head in despair, and promptly double-faulted to give Nadal a 2-0 lead.

Little went right for Norway’s first male singles grand slam finalist, and when he feathered a simple volley into the net Nadal was two breaks up in the third.

In the end it was a procession, with ‘Viva Espana’ blaring out from a band in the stands as Nadal added the Roland Garros trophy to the Australian Open he won earlier this year.

Whether his ageing, ailing body allows him to collect any more remains to be seen.

In his acceptance speech Nadal did, at least, scotch any thoughts of imminently hanging up his racket.

“For me personally, it is very difficult to describe the feelings that I have,” he said.

“It’s something that I never believed, that I would be here at 36, being competitive again, playing on the most important court of my career one more time in a final.

“It means everything to me. It means a lot of energy to try to keep going. I just want to say ‘merci, merci beaucoup’.”

“I don’t know what can happen in the future but I am going to keep fighting to try to keep going.”

Ruud’s name was added to a list of victims also including Djokovic, Federer, Ferrer, Mariano Puerta, Robin Soderling, Dominic Thiem and Stan Wawrinka.

Gracious in defeat, he said: “This is a first time for me so let’s see how I do. The first and most important thing is to congratulate Rafa.

“It’s your 14th time, 22nd all round in Grand Slams. We all know what a champion you are.

“Today I got to feel how it is to play against you in a final. It’s not easy and I’m not the first victim. I know there have been many before.”

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ROGER FEDERER SET TO RETURN TO TENNIS AGAIN IN SEPTEMBER FOLLOWING INJURY

Roger Federer looks to have allayed retirement fears as he plots a return to the ATP Tour in the autumn, starting at the Laver Cup in London followed by the Swiss Indoors in Basel.

The 20-time grand-slam champion has been sidelined since losing in the Wimbledon quarter-finals in July last year, announcing the following month he had undergone more knee surgery.

Federer admitted last November he would be “extremely surprised” if he returned to SW19 this year in an attempt to win a record ninth men’s singles crown and it now appears almost certain he will miss out.

He turns 41 in August but the following month he plans to be at the fifth edition of the Laver Cup, a competition starting on September 23 that pits Europe against the rest of the world.

From there is his home tournament of the Swiss Indoors, according to organisers, which starts on October 24. Federer has won the tournament 10 times, collecting his 103rd and most recent title in 2019, the last time the event was held.

A post on the tournament’s Instagram said: “After a two-year break due to the pandemic, the Swiss Indoors Basel will return to the ATP Tour in the fall of 2022.

“Ten-time singles champion and hometown hero Roger Federer has announced his comeback to the stadium at St. Jakobshalle. The Swiss all-time great has confirmed his initial agenda will include the Laver Cup in London followed by the Swiss Indoors in Basel.”

Federer said in an Instagram story: “Looking forward to playing back home.”

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NOVAK DJOKOVIC COMES FROM BEHIND TO SEAL SERBIAN OPEN SEMI-FINAL SPOT

Novak Djokovic recovered from a set down for the second match in a row to defeat compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic and reach the semi-finals of the Serbian Open.

The world number one survived a deciding tie-break against Laslo Djere on Wednesday and found himself up against another fellow Serbian on Thursday.

Kecmanovic has been having an excellent season and held on to an early break to take the first set, but Djokovic hit back from a break down in the second and finished the match playing his best tennis of a disrupted season.

He roared as a final backhand landed inside the line to clinch a 4-6 6-3 6-3 victory and set up a last-four clash with either Karen Khachanov or Thiago Monteiro.

Speaking in his on-court interview, Djokovic, who is playing just his third tournament of the year, said: “I’m very pleased that I’m not going to play a Serbian player for a change because its a very strange feeling sharing the court with your compatriots.

“They are very rare occasions when I’m able to play at home and experience this atmosphere, so I’m trying to enjoy every single moment.”

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NOVAK DJOKOVIC SUFFERS SHOCK DEFEAT IN MONTE CARLO

Novak Djokovic was beaten by Alejandro Davidovich Fokina as the world number one’s return to the ATP Tour fell flat at the Monte Carlo Masters.

Playing for the first time since February after skipping the US hard-court swing due to ongoing Covid-19 vaccination issues, Djokovic was beaten 6-3 6-7 (5) 6-1 in just under three hours.

The Serb faced 20 break points and was broken on no fewer than nine occasions as the world number 46 recovered from a major setback in the second set to score the best win of his career.

Djokovic is clearly in need of more match practice if he is to end a torrid year – which saw him deported prior to the Australian Open in January – by improving on his 20 grand slam titles.

A two-time winner in Monte Carlo, Djokovic was staring at a swift defeat when he lost the first set and was then immediately broken at the start of the second.

The Spaniard showed his inexperience with a needless dive at the start of the seventh game of the set, prompting injury fears and enabling Djokovic to reel off 10 points in a row as he broke back to love to wrest the upper-hand.

The momentum swung back in Davidovich Fokina’s direction when Djokovic, serving for the set, conjured four unforced errors to allow his opponent to break back and ultimately force a tie-break.

But having come back from 4-2 down to win the breaker, Djokovic’s recent inactivity told as he was broken three more times in a one-sided deciding set.

Earlier, Britain’s Dan Evans reached the second round after securing a 6-0 7-6 (4) win over Benjamin Bonzi of France.

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TAYLOR FRITZ TAKES INDIAN WELLS TITLE AND ENDS RAFAEL NADAL’S 20-MATCH STREAK

Taylor Fritz has snapped Rafael Nadal’s 20-match winning streak as the Californian claimed his first ATP Masters 1000 title at Indian Wells.

There were errors from both throughout as Fritz took the first set and the pair entered a tiebreaker at the end of the second, with neither having lost one at Indian Wells this year in singles.

But it was the 24-year-old, ranked 20th, who emerged victorious to finish 6-3 7-6 (5) over the world number four, with Fritz becoming the first American to win the tournament since Andre Agassi in 2001.

Earlier, Poland’s Iga Swiatek won the women’s title with a commanding victory over Maria Sakkari.

Swiatek rose to number two in the world after a 6-4 6-1 win over her Greek opponent.

“We’ve already started a pretty cool rivalry and I think it’s going to last a few more years so it’s pretty exciting,” Swiatek said in her on-court interview.

“We’re going to play many more finals. Today was pretty crazy because of the conditions. My team did an amazing job.”

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: NADAL BEATS MEDVEDEV TO WIN RECORD-BREAKING 21ST GRAND SLAM TITLE

Rafael Nadal has won a record-breaking 21st grand slam title, beating Daniil Medvedev 2-6 6-7 (5) 6-4 6-4 7-5 in the Australian Open tennis men’s singles final.

Most of the build-up focused on the historic significance of the Spaniard bidding for his 21st grand slam title, but he found himself under pressure from the start on Rod Laver Arena.

Medvedev stamped his authority on the final by dominating the first set. Nadal saved two break points in a long third game but was then broken to love in the fifth as Medvedev, who was booed onto court by a section of the crowd, proved the steadier from the baseline.

Successive double faults then contributed to a second straight break and Medvedev served out the set 6-2.

There were dramatic scenes with Nadal facing break point serving for the second set at 5-3 when a man waving a banner jumped out of the crowd and down onto the court.

He was only metres from Medvedev but was immediately tackled by several security men and hauled away before the match resumed.

Nadal began to play more offensively in the second set and twice managed to break the Medvedev serve.

But holding his own proved a constant challenge and Medvedev twice responded, saving a set point at 5-3 before hitting back to level.

Into a tie-break they went, and again Nadal led 5-3, but this time Medvedev produced a sequence of fine points to take it 7-5, ending it with a backhand pass and taunting the crowd, who responded with boos.

Nadal had not recovered from two sets down to win a match since beating Mikhail Youzhny at Wimbledon in 2007, while he faded physically after the first two sets against Denis Shapovalov and Matteo Berrettini here.

But his competitive desire has never been in doubt and recovering from 0-40 at 2-3 in third set to hold galvanised the Spaniard.

With Medvedev beginning to look weary and muddled in his shot selection, Nadal pounced at 4-4 before serving out the set 6-4.

Medvedev was allowing himself to become increasingly wound up by the crowd, appealing repeatedly to umpire John Blom to control the “idiots”.

His mood was not improved when he double-faulted to drop serve in the third game of the fourth set and, although he got back on terms immediately, Nadal took his seventh break point in the next game.

Nadal created a set point on his opponent’s serve at 5-3, which Medvedev saved, but the 20-time grand slam champion took it 6-4 on his own serve to level the contest.

Both men headed off court for a bathroom break but Medvedev could not break Nadal’s momentum, a trademark forehand passing shot from the Spaniard giving him a 3-2 lead in the deciding set.

The Russian had three chances to break back in the next game but could not take any of them and Nadal was two points away at 30-0 serving at 5-4.

But a double fault proved costly – and betrayed the tension of the moment – and a netted backhand from Nadal saw Medvedev break back for 5-5.

The Russian, though, could not hold his own serve, giving Nadal a second chance to serve for it.

This time he did not falter, bringing up three match points and clinching it 2-6 6-7 (5) 6-4 6-4 7-5 after five hours and 24 minutes at 1.11am local time.