Friday, October 9, 2020

Nadal, Djokovic set up showdown for French Open title

Rafael Nadal, practicing at Indian Wells last year, will play for
his 13th French Open crown. Photo copyright by Harjanto Sumali
   Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal struggled to put away gritty opponents today but survived to set up a dream French Open final.
   The top-ranked Djokovic had the tougher battle, subduing fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1 in 3 hours, 54 minutes in Paris.
   Djokovic, who held a match point serving at 5-4 in the third set, improved to 37-1 (including his U.S. Open default) this year. He reached the French Open final for the first time since completing a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2016 and the fifth time overall.
   "Novak showed once again what an incredible athlete he is and his ability on the courts," Tsitsipas, 22, said on atptennis.com. "It was difficult, for sure, playing him. He is one of the most difficult opponents I've faced in my entire life. I have huge respect for that. He gave me a really difficult time on the court.
   "Unfortunately, toward to end of the match, an injury that I had during my match in Rome came back. It was difficult to close the match in a fighting way, in a fighting spirit. But I tried my best despite all of this. I'm happy that I came back from two-sets-to-love down and tried to stay in the match as long as possible."
   Nadal, ranked second, eliminated 12th-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (0) in 3 hours, 9 minutes after leading 3-1 in the third set.
   Schwartzman was coming off a 5-hour, 8-minute victory over third-seeded Dominic Thiem, who won his first Grand Slam title in the U.S. Open last month.
   The 28-year-old Schwartzman, who's listed at 5-foot-7 (1.70 meters) and 141 pounds (64 kilograms), will crack the top 10 for the first time on Monday, rising six places to No. 8.
   Nadal improved to 10-1 against Schwartzman, who shocked the Spanish star 6-2, 7-5 three weeks ago in the Italian Open quarterfinals. 
   Djokovic, 33, and Nadal, 34, will meet for the 56th time on Sunday at 6 a.m. PDT (NBC). Either Nadal will tie 39-year-old Roger Federer's men's record of 20 Grand Slam singles titles, or Djokovic will pull within one of Nadal.
Novak Djokovic, practicing at Indian Wells last year, is one
of two players to beat Rafael Nadal in the French Open.
Photo copyright by Harjanto Sumali
   Djokovic leads the head-to-head series 29-26, but Nadal owns advantages of 17-7 on clay (8-7 in the last 15 encounters), 6-1 in the French Open and 2-0 in Roland Garros finals (both in four sets). Djokovic and Robin Soderling are the only players to beat Nadal in the French Open.
   Most notably, Nadal has won 12 French Open singles titles, including the last three, to Djokovic's one. 
   "To play against Novak, I need to play my best," said Nadal, who has not lost a set in the tournament. "Without playing my best tennis the situation is very difficult. I know this is a court that I have been playing well on for such a long time, so that helps. At the same time, he has an amazing record here, too, being in the final rounds almost every single time. 
   "He is one of the toughest opponents possible. But I am here to keep trying my best. I like to play in this scenario. I know I have to make a step forward. I think I did one today. But for Sunday, it is not enough. I need to make another one. That's what I'm looking for. I am going to work hard to try to make that happen."
   Djokovic acknowledged that Nadal "has lost twice in his entire career on this court. Obviously, the conditions are different than the ones that we are used to playing in May and June. That could be better for me, obviously the ball not bouncing as high over the shoulder as he likes it usually.
   "Regardless of the conditions, he's still there, he's Rafa, he's in the final, and we're playing on clay. Best-of-five playing him in the final at Roland Garros, I know that feeling."
   Women's final — Fourth-seeded Sofia Kenin, 21, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., and unseeded Iga Swiatek, 19, of Poland will meet for the first time as professionals on Saturday at 6 a.m. PDT (NBC).
   Kenin, who won her first Grand Slam title in the Australian Open early this year, and Swiatek, the 2018 Wimbledon girls singles champion, took contrasting routes to the final. 
   Four of Kenin's six matches have gone to three sets. Swiatek, meanwhile, has not lost more than five games in a match, including a 6-1, 6-2 thrashing of top seed and 2018 champion Simona Halep in the fourth round. 
   Swiatek defeated Kenin, who was born in Moscow and moved to the United States as a young child, 6-4, 7-5 in the third round of the French Open girls event in 2016. Kenin proceeded to win Northern California Challengers in Sacramento that year at 17, Stockton in 2017 and Berkeley in 2018.

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