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The Threat Of Terrorism And The Everyday Reality For Tennis Players

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As Belgium recovers from the latest terrorist catastrophe to hit Europe, an all too familiar scenario is facing  tennis players around the world.

 

On Tuesday morning  a series of bombings struck Zaventem airport and the Maalbeek metro station, leaving at least 34 people dead and over 270 injured. The attack, claimed by the so-called Islamic State, comes four months after the November’s Paris attacks, where 130 people were killed.

The terror threat has deterred many from traveling, however, for tennis players they have no choice in the matter. Djordje Djokovic, the brother of Novak, was on his way to Zaventem airport before his plane was diverted due to the explosions.

The latest incident has reminded the world that an attack could take place anywhere, even at the heart of Europe. This worrying, but true statement in one which was also recently said by world No.1 Serena Williams.

“It’s just a really dangerous time in the world right now,” Williams said during questions with the media in Miami.
“You can be anywhere in the world and something can happen. We should all have to be kind of on alert. No city is safe at this point. You have to be alert.”

Terrorist threats at tennis tournaments is nothing new facing the sport. In 2001 the USA Fed Cup team withdrew from their final against Spain following the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. More recently, in the lead-up to the 2015 Davis Cup final, Brussels raised their terror threat to its highest level following intelligence reports of an attack. Fortunately the final went on without incident. This year the Slovenian Fed Cup team have withdrawn from an upcoming Fed Cup tournament in Egypt due to security fears.

Richard Gasquet and Ana Ivanovic were two players caught up in the 2015 Paris Attacks. They were both in the Stade de France watching a football match as they heard the explosions outside the stadium. Gasquet spoke about his experience during an interview with L’equipe.

“The match had started. We heard two explosions. I had even before heard some unbelievable sounds in les Parcs au Princes but this was obviously something else. It was not a sound, it was really a blast.” He said in November 2015.

Regardless of the terror fears, many people have refused to give in to fear. Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber was another to speak about the terrorism threat this week. The German have dismissed her own fears about being caught up in an attack.

“Sometimes you are thinking you travel every week,” Kerber said.
“Sometimes it seems hard. But at the end, you have no choice.”

For tennis players, whether they are world No.1 or No.100, traveling the world to tennis tournament is a necessity for them to make money. They have no option but to keep on with their everyday life. The fight against Islamic extremism is ongoing, but life can’t grind to a halt. A viewpoint which is shared by Carla Suarez Navarro.

“It’s sad to hear about the events in Brussels. You never know what is going to happen,” she said.
“We have to enjoy life because you never know what’s going to come.”

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic Goes for his 19th Major Title Against Stefanos Tsitsipas

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An airborne Novak Djokovic on Friday in Paris (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

In 2006 at this event, Novak Djokovic reached his first Slam quarterfinal.  15 years and 18 Major titles later, the 34-year-old has become one of the greatest players of all-time.  On Friday, in a fantastic semifinal, he became the only man to ever defeat Rafael Nadal twice at the French Open.  A win today would pull him within one Major title of not only Nadal, but also Roger Federer.  And it would make him the first man to win each Grand Slam tournament twice since Rod Laver in 1969.

 

In 2016 at this event, Stefanos Tsitsipas made his Slam debut.  Five years and four Major semis later, the 22-year-old has reached his first Slam final.  On Friday, he survived a dramatic five-set semifinal against Sascha Zverev.  A win today would make him the youngest man to win a Major since Juan Martin Del Potro in 2009.  And it would make him the first man to win in his first Grand Slam final appearance since Marin Cilic in 2014.

Also on Sunday, the women’s doubles championship will be decided, with the two most recent French Open women’s singles champions on opposite sides of the net.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) – Not before 3:00pm on Court Philippe-Chatrier

Djokovic leads their head-to-head 5-2, and 3-0 on clay.  After winning two of their first three encounters, Tsitsipas has now lost the last four.  Last October in the semifinals of this tournament, Djokvoic was up two-sets-to-love when Tsitsipas came storming back to even the match, yet Novak closed out the fifth set decisively.  They also met just a few weeks ago in Rome, where Djokovic won an extremely-tight three-setter, which took over three hours to decide, and was played over the course of two days.

The last time Djokovic defeated Nadal at Roland Garros, in 2015’s quarterfinals, he was upset in the championship match by Stan Wawrinka.  Will Tsitsipas play the role of Wawrinka on Sunday?  Both men played grueling matches on Friday, but Novak’s ended about five hours later, was over 30 minutes longer, and undoubtedly was more physically and emotionally draining.  And Tsitsipas should fine some confidence in knowing his last two matches against Djokovic on clay have been anything but blowouts.

Novak is 18-10 in Major finals, with four of his losses coming in Paris.  He will fully understand what a huge opportunity this is to win the French Open for a second time, after eliminating Rafa on Friday.  I expect Djokovic to be much more prepared for this moment than he was six years ago against Wawrinka, and than Tsitsipas will be in his first Slam final.  Novak Djokovic is a considerable favorite to win his 19th Major title.

Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (2) vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Iga Swiatek (14) – Saturday was the biggest day of Krejcikova’s career, winning her first Major in singles.  Less than 24 hours later, she looks to be a double champion.  Her and Siniakova were two-time Slam winners in 2018.  Swiatek was of course the champion here in singles last October, while Mattek-Sands has won all five women’s doubles finals she’s ever played at Majors, and all with her former partner, Lucie Safarova.

Sunday’s full schedule is here.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Barbora Krejcikova Play for the Women’s Championship

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Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova during Thursday’s semifinals (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

10 years ago at this event, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova reached her first Major quarterfinal.  As a teenager, she was up a set and 4-1 against defending champion Francesca Schiavone, but failed to close out the match, losing 7-5 in the third.  The Russian would reach 10 more Slam quarters in both singles and doubles, yet lose every one of them.  At the age of 29, she’s reevaluated her career, and rededicated herself to training and achieving bigger accomplishments.  This week, on her 12th try, she finally broke through to the semifinals at a Major, and promptly won her semi in straight sets to reach her first Slam final.

 

Five years ago at this event, Barbora Krejcikova reached her first Major semifinal.  That was in women’s doubles, alongside her long-time partner, Katerina Siniakova.  They would go on to win this tournament in 2018, the same year they won Wimbledon.  That was a year after her coach and inspiration, Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna, sadly passed away from cancer.  On Sunday, Krejcikova and Siniakova will play for their third Major title as a team.  But this past year, Barbora has made huge strides in singles.  Last autumn, she arrived in Paris ranked outside the top 100 in singles, yet reached the second week of a Major for the first time.  Eight months later, the 25-year-old saved a match point in an epic semifinal against Maria Sakkari to reach her first Slam final.

Also on Saturday, the men’s doubles championship will be decided, with Frenchmen Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut playing for their fifth Major title.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (31) vs. Barbora Krejcikova – 3:00pm on Court Philippe-Chatrier

This will be new territory in multiple ways: not only their first singles championship match at a Major, but also their first career meeting.  They have met twice in recent years in doubles, with Krejcikova and her partner Siniakova prevailing both times in straight sets.  It took Anastasia a record-breaking 52 Slams to reach her first final, while this is only Barbora’s fifth time in the main draw of singles at a Major.  As Christopher Clarey highlighted on Twitter, this will mark the sixth consecutive year the women’s singles champion will be a first-time Slam champ.

Pavlyuchenkova has long been a dangerous draw, as she’s built a reputation for taking out top players.  Her victory last week over Aryna Sabalenka was the 37th top 10 win in her career.  As per WTA Insider, that’s the most top 10 wins ever by a player who themselves has never been ranked that high.  But it’s Krejcikova who has put together the stronger season, with a record of 24-8.  Barbora reached the final in Dubai, and is currently on an 11-match win streak, coming off a title run just two weeks ago in Strasbourg.  Between singles and doubles, she’s won 16 matches over the last 20 days.

In each of her six victories to this stage, Pavlyuchenkova has avoided having a lower second-serve-points-won percentage than her opponent.  Krejcikova did so against five of her six opponents, with the exception being Elina Svitolina, who converted only two of seven break points, and failed to protect her own serve.  The percentage of second-serve-points-won should be the key statistic to track during this match. 

That would seem to favor Pavlyuchenkova, who is the stronger and more consistent baseline player.  But this match will likely come down to who better manages the emotions of this momentous occasion.  In her 15th year of Grand Slam competition, will Anastasia be motivated or overwhelmed by the knowledge of how rare an opportunity this can be?  Based on the composed way she has handled herself through six rounds, it feels as if Pavlyuchenkova is ready to capture the moment, and win her first Major title.

Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut (6) vs. Alexander Bublik and Andrey Golubev – The French team were champions here three years ago, and have narrowly escaped defeat four times this fortnight, most recently saving three match points in the semifinals against Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah.  Bublik and Golubev have defeated two seeded teams in just the fourth tournament of their partnership.

Saturday’s full schedule is here.

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Novak Djokovic Overcomes Slow Start To Stun Nadal In French Open Thriller

Djokovic has become the fourth oldest man to reach the final at Roland Garros after coming through a gripping encounter with nemesis Nadal.

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image via https://twitter.com/rolandgarros/

Novak Djokovic avenged his loss from last year’s French Open final by producing a emphatic display to defeat Rafael Nadal and reach the final in what was one of the best matches of their entire rivalry on the Tour.

 

The two tennis giants locked horns on court Philippe Chatrier for a marathon four hours and 11 minutes before Djokovic prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2, in what was a roller coaster encounter. Becoming the first player in history to have defeated Nadal at the tournament on multiple occasions. In his latest match the Serbian fired a total of 50 winners and broke eight times en route to what he later described as one of the most memorable wins of his career.

“It was a privilege to be on the court with Rafa ( Nadal) and this incredible match, it is probably the biggest match of my life here in Paris, that’s for sure, and also with the best atmosphere for both players,” Djokovic said during his on-court interview.

The world number one started to apply the pressure from the word play and earned the first breakpoint of the match in the opening game and managed to have two looks but the Spaniard saved both with his booming serve. Nadal responded the very next game earning his first breakpoint and breaking the Belgrade native to take an early 2-0 lead and at 3-0 managed to go up a double break in just 20 minutes. Which was enough for him to take the first set.

Djokovic once again respond at the beginning of the second set earning three breakpoints at 1-0 and breaking to take a 2-0 lead before the Spaniard would bounce back breaking back to go back on serve. The Serb had another chance to take the lead at 3-2 when he had three chances and broke to take a 4-2 lead. That break proved crucial as Djokovic would serve out the second set to level the match at one set apiece.

The third set was a much tighter affair and at 1-1 it was Djokovic who had the first chance to break but Nadal saved and held serve. At 2-2 the world number had another chance to get the crucial break and at the third time of asking he broke the Spaniard serve but relinquished it the very next game.

The Serb would break again the following game and managed this time to hold serve and had a chance to serve for the set at 5-4 but Nadal came up with some crazy forehand winners to set up a breakpoint and break back.

The Serb had two chances again to get the break back but the world number three saved both and held serve before applying pressure once again. Earning a set point on the world number one serve but he managed to save and force a tiebreaker.

The breaker was just as tight and at 4-3 Nadal missed a crucial put away at the net and that break was enough for the Djokovic to win the breaker and the third set.

The Spaniard had the better start to the fourth set earning a breakpoint in the opening match and broke to take an early 1-0 lead but at 2-1 the world number responded once again earning two chances to break and breaking to level the match at 2-2. At 3-2 Djokovic had more chances to break and he earned the crucial one once again. Going on to serve out the match to book his spot in Sundays final against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

After the match in his post match on court interview Djokovic was asked how he was able to handle the pressure and focus on his game in a match like that.

“Evidently if you want to beat Rafa (Nadal) on his court you have to play your best tennis and tonight was the night of my best tennis, the pressure to play against him is quite special”.

Djokovic currently holds a 5-2 record against his Greek opponent and they most recently played a couple weeks ago in Rome with the world number one winning in three sets.

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