Brentford secured promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their history with a 2-0 victory over Swansea City in the Championship play-off final.

The Bees lost at this stage last season to London rivals Fulham but were in no mood to be denied this time around and were 2-0 up inside 20 minutes.

Ivan Toney's 10th-minute penalty, his 33rd goal of an amazing campaign, opened the scoring and Brentford's lead was doubled by Emiliano Marcondes just under 10 minutes later.

Swansea were much improved in the second half, but Jay Fulton's red card effectively sealed victory for Brentford as they clinched a first promotion to the top flight since 1935, ending their 74-year absence from the highest domestic level having been relegated back in 1947.

Toney had scored all 10 of his previous penalties this season and never looked likely to err after goalkeeper Freddie Woodman felled Bryan Mbeumo when he was played in by Sergi Canos' superb reverse pass.

He duly made it 11 from 11 by calmly slotting beyond former Newcastle United team-mate Woodman and into the bottom-left corner, with Toney's record from the spot the best of any player in England's top four tiers in all competitions.

Swansea struggled to respond to that early setback and they were soon given a mountain to climb when Mads Rasmussen expertly picked out Marcondes at the end of a counter-attack and the Dane rifled a fine finish into the bottom-right corner.

And the Bees were almost out of sight as Toney cracked a spectacular volley against the underside of the crossbar, with Woodman grateful to see the ball bounce on the line and out.

Swansea did stem the tide thereafter and went close in the final minute of normal time in the first half as Andre Ayew sent a header off the top of the bar before starting the second half by skewing a diving header wide from Connor Roberts' cross.

Jamal Lowe crafted some promising openings for the Swans but Fulton was shown a straight red card for a reckless challenge on Mathias Jensen, giving Brentford fans cause to start the celebrations early on a landmark day for the club.

What does it mean? Brentford make it a half-century of Premier League clubs

Swansea were looking to end a three-season stay in the second tier following Premier League relegation in 2018, but Brentford will instead make their debut in the division, becoming the 50th different club to grace the league since its inception in 1992.

Their 86 years between promotions to the top flight is the second-longest gap behind Bradford City, who ended a wait of 91 years in 1999.

Ivan sets the tone

The composure Toney displayed in converting from the spot showed him to be a player ready for the magnitude of the occasion and only the woodwork prevented him from magnificently ending the game as a contest in the first half.

Just one player, Cambridge United's Paul Mullin (34), has scored more goals in all competitions than Toney this season. Brentford will hope his prolific form translates to the Premier League as they bid to stay up next season.

Woodman gets it wrong

Woodman had to be sure he was going to get the ball when he came off his line to challenge Mbeumo. His misjudgement swiftly swung the game in Brentford's favour. Though he could do little about the second goal, this was a day to forget for a goalkeeper likely to be in demand in the transfer window.

What's next?

Brentford could start the season against the European champions, with games against Manchester City and Chelsea on the horizon. For Swansea, it's another term in the Championship, with the likes of Peterborough United and Luton Town lying in wait.

Sebastian Korda won the first ATP Tour title of his career with a straight-sets defeat of Marco Cecchinato in the Emilia-Romagna Open final on Saturday.

Korda became the first American man to be crowned a champion on clay in Europe for 11 years, beating the Italian wildcard 6-2 6-4 in Parma.

The unseeded 20-year-old son of former world number two Petr Korda did not drop a set this week and will head to the French Open with his confidence sky-high.

Korda won 82 per cent of points behind his first serve and broke three times to get the better of Cecchinato at the President Tennis Club.

The Florida native took just an hour and 15 minutes to become the first American man since Sam Querrey in Belgrade back in 2010 to win a title in Europe on this surface.

His victory ensured the Kordas are the third father-son duo to win ATP Tour-level singles titles in the Open Era, emulating Ramanathan Krishnan and Ramesh Krishnan, and Phil Dent and Taylor Dent.

World number 63 Korda will face Spaniard Pedro Martinez in the first round at Roland Garros next week.

Barbora Krejcikova clinched a first Tour-level singles title of her career as she dispatched Sorana Cirstea 6-3 6-3 in the final of the Internationaux de Strasbourg.

World number 38 Krejcikova lost to Garbine Muguruza in the Dubai Tennis Championships final in March but suffered no such disappointment this time around, overcoming her Romanian opponent in one hour and 41 minutes.

Cirstea was in fine form this week following her Istanbul success, but the world number 61 was on the back foot from the off after losing her first two service games, offering up six break points in the process as Krejcikova reeled off four games in a row.

Krejcikova squandered two set points as Cirstea broke back, but the Czech took the lead at the third time of asking.

Cirstea rallied straight away in the second set, yet problems on her own serve continued as she suffered successive breaks and those errors ultimately handed Krejcikova an advantage she did not relinquish, with the 25-year-old sealing her maiden title with a powerful cross-court forehand.

Novak Djokovic will head to the French Open on the back of claiming the singles title at the Belgrade Open after battling past Alex Molcan in the final.

The world number one did not have it all his own way against the world number 255, with the first set featuring just three service holds.

But Djokovic claimed four breaks to Molcan's three to take the opener and did not let his advantage slip in front of his home crowd.

He negotiated a similarly tricky second set to prevail 6-4 6-3, with attention now turning to the second grand slam of the year after Djokovic won the Australian Open back in January.

After a resilient performance in the first set as he twice came back from a break down, Djokovic was able to enjoy a slightly less frenetic path to victory in the second.

He broke down a more obdurate Molcan for a 4-2 lead, only for the Slovak to hit straight back.

But Djokovic was not to be denied and immediately claimed another break, which he consolidated to delight his adoring public.

Victory in what was Djokovic's first final on home soil since 2011 means he now has 83 ATP singles titles to his name, with three of them coming at this event.

It also caps a positive period of preparation for a tilt at a second French Open title, with Djokovic having reached the final in Rome this month only to lose to Roland Garros favourite Rafael Nadal.

Nadal and Djokovic could meet in the semi-finals this year in Paris, where the Serbian was thrashed by the King of Clay in three sets in the 2020 final.

Djokovic will start his campaign to add to his 2016 French Open success when he faces Tennys Sandgren in the first round.

The Reds finally ended the wait for an Australian win in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman season, but there were heavy defeats for the Waratahs and the Brumbies on Saturday.

With Damian McKenzie sent off in the 22nd minute for making contact with the head area, the impressive Reds appeared to be coasting to victory when they opened up a 40-8 lead midway through the second half.

Isaac Henry scored two of their six tries, the first of which came with Chase Tiatia in the sin bin. McKenzie's red card then swung the game even further in the Reds' favour, as they capitalised on having an extra man to run up the score.

However, they were then forced to repel a frenetic comeback bid, four tries from the Chiefs closing the gap down to six points in the closing minutes.

The hosts managed to hold on to win 40-34 and register a first Australian success in the tournament at the 15th attempt, in the process denting their opponents' hopes of making the grand final as they collected only a losing bonus point.

New Zealand sides had dominated the two earlier fixtures, though, including the rampant Crusaders cutting loose against the Waratahs.

There were eight different try-scorers for Scott Robinson's team in an emphatic 54-28 triumph, with Richie Mo'unga converting all bar one of the scores in the rout.

The Waratahs did get within 10 points after Izaia Perese touched down with Oli Jager in the sin bin, while they also capitalised on yellow cards for David Havili and Nathan Vella to score a late try through Alex Newsome, albeit it was no more than a consolation effort.

The Blues made it three straight Trans-Tasman wins despite a determined Brumbies side matching them in the first half at Eden Park, the away team even holding a 10-7 lead when hooker Connal McInerney went over.

They were unable to hold onto the lead for long and trailed 17-10 at the break, Finlay Christie touching down for a try converted by Otere Black, who also slotted over a penalty.

The hosts added 21 points without reply in the second half, Bryce Heem, AJ Lam and TJ Faiane all grabbing tries in a 38-10 triumph that sees them take over at the top of the table.

Adam Le Fondre scored twice as Sydney FC fired a warning to the rest of the A-League top-six challengers with a 4-1 win over Adelaide United.

The Reds could have drawn level with Sydney in second place in the table with a victory but were firmly out of the contest even before Jordan Elsey was sent off with 63 minutes played.

Le Fondre's superb header from Rhyan Grant's cross put the visitors ahead at Coopers Stadium after just six minutes, and the experienced striker spurned a good chance for a second before the break.

Stefan Mauk hit the post for Adelaide early in the second half and Le Fondre compounded their frustrations two minutes later, burying his second after James Delianov had denied Kosta Barbarouses.

Le Fondre then turned provider, crossing low from the right to present Bobo with a simple finish, the goal given after a VAR review saw an initial offside call correctly overturned.

Elsey, who was arguably fortunate to receive only a yellow card for a two-footed tackle on Bobo in the first half, earned his second booking when he brought down Anthony Caceres.

Teenager Patrick Wood scored a minute after coming off the bench after a positive run, with Yaya Dukuly's first A-League goal at the end of a slick move providing little consolation to Adelaide, who saw an eight-game home unbeaten run come to an end.

Sydney are now four points behind leaders Melbourne City, having played a game more.

Trae Young helped the Atlanta Hawks regain the advantage in their first-round series against the New York Knicks, who saw Julius Randle endure another playoff outing to forget in Game 3.

Point guard Young led his team with 21 points as all five of Atlanta's starters reached double figures in a 105-94 triumph on Friday.

His eight-for-19 shooting performance was supplemented by 14 assists, making the 22-year-old just the third player since the merger with 80 or more points and at least 30 assists in his first three career playoff games, a feat also achieved by Kevin Johnson and Chris Paul.  

"I feel like I've prepared my whole life for these days, these moments," Young said after helping his team go 2-1 up in the best-of-seven series in the Eastern Conference.

However, it was the defensive effort that was the bedrock for Atlanta's victory, including keeping the struggling Knicks to just 13 points in the second quarter.

The visitors were unable to claw back the deficit after trailing 58-44 at half-time, not aided by Randle remaining cold on offense.

The 26-year-old made just two of his 15 attempts in total, with both successes coming from beyond the arc. He became the first Knick to go 0-for-eight or worse on two-point shots in a playoff game since Patrick Ewing did so 27 years ago.

Randle is now shooting 20.6 per cent on two-pointers across the series, making just seven of his 34 tries. It is the lowest success rate in a three-game span by any player with that many attempts in the past 30 postseasons.

His meagre offensive output is in stark contrast to his efforts in the regular season: Randle averaged a career-high 24.1 points per game to help the franchise end an eight-year playoff drought, while he became an All-Star for the first time.

For Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, the key is reacting to the situation on each possession, particularly as Atlanta's ploy of sending two and three players at Randle is leaving others open elsewhere.

"They loaded up on him pretty good. When a team does that, when they put two or three guys on you, you've got to make the play," Thibodeau said in his post-game media conference.

"You've either got to get easy buckets in transition, or off drive-and-kick, you've got to keep moving around.

"He's seen a lot of that this year, but when you have a second and a third guy, that can make it tough. But that should lead to rebounding and open threes on the back side, so we've got to trust the pass."

He added: "The big thing is to get rid of the ball and make plays early. When you do that, you can usually get high-percentage shots. When you get the second defender on the ball, their responsibility is to get rid of it and make plays for their team-mates."

Game 4 of the series takes place in Atlanta on Sunday.

Trae Young helped the Atlanta Hawks regain the advantage in their first-round series against the New York Knicks, who saw Julius Randle endure another playoff outing to forget in Game 3.

Point guard Young led his team with 21 points as all five of Atlanta's starters reached double figures in a 105-94 triumph on Friday.

His eight-for-19 shooting performance was supplemented by 14 assists, making the 22-year-old just the third player since the merger with 80 or more points and at least 30 assists in his first three career playoff games, a feat also achieved by Kevin Johnson and Chris Paul.  

"I feel like I've prepared my whole life for these days, these moments," Young said after helping his team go 2-1 up in the best-of-seven series in the Eastern Conference.

However, it was the defensive effort that was the bedrock for Atlanta's victory, including keeping the struggling Knicks to just 13 points in the second quarter.

The visitors were unable to claw back the deficit after trailing 58-44 at half-time, not aided by Randle remaining cold on offense.

The 26-year-old made just two of his 15 attempts in total, with both successes coming from beyond the arc. He became the first Knick to go 0-for-eight or worse on two-point shots in a playoff game since Patrick Ewing did so 27 years ago.

Randle is now shooting 20.6 per cent on two-pointers across the series, making just seven of his 34 tries. It is the lowest success rate in a three-game span by any player with that many attempts in the past 30 postseasons.

His meagre offensive output is in stark contrast to his efforts in the regular season: Randle averaged a career-high 24.1 points per game to help the franchise end an eight-year playoff drought, while he became an All-Star for the first time.

For Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, the key is reacting to the situation on each possession, particularly as Atlanta's ploy of sending two and three players at Randle is leaving others open elsewhere.

"They loaded up on him pretty good. When a team does that, when they put two or three guys on you, you've got to make the play," Thibodeau said in his post-game media conference.

"You've either got to get easy buckets in transition, or off drive-and-kick, you've got to keep moving around.

"He's seen a lot of that this year, but when you have a second and a third guy, that can make it tough. But that should lead to rebounding and open threes on the back side, so we've got to trust the pass."

He added: "The big thing is to get rid of the ball and make plays early. When you do that, you can usually get high-percentage shots. When you get the second defender on the ball, their responsibility is to get rid of it and make plays for their team-mates."

Game 4 of the series takes place in Atlanta on Sunday.

Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has confirmed Luciano Spalletti has been appointed as the club's new coach.

With Napoli having missed out on the Champions League on the final day of the Serie A season, De Laurentiis chose not to keep Gennaro Gattuso, whose contract expired at the end of 2020-21.

While Gattuso was swiftly appointed by Fiorentina, Napoli have now moved to acquire his replacement, bringing in former Roma and Inter coach Spalletti.

"I am delighted to announce that Luciano Spalletti will become Napoli coach on July 1," De Laurentiis confirmed in a brief statement on the club's website.

"Welcome, Luciano – we'll do great work together."

Spalletti, 62, has not been in management since he was dismissed by Inter in 2019, with the Nerazzurri having brought in Antonio Conte, who guided them to the Serie A title this term before announcing his departure.

He failed to win a title during his time at Inter but did oversee two Russian Premier League triumphs during a stint at Zenit, after twice winning the Coppa Italia with Roma in 2006-07 and 2007-08.

Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel's fondness for sharing a few drinks and intense tactical discussions during their time in Germany has been frequently referenced this week.

In Porto, they have a perfect setting. They could sample some of the fortified wine that takes its name from the Portuguese city, settle in for a Douro Valley red, some Vinho Verde or perhaps a pint of Super Bock or Sagres.

Of course, Saturday's Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea means they are unlikely to find the time and that's before we consider the 10:30pm curfew in place as part of Portugal's COVID-19 measures.

Whoever raises a glass at Estadio do Dragao will do so after a sharp change in fortunes mid-season.

Guardiola said City "were not the team I can recognise" in mid-December before a doubling down on his core principles to inspire a 21-game winning run across all competitions that propelled them towards the Premier League title, the EFL Cup and their first taste of European club football's biggest occasion.

Around the same time, Tuchel was days away from the sack at Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea were top of the Premier League. By the end of January, he was installed at Stamford Bridge as Frank Lampard's successor to helm a team in freefall. They have not looked back.

Take the ball, pass the ball

Handily, when it comes to comparisons, Tuchel took over at the halfway point of the English top-flight season in terms of games played.

Lampard's Chelsea won eight, drew five and lost three of their 19 games this term, with Tuchel improving those returns to W11 D5 L3. Two of the three losses came in the final three games of the domestic season.

"[Keeping] the ball is the best way to defend and people have to keep the ball in difficult circumstances," Guardiola said when discussing City's newfound solidity this season – and it is a view to which Tuchel certainly subscribes.

His Blues average 654.2 passes per game in the Premier League, compared to 613 under Lampard. Despite Chelsea's well-documented struggles in terms of prolific goalscoring, their touches in the opposition box are up from 26.1 to 30.3 every 90 minutes.

At the other end, they are facing fewer shots (7.6 down from 10.1) and their expected goals against (xGA) figure has dipped from one per game to 0.6.

In short, they are keeping the ball more and facing fewer shots, partly because more of their possession is happening in the opposition box. Playing against Tuchel's Chelsea, you are likely to find the ball further away from where you ideally want it.

Three is the magic number

Once teams manage to glimpse a fleeting sight of the Chelsea goal, they tend to find a formidable three-man backline in the way. The veteran Thiago Silva has been an assured presence in the heart of defence for Tuchel, with Antonio Rudiger revitalised after struggling under Lampard.

Changing to a 3-4-2-1 formation has been the hallmark of the former Borussia Dortmund coach's reign to date.

"The upside of it is that back three can be more aggressive," former Manchester City defender Nedum Onuoha, who operated at centre-back and right-back during his playing days, told Stats Perform.

"When you're in a two, you're reluctant to go all the way with somebody because it creates a vast amount of space behind you for somebody else.

"But when you have the security of two other players, then a striker dropping short is your invitation to go all the way with them. It suits the way you play because you can defend in a more aggressive manner instead of always worrying about behind you."

While Chelsea have found instant success with this shape since Tuchel's arrival, it is one Guardiola has dabbled in at City but never found his players completely comfortable. What's more, he would probably rather not be facing three centre-backs in his first Champions League final for a decade.

Since the start of the 2019-20 season, City have a 76.7 per cent win rate against teams fielding a back four (P73 W56). This drops to 69.6 per cent versus three/five at the back (P46 W32), still a high win ratio but a notable dip given their incredibly high standards overall.

The pressing matter

Not all back threes are created equally, though. Some of the teams to have frustrated City in this shape have used it as a means to get as many men behind the ball as possible and soak up waves of pressure, with wing-backs not overly concerned about matters beyond the halfway line.

Even if Tuchel opts for the more cautious option of Cesar Azpilicueta at wing-back on Saturday, Chelsea certainly do not fall into this category. With N'Golo Kante and the playmaking talents of Jorginho stationed as a deep-lying midfield pairing in front of their central defenders, they have the capabilities to smoothly play through any opposition press.

This is an intriguing ploy against Guardiola's men, given the manner in which they made their pressing game more efficient this year. City led the Premier League in terms of high turnovers (377) and shot-ending high turnovers (80), meaning no team was more prolific in terms of regaining possession within 40 metres of the opposition goal.

The champions achieved this despite allowing 11.5 passes per defensive action (PPDA), down from 10.1 last season. They were a little happier to let opponents have the ball and picked their moments to press and turnover possession judiciously.

It is an astute tweak that speaks well of Guardiola's impeccable eye for what he refers to as "the small details", but against a Chelsea team so assured on the ball from deep and with the numbers in terms of centre-backs and holding midfielders in their favour, City's work without the ball in opposition territory will have to be almost perfect.

Chelsea (187) were second to City (220) for build-up attacks in the Premier League in 2020-21 and Tuchel will meet Guardiola head-on in this regard. If they end up pumping it long to Olivier Giroud at some stage, it will mean plan A has failed.

False nines and false selections

How much bearing Chelsea's two wins against City over the course of the past six weeks will have on proceedings has been a subject to ponder.

Well, not for Guardiola, who insists a 1-0 FA Cup semi-final loss and fairly bizarre 2-1 Premier League reverse will have "zero" impact.

At Friday's pre-match news conference, Tuchel acknowledged Chelsea would face a very different City in Porto but spoke in positive terms about how his team had "closed the gap" over the course of two rehearsals that showed his players the level of "struggle" required to beat these opponents.

The City line-ups for both recent encounters were heavily rotated on the weekends after their respective Champions League quarter-final and semi-final wins over Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain.

Such is the strength of City's back-up options that their limp display at Wembley was a disappointment, but a team featuring three central defenders, four forwards and Rodri as a lone central midfielder at the Etihad Stadium looked like wanton deception from Guardiola, not wanting to give Chelsea the full City experience with the final looming. Sergio Aguero's Panenka penalty was perhaps sillier than the team sheet, although it was a close-run thing.

Now, Chelsea are likely to face the Champions League version. All fleet of foot, sleight of hand and without a recognised striker. If Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez are charged with pegging back the considerable attacking threat provided by the opposition wing-backs, the onus will then fall on Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan to move Chelsea's midfield and defensive blocks around until they feel like they've been shoved in a blender.

"It'll be interesting. Chelsea have been good at the back because they've been so front foot, but that's when you play against teams with a nine," Onuoha said. "If City go over there with no recognised striker, it puts those three centre-backs in a position they've not had to face before.

"City, as a consequence, could control the midfield more than Chelsea have seen in the past and it will frustrate [Kante and Jorginho] and the defenders, because you can't step out to affect it.

"Playing against false nines is annoying. You're playing against guys with a high football IQ. As a defender, you want to have a match-up with somebody.

"If you play against a team with a really good false nine, they're always right between the six (defensive midfielder) and yourself to the point where you can't drag the six back in to defend against them and you can't venture out that far to deal with them."

Tuchel and Guardiola have been keen dismiss the significance of their battle of wits on the touchline, but whoever prevails will have earned themselves a few big glasses of whatever they fancy.

Jayson Tatum admitted to having "just one of those nights" after scoring 50 points to help the Boston Celtics strike back in their series against the Brooklyn Nets.

The Celtics found themselves in a 2-0 hole in the playoffs after successive defeats in Brooklyn, during which Tatum managed a combined total of 31 points.

His Game 2 contribution was cut short at 21 minutes after he suffered a poke in the eye, the injury ruling him out as the Nets prevailed 130-108 to double their advantage.

However, Tatum had no issues seeing the basket on Friday when the series switched to Boston, going 16-for-30 shooting from the floor as he reached a half-century of points in a 125-119 triumph.

"It's just one of those nights." Tatum said afterwards.

"A tough shooting night the first game and I didn't get to play much the last game because I got poked in the eye."

His performance makes him just the third Celtic to score 50 in a regulation playoff game, following in the footsteps of John Havlicek (54 in 1973) and Sam Jones (51 in 1967).

Isaiah Thomas was the previous Boston player to achieve the milestone in a playoff contest, managing 53 in an overtime victory over the Washington Wizards in May 2017.

For Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, it was just the latest example of Tatum's undoubted talent.

"He is so advanced for 23 years old; I’ve said the word 'special', and I don’t say that very often, obviously," Stevens told the media.

"But he just has a unique ability to score the ball, to slither through screens and find angles to score, but also the vision to make every right move.

"He was super tonight, but he's been like that a lot this year. He's special."

The game marked Kyrie Irving’s first appearance with fans present in Boston since his departure in 2019. The point guard was booed by the home crowd throughout proceedings as he finished with 16 points and six rebounds.

Irving left in free agency after two seasons with the franchise, opting to move closer to New Jersey for family reasons as he signed with the Nets.

"It's basketball. I've been in a few environments in my life," Irving said about the reaction he received.

"Like I said, as long as it's just strictly the nature of basketball out there and there's nothing extra, I'm cool with it."

James Harden led the way with 41 points for the Nets, while Kevin Durant had 39. Game 4 of the first-round series takes place in Boston on Sunday.

In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes – a statement largely true until Rafael Nadal emerged on the scene and made the French Open his own.

Since breaking through for his first Roland Garros triumph in 2005, only three other men – Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic – have managed to interrupt Nadal's dominance in Paris.

Nadal has won 13 French Open men's singles titles, seven more than any other player in the Open era (Bjorn Borg, six) heading into this year's edition.

Despite being seeded third, it would take a brave person to bet against defending champion Nadal adding to his mammoth and unprecedented haul in the French capital, where the second grand slam of the year gets underway on Sunday.

On the women's side, defending champion Iga Swiatek is looking to follow in the footsteps of Belgian great Justine Henin.

As all eyes shift to Court Philippe Chatrier and its surroundings, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind this year's slam, using Opta data.

 

The 'King of Clay'

Nadal will open his title defence against Australian Alexei Popyrin. Since 2000, only Nadal (13) and Gustavo Kuerten (two) have won the French Open more than once.

The 34-year-old swept aside world number one Djokovic in straight sets last year for his fourth consecutive French Open crown and 20th slam trophy, equalling Roger Federer's all-time record. Nadal maintained his stranglehold on the major, having not dropped a set throughout the fortnight. Only three players have previously won the French Open without losing a single set: Ilie Nastase in 1973, Bjorn Borg in 1978 and 1980 and Nadal in 2008, 2010, 2017 and 2020.

Nadal is the only player to have won the same slam more than 10 times. He has lost just two of the 102 matches played in Paris (excluding walkovers), losing to Robin Soderling in the 2009 fourth round and Djokovic in the 2015 quarter-finals, while has won each of the last 30.

The record for most slam titles on the men's circuit will also be up for grabs, with Nadal and the returning Federer seeking to snap their tie.

In the last 25 years, the number one seed has won the French Open on only five occasions – Nadal (2018, 2014 and 2011), Djokovic (2016) and Kuerten (2001). It does not bode well for top seed and 18-time major champion Djokovic, who is looking to close the gap on foes Nadal and Federer.

Australian Open champion Djokovic, who will face Tennys Sandgren in the first round, has reached the final in seven of the last 10 slams he contested, claiming six titles. However, the Serbian star has only featured in five French Open deciders (W1 L4) – fewer than in any of the other three major tournaments.

 

Declining Federer, Nadal challengers?

The French Open will be a welcome sight for tennis fans as Swiss great Federer, who has not played a slam since the 2020 Australian Open due to his troublesome knee and the coronavirus pandemic, makes his comeback.

Seeded eighth ahead of his opener against Denis Istomin, 2009 French Open champion Federer has only contested nine slam finals over the last 10 years (W4 L5) after reaching that stage in 22 major events in the previous decade (W16 L6). Since the beginning of 2016, the 39-year-old has only taken part in one French Open, in 2019, where he reached the semi-finals.

Daniil Medvedev has been flirting with a breakthrough slam triumph. The second seed is a finalist at the Australian Open (2021) and US Open (2019). Medvedev has reached the semi-finals in two of his most recent three appearances at a grand slam after going further than the fourth round in only one of his previous 13 major tournaments. However, the Russian has lost in the first round in each of his four Roland Garros appearances.

US Open champion and fourth seed Dominic Thiem has played two finals at Roland Garros (2018 and 2019) – more than in any other slam – but lost both of them against Nadal. He has won 80 per cent of his games at the French Open, his best win rate in any of the four majors.

Andrey Rublev is the only player to have taken part in the quarter-finals during each of the past three grand slams, including the 2020 French Open. But the seventh seed – who fired down 53 aces at Roland Garros last year, at least 14 more than any other player – is yet to progress further than that round.

Aslan Karatsev enjoyed a fairy-tale run at Melbourne Park in February, the Russian qualifier making it all the way to the semi-finals. Only one qualifier has reached the semi-final stage at the French Open: Filip Dewulf in 1997.

 

Iga in 14-year first?

Having never progressed beyond the fourth round of a major, Polish teenager Swiatek broke through for her maiden slam title via the French Open last year, upstaging Sofia Kenin.

The 19-year-old Swiatek – who will return as the eighth seed in her defence, starting against Kaja Juvan – could become the first woman to win consecutive titles at Roland Garros since Henin in 2005-2007 (three in a row). Only three players have won multiple titles in the women's tournament at the French Open in the 21st century: Henin (four), Serena Williams (three) and Maria Sharapova (two).

Swiatek could claim the French Open and Rome's Internazionali d'Italia in the same campaign. Only Serena Williams (2002 and 2013), Sharapova (2012), Monica Seles (1990), Steffi Graf (1987) and Chris Evert (1974, 1975 and 1980) have achieved the feat previously.

Swiatek celebrated slam glory in the absence of world number one and defending champion Ash Barty in 2020. No player has won more games on clay this season than Australian top seed Barty and Veronika Kudermetova (both 13).

Only Barty (three) has won more titles than third seed Aryna Sabalenka (two) in 2021 – the Belarusian is one of two players currently ranked in the top 20 in the WTA yet to reach a major quarter-final, alongside Maria Sakkari.

In a field also including four-time slam champion and reigning Australian Open winner Naomi Osaka – the second seed – Sabalenka could become only the third woman to win the Madrid Open and French Open in the same season after Serena Williams in 2013 and Sharapova in 2014.

As for fourth seed Kenin, she could be just the fourth American player to reach back-to-back Roland Garros finals, after Serena Williams (2015-16), Martina Navratilova (1984-1987) and Evert (1973-1975, 1979-80 and 1983-1986).

 

All eyes on Serena

The queen of WTA tennis for so long, Serena Williams is one slam success away from matching Margaret Court's record of 24 major singles championships. But the 39-year-old has been stuck on 23 since reigning supreme at the Australian Open in 2017.

While the French clay is not one of her favourite surfaces, it could be the scene of a remarkable achievement following a lengthy wait.

Roland Garros is where Williams has the lowest winning percentage (84 per cent) and where she won the fewest titles (three, at least half as many as the other slams).

Williams won her maiden French Open in 2002 and could hoist the trophy aloft 19 years after her first success in Paris. The longest span between two majors wins for a single player in the Open era is already held by Williams (15 years between 1999 and 2014 at the US Open).

Irina-Camelia Begu awaits the seventh seed in the first round.

Roland Garros, Wimbledon, the US Open, the Olympic Games, Indian Wells: this year's tennis calendar is not lacking in red-ringed dates.

But August 8 and September 26 are majorly notable in that they will mark the 40th birthdays of Roger Federer and Serena Williams, respectively.

Federer's birthday falls on the final day of the Tokyo Olympics, while Williams reaches the same landmark a fortnight after the US Open women's singles final.

Both have kept their future plans quiet, but it would come as no major surprise if one, or both, were to retire by the end of the year.

Fellow grand slam greats Venus Williams, Andy Murray and Kim Clijsters may also be a matter of months away from bowing out of the professional ranks.

Will life after tennis begin at 40 for Williams and Federer, or could the superstar pair return to the French Open in 2022?

Stats Perform looked at the players who may be considering their futures, what they still want to achieve, and their prospects of attaining those remaining goals.
 

Federer's final fling?

Ahead of his 30th, Federer was asked what it felt like to hit such a milestone.

"Birthdays happen. They're part of life," Federer said. "I'm happy I'm getting older. I'd rather be 30 than 20, to be honest. To me it's a nice time."

A decade on, Federer may be similarly equanimous about hitting 40. Family life is good, he'll never need to borrow a dollar, and he has advanced from 16 grand slams to 20.

But the knees would sooner be 30 than 40, and Federer, remarkable sportsman though he is, is coming to the end of the line in his tennis career. It will hurt the Fedfans to think so, but all the evidence points to it. We are probably witnessing a lap of honour.

Having won Roland Garros only once at his peak, we can surely forget the prospect of any heroics in Paris. Federer needs to win a few rounds though, in order to be sharp and battle-hardened for the grass season. Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open are events where you might give a fit Federer a chance, even at such a veteran age, but he has played only three matches since the 2020 Australian Open, losing two of those.

Target: Federer has never settled for second best, so he will want to be a tournament winner again, no doubt about it. The hunger does not go away after 20 grand slams, but it can be more difficult to sate.

Prospects: Slim, but not forlorn. So much of Federer's game is about feel and ease of movement, and assuming that knee surgery last year means the body is in good shape again, he should be able to call on those staples of his game. Key missing ingredients are the confidence that comes with beating rivals, and match fitness. Federer's 1,243 wins and 103 singles titles count for an awful lot still, and there could be one final hurrah before the Swiss great signs off.


Serena still one short of Court

From precocious teenager to queen of the tour, Williams' tennis journey has been a 25-year odyssey and there is nobody more driven to succeed than the great American.

It must be an intense frustration that she remains rooted on 23 grand slams, one short of Margaret Court's record haul, and the four grand slam final losses she has suffered while on that mark have been cruel blows.

As her 40th birthday approaches, it would not be a surprise if Williams reached that target, but what once felt inevitable now only has the air of being a possibility. She is becoming less of a factor when looking at title favourites, but Williams is still capable of beating top players, still a threat wherever she shows up.

Target: The 24th slam remains the must-have for Williams. Tour titles feel like an irrelevance, and Williams has won just one of those since January 2017, her calendar built around peaking for the majors since returning from giving birth to daughter Olympia.

Prospects: Beating Aryna Sabalenka and Simona Halep at the Australian Open demonstrated Williams still has the game for the big stage, and a semi-final defeat to Naomi Osaka, to whom she has now lost in three of four encounters, should not particularly detract from that. Williams is playing on clay primarily to get in great shape for grass, because Wimbledon, where she plays the surface with a command that others can only envy, is where that elusive 24th slam looks most likely to come.


Amid losing streak, tennis waits to learn what Venus infers

Some suspect that the Williams sisters, having arrived on tour together, might bow out at the same time too. Venus has won 49 WTA Tour-level titles but has recently slipped out of the top 100 for the first time since early 2012. Ahead of turning 41 in June, it is hard to see her being a reliable force again.

The seven-time slam winner will be needing wildcards for the grand slams unless the wins start to flow, and naturally she should have no trouble getting those backdoor tournament entries, but for a player of her stature, losing in the first round most weeks can offer little satisfaction.

It is 21 years since Venus' greatest tennis summer, when she won the Wimbledon, Stanford, San Diego, New Haven, US Open and Olympics singles titles, along with doubles glory alongside Serena at the Olympics and Wimbledon.

Nevertheless, she said at the Australian Open in February: "I'm trying to get better every day. I think that no matter what happens to you in life, you always hold your head up high, you give a hundred million percent. That's what I do every single day. That's something that I can be proud of."

Target: Venus last won a singles slam in 2008, so forget that. A run to the second week of a slam is not entirely unimaginable, or she could stun a big name early on. Venus will want to wring every last drop from her career, but you suspect more than that, she would love to be there to watch her little sister win that 24th slam.

Prospects: Since a second-round exit to Elina Svitolina at the 2019 US Open, Venus has won only four matches at WTA level, and she is presently on a run of five consecutive defeats, which began with a 6-1 6-0 trouncing by Sara Errani at the last-64 stage of the Australian Open. Her last Wimbledon appearance resulted in a first-round loss to the then 15-year-old Coco Gauff two years ago, so even hopes of a resurgence at the event she has won five times appear somewhat remote.


We wish you a Murray summer

Once a grand slam nearly man, Murray banished that reputation with his US Open triumph and twin Wimbledon titles, not to mention the two Olympic gold medals, the Davis Cup victory, and the 14 Masters 1000 tournaments he won along the way, a big-time champion on every surface.

What a career, and it deserves a fitting ending. Murray is battling one injury after another and will miss the French Open, hoping his tired frame holds up to see him through Queen's Club, Wimbledon, the Olympic hat-trick bid and the US Open.

Target: He would probably say another slam is possible, if he can get healthy and stay that way. The 'if' there is doing an awful lot of heavy lifting though.

Prospects: Should Murray manage to stay injury-free, then it will be enthralling to see what he can achieve. However, since an unexpected title in Antwerp in October 2019, he has won just four matches on the ATP Tour and one in the Davis Cup. The resurfaced hip, the troublesome groin, the pains of being Andy Murray aged 34 are proving wearing on the Scot. If he is fit enough to feature at Wimbledon, it would be a joy to see him play even just one more great singles match on Centre Court. Admirers must hope Murray follows the pattern of his career by exceeding expectations, which are logically low.


Kim wildcard wonder?

If you missed the Clijsters comeback, it is hardly surprising, given she returned to the WTA tour after a near eight-year absence just weeks before the pandemic shut down tennis, and she has barely been seen since. The three-time US Open winner was dealt bum draws in her comeback year but gave Garbine Muguruza, Johanna Konta and Ekaterina Alexandrova enough to think about in the course of three first-round defeats.

Since losing behind closed doors in three sets to Alexandrova at the US Open, Clijsters has undergone knee surgery and had COVID-19, and she does not plan to play again until after Wimbledon.

Target: If Clijsters, who turns 38 in June, can build up form and fitness, then some kinder draws would be a fitting reward for persistence. She could have quietly called time on this comeback, but the former world number one is a fighter, and it would be fitting, perhaps, if her career were to end with a night session match in front of a packed Arthur Ashe Court at Flushing Meadows. The Belgian's intentions are not entirely clear, but that prospect must have crossed her mind.

Prospects: The New York wildcard would be assured if Clijsters can show she is in any sort of form, given her US Open history. Clijsters' immediate potential is entirely unclear, but she had the highest game-winning percentage (66.7 per cent) of any woman in World Team Tennis last year, and Jessica Pegula, Sofia Kenin and Jennifer Brady were all part of that competition. Bring that game to a major and we're talking.

Fernando Tatis Jr. hit a home run as the San Diego Padres used a monster 11th inning to power past the Houston Astros 10-3.

A seven-run 11th helped the high-flying Padres outlast the Astros in MLB action in Houston on Friday.

Tatis's solo homer in the eighth inning tied the game at 2-2 after Padres team-mate Tommy Pham hit a home run in the third.

The pair then both contributed RBIs in the seventh as the National League (NL) West-leading Padres improved to an MLB-best 7-0 in interleague play this season.

 

Giants deny rallying Dodgers thanks to Tauchman

The San Francisco Giants came within a whisker of losing to World Series champions the Los Angeles Dodgers, instead prevailing 8-5 after 10 innings. At 5-5, San Francisco's Mike Tauchman robbed Albert Pujols of a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth. The Giants replied by scoring three unanswered runs in the 10th of the all-NL West showdown.

The Boston Red Sox defeated the Miami Marlins 5-2 behind Alex Verdugo's three-run homer in a clash that was called after less than six innings due to rain.

The Los Angeles Angels lost 3-1 to the Oakland Athletics. While Shohei Ohtani lost his way late, the two-way star matched his own feat set in 2018 as the only player with 15-plus home runs and 50 or more strikeouts in the same season. Ohtani allowed three hits, three runs and four walks while striking out five batters.

 

 

Blue Jays pound Morgan and Reds in wild weather

The Toronto Blue Jays weathered wet and windy conditions at Progressive Field, where they won 11-2 against the Cincinnati Reds after the game was called in the bottom of the seventh inning. On a difficult night for all players, Eli Morgan was put to the sword by the Blue Jays. The Reds pitcher was tagged for six runs and eight hits in 2.2 innings. He also allowed a home run.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are in the midst of a 12-game losing streak following their 8-6 defeat at home to the St Louis Cardinals. Arizona have lost 21 of their past 24 games. Diamondbacks ace Madison Bumgarner gave up seven runs – including six earned – on five this and four walks.

 

Tigers tame Yankees in walkoff

Robbie Grossman stepped up to the plate and delivered for the Detroit Tigers, who claimed a stunning 3-2 walk-off victory over the New York Yankees after 10 innings. Trailing 2-1 and with two outs, Grossman hit a two-run homer.

 

Friday's results

Chicago Cubs 1-0 Cincinnati Reds
Boston Red Sox 5-2 Miami Marlins
Detroit Tigers 3-2 New York Yankees
Toronto Blue Jays 11-2 Cleveland Indians
Kansas City Royals 8-3 Minnesota Twins
San Diego Padres 10-3 Houston Astros
Oakland Athletics 3-1 Los Angeles Angels
St Louis Cardinals 8-6 Arizona Diamondbacks
Seattle Mariners 3-2 Texas Rangers
San Francisco Giants 8-5 Los Angeles Dodgers
Colorado Rockies-Pittsburgh Pirates (postponed)
Milwaukee Brewers-Washington Nationals (postponed)
Atlanta Braves-New York Mets (postponed)
Baltimore Orioles-Chicago White Sox (postponed)

 

Reds at Cubs

Can the Cubs extend their winning streak to six games when they host the Reds on Saturday? Zach Davies gets the start for the Cubs, while the Reds counter with Luis Castillo at Wrigley Field.

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