It is 15 years since Rafael Nadal lay sprawled on his beloved red clay with a look of disbelief on his face after winning his first French Open title.

The fresh-faced teenager had realised his dream just two days after turning 19, beating an unseeded Mariano Puerta 6–7 (6–8) 6–3 6–1 7–5 under grey Paris skies.

King Juan Carlos of Spain was among those fortune enough to see the Mallorca native win his first grand slam final on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Little did the beaming monarch know he had witnessed the start of a dynasty as he embraced his compatriot, wearing a green vest and long white shorts.

With long hair flowing like a rock star and the bulging biceps of a boxer, Nadal may not have resembled a future royal back in 2005, but his incredible exploits since have ensured he will forever be known as the 'King of Clay'.

Puerta told the media after that showdown a decade and a half ago: "When I went off the court, I knew I had lost against the best player in the world on clay. What could I do?"

That is a question so many have tried and failed to find an answer to.

With phenomenal athleticism, a powerful serve, blistering groundstrokes, deft lobs and drop shots, the domineering left-hander was too good for Argentine Puerta.

Nadal was not at his brilliant best, though, and there were some ominous words from his coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, after his maiden grand slam triumph.

"In every facet of the game he can be better," he said. "And, boy, if he works, and masters more of his game. Then and only then we can win several of these.

"He doesn't work just to win matches, but to be the best, to be number one."

Fifteen years on, Nadal this week celebrated his 34th birthday with a record 12 French Open titles to his name and 19 majors in total, one shy of Roger Federer's haul.

Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic are the only players to have beaten the legendary Spaniard in his 95 matches at Roland Garros.

You have to go back to 2015 since his last loss in his favourite major, at the hands of Djokovic, and the world number two has lifted the La Coupe des Mousquetaires in each of the last three years.

The coronavirus pandemic prevented Nadal from adding to his tally this month, but he may get the opportunity to continue one of the most astonishing sporting runs of dominance in September.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and provided he stays fit, the irrepressible Nadal's love affair with Paris is far from over.

Rafael Nadal says tennis should "wait a little bit more" and only return when it is safe for competitions to resume.

The ATP and WTA Tours remain suspended until the end of July at the earliest due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Nadal took part in a call with reporters on Thursday at a time when ordinarily he would have been in the latter stages of the French Open – a slam he won for the 12th time a year ago – but the tournament was moved to September due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Organisers provisionally rescheduled the Roland Garros grand slam to begin just a week after the final of the US Open, which is not yet guaranteed to go ahead.

The US Tennis Association is due to make a decision later this month on whether the tournament will begin on August 31.

As things stand, Nadal says he has little desire to travel to New York to defend the trophy he won in 2019.

"If you asked me if I want to travel to New York today to play a tennis tournament, I will say no - I will not," Nadal, a 19-time grand slam winner, told reporters.

"But in a couple of months, I don't know how the situation is going to improve. I am confident that if the tournament is played, it's going to be under extremely safe circumstances. If not, in my opinion, it doesn't make sense.

"My feeling is we need to be responsible, sending strong messages, and be a positive example for the society.

"We need to understand we are suffering an unprecedented situation and my feeling is we need to come back when all the players, from all the countries of the world, are able to travel under safe circumstances. I want to see my sport being 100 per cent fair and correct.

"The key, of course, is to find a medicine that helps us to be sure we can travel and compete without being scared of having the virus and bringing back the virus home. My feeling is we need to wait a little bit more."

Nadal also said he is stepping up the intensity of his training having not properly prepared with a racket for two and a half months.

The Spanish great added: "As you can imagine, I need to take things step by step.

"I just try to avoid injuries and increase the amount of work every single week. I'm not practising every single day, I'm just practising a couple of days a week.

"I don't even feel in my mind like defending champion [at Roland Garros and Flushing Meadows]. I just feel myself like coming back from zero and we start again and that's it. It is not like a normal situation that I feel myself I have to defend this, I have to defend the other thing.

"Everybody is suffering; there's a lot of people losing lives. My mind is not thinking about if I have to play the US Open or I don't have to play the US Open [or if] I have to play Roland Garros. I'm just trying to enjoy my personal life a little bit, just trying to do the right things today.

"I need a plan, but today everything is difficult to predict so I don't want to stress myself. I don't want to put any pressure on myself. When we have the clear information, I am sure that with the team we are going to be able to find a solution."

Rafael Nadal is usually on course for yet another French Open title on his birthday but the legendary Spaniard has an opportunity to let his hair down this year.

Nadal has become accustomed to celebrating becoming a year older in Paris, yet he was unable to continue his love affair with Roland Garros on his 34th birthday due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While French Open organisers are hoping the tournament can start in September, 19-time grand slam champion Nadal is among the players who have doubted whether there will be any more tennis at the highest level this year.

Nadal revealed last year that he partied harder on the rare occasions he was not en route to winning his favourite major on his special day.

As the 'King of Clay' celebrates in his native Mallorca rather than the French capital, we look at some of the numbers from what has been an astonishing career to date.

 

0 - Nadal has never been taken to five sets in a French Open final.

2 - The number of defeats the left-handed great has suffered at Roland Garros compared to an astonishing 93 victories.

5 - The tally of major successes he has achieved since turning 30.

11 - He was the first player to win 11 titles at three different tournaments as a result of his domination in Paris, Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

12 - The record number of French Open titles Nadal has to his name. Also a record for any Tour-level event. 

17 - Nadal has won a set with a double bagel on as many as 17 occasions at Roland Garros. 

19 - He was only 19 when winning his maiden grand slam title on his French Open debut.

24 - It is a decade since Nadal became the youngest man in the Open Era to complete a career Grand Slam.

33 - Nadal went on to end last year at the top of the rankings aged 33, the oldest player to achieve that feat.

50 - The Spanish superstar broke John McEnroe's record by winning 50 consecutive sets on clay before Dominic Thiem ended that run at the Madrid Open two years ago.

Rafael Nadal is usually on course for yet another French Open title on his birthday but the legendary Spaniard has an opportunity to let his hair down this year.

Nadal has become accustomed to celebrating becoming a year older in Paris, yet he was unable to continue his love affair with Roland Garros on his 34th birthday due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While French Open organisers are hoping the tournament can start in September, 19-time grand slam champion Nadal is among the players who have doubted whether there will be any more tennis at the highest level this year.

Nadal revealed last year that he partied harder on the rare occasions he was not en route to winning his favourite major on his special day.

As the 'King of Clay' celebrates in his native Mallorca rather than the French capital, we look at some of the numbers from what has been an astonishing career to date.

 

0 - Nadal has never been taken to five sets in a French Open final.

2 - The number of defeats the left-handed great has suffered at Roland Garros compared to an astonishing 93 victories.

5 - The tally of major successes he has achieved since turning 30.

11 - He was the first player to win 11 titles at three different tournaments as a result of his domination in Paris, Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

12 - The record number of French Open titles Nadal has to his name. Also a record for any Tour-level event. 

17 - Nadal has won a set with a double bagel on as many as 17 occasions at Roland Garros. 

19 - He was only 19 when winning his maiden grand slam title on his French Open debut.

24 - It is a decade since Nadal became the youngest man in the Open Era to complete a career Grand Slam.

33 - Nadal went on to end last year at the top of the rankings aged 33, the oldest player to achieve that feat.

50 - The Spanish superstar broke John McEnroe's record by winning 50 consecutive sets on clay before Dominic Thiem ended that run at the Madrid Open two years ago.

Daria Kasatkina has no problem playing grand slams behind closed doors amid the coronavirus pandemic, while the former world number 10 talked up the possibility of an ATP-WTA Tour merger.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc globally, with the WTA Tour suspended since March and not expected to return until August at the earliest.

The French Open has been pushed back to September and the US Open is still scheduled to go ahead, with Wimbledon cancelled for the first time since World War II.

Events are set to be staged without fans when tennis returns, though French Open organisers remain hopeful spectators will be able to attend the rearranged slam at Roland Garros.

World number 12 and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova said she would rather see majors cancelled than be held without fans, but Kasatkina has no issue with a spectator-less slam.

"It's going to be completely different, especially at grand slams and in night sessions on the big courts, it will lose its energy," 2018 French Open and Wimbledon quarter-finalist Kasatkina told Stats Perform News.

"At the same time, at least if we can play the tournament without spectators, for me it's fine. Yes it's different but to play a tournament and gram slam, it doesn't matter spectators or no spectators. As I think Marin Cilic said, it will be different to win a grand slam like the US Open without spectators there, which is true. At least it will be very special and it will stay in the history forever.

"For the moment, Roland Garros looks very positive. If we see how it goes and it keeps like that, I think Roland Garros will happen and they want to do it with spectators, which is really good. It's different to play with spectators, that's for sure.

"The US Open, of course everyone wants to play and I wish to play the US Open – it's such a special tournament – but I'm not that sure because the situation in the United States is still shaky. The main thing is travelling. If it's going to happen, it's going to be very good. I'll be very happy."

The re-arranged French Open in Paris could provide headaches for players, with the clay-court slam set to take place a week after the final of the US Open on hard courts in New York.

"It's going to be an interesting experience, especially to change the surface and the time so much," the Russian said. "At least between Roland Garros and Wimbledon there is one month, but at least it's in one part of the world. If it's like this, players have to accept it. I'll be happy, even if it's going to be like this.

"When we were juniors and just starting to play professional tournaments, we'd play one tournament there on clay and another here and there. For sure, for some players it will be tough and for many players with injuries it will be a little bit dangerous but I hope everything will be okay."

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, talk of an ATP-WTA merger has emerged – a tweet from 20-time slam champion Roger Federer backing a unified tennis tour sparking the discussions.

Asked about the possibility of the ATP and WTA joining forces, two-time tournament winner Kasatkina said: "I think it would be good to work together because it's much easier to do something with one structure than two structures like the situation we have now. It's easier to promote tennis as a big tour, not like men's or women's tennis.

"I was a little bit surprised because I never thought they were talking about this, I didn't hear anything. So, it was a little bit surprising especially from Roger Federer on Twitter. But I think it's a good idea. Why not be together? It's better."

The coronavirus-enforced break has provided Kasatkina with plenty of time to reflect and recharge, having struggled in 2019 after her breakout season in 2018.

Kasatkina burst onto the scene two years ago by reaching the French Open and Wimbledon quarter-finals before eventually losing to finalists Sloane Stephens and Angelique Kerber, while she also faced Naomi Osaka in the 2018 Indian Wells decider.

However, Kasatkina endured a frustrating 2019 campaign – only progressing beyond the opening round of a slam once last year, at the French Open, and dropping to 66th in the world rankings. There were, though, signs that the 23-year-old was returning to her best prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

Kasatkina reached the last four of the Lyon Open in March, her first WTA semi-final since claiming the Kremlin Cup in October 2018.

"I had a lot of expectations for myself and not only me but the people around after my very successful year in 2018, which I wasn't ready for, especially mentally," Kasatkina, who has become somewhat of a social media queen during the tennis hiatus, said.

"After this, my game fell apart little bit because you have no confidence in your head, there's no confidence in your shots. Rankings drop down as well because I was losing matches.

"I spoke with my coach and many things happened. I was pretty lost at that time but I think that helped me a lot to rebuild my confidence, rebuild my game maybe to change something.

"I think I started the year, not in Australia [first round], but after it better in Lyon. I really felt like I was building up my game again and I'm hungry to play the tournaments and win. Because I finally taste this semi-final, this special tournament. When I came to Indian Wells, I was feeling perfect in the practices. I really felt that if there wasn't the situation with coronavirus, maybe that was the point I could really start again.

"What happened, happened. Now I have the time for myself to maybe think a bit more, to work on the things which I'll probably need when the season starts again. Everything is going the way it should be."

Since losing 6-3 6-2 to Osaka in the 2018 Paribas Open final, Kasatkina has watched the Japanese star go on to win the US Open and Australian Open. Is it a motivation for the right-hander?

"Well after that final and during the tournament, of course I felt I was close to a very high level of tennis," Kasatkina continued. "I showed some good results and finished top 10, which was very positive at the time but maybe a little bit early. After the final, I felt like okay it seems like I have something inside that can bring me higher. But mentally, I wasn't ready."

Kasatkina, who believes she was close to rediscovering her 2018 form before the pandemic, believes the enforced break has been beneficial.

"For sure because for the past season, it was really tough," she added when asked about her time away from the sport. "Maybe it was good I had this time to come down a little bit and live a normal life. Not to rush to every tournaments, tournament by tournament, week by week."

Roger Federer has eclipsed Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to top the annual Forbes list of the highest paid athletes on the planet.

The Swiss maestro jumped four spots to sit top of the pile, earning $106.3million in the past year as he becomes the first tennis player to lead the way.

That eye-watering figure puts the 20-time grand slam winner ahead of football stars Ronaldo ($105m), Messi ($104m) and Neymar ($95.5m).

NBA icon LeBron James rounds out the top five, raking in $88.2m in a period when some sportspeople took wage cuts amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Endorsements account for most of Federer's income, but he also undertook a tour of North and South America late last year to further boost his earnings.

"The coronavirus pandemic triggered salary cuts for soccer stars Messi and Ronaldo, clearing the way for a tennis player to rank as the world's highest-paid athlete for the first time," said Kurt Badenhausen, senior editor at Forbes.

"Roger Federer is the perfect pitchman for companies, resulting in an unparalleled endorsement portfolio of blue-chip brands worth $100million a year for the tennis great."

Federer's rise to the summit comes after fellow tennis player Naomi Osaka was announced as the highest paid female athlete, her $37.4m putting the Japanese 29th overall.

Fabio Fognini is using the ATP Tour's suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic to undergo surgery on both ankles, the world number 11 revealed on Saturday.

The Italian won the Monte-Carlo Masters last season but has been dealing with long-standing ankle issues.

The 2020 campaign has been paused since March amid the COVID-19 crisis, but Fognini saw no improvement in his injury problems when he returned to training recently.

Fognini, who broke into the top 10 of the ATP rankings for the first time in 2019, sought medical advice and was set for arthroscopic surgery in Italy on Saturday.

"I've been having a problem with my left ankle for three and a half years now," he wrote to fans on his Twitter page. "It's an issue I've learnt to cope with.

"Then my right ankle started playing up in the past two years as well.

"I had hoped the various issues would go away during the two-month break from the game because of the lockdown, but when I resumed training, they were still there.

"After medical examination and a long discussion with my time, I decided to have arthroscopic surgery on both ankles. I believe it's the right thing to do while the tour is on this enforced break.

"I will undergo surgery in Italy today. I can't wait to be back playing again! I know you will support me. A big hug to all of you!"

The suspension of the Tour has been extended until at least August, with Wimbledon cancelled and the French Open moved to September.

Fognini reached the last 16 of the Australian Open in January but has otherwise struggled for form in 2020, falling at the first hurdle at the ASB Classic, Rotterdam Open and Dubai Tennis Championships.

French Open director Guy Forget says he is working closely with tennis authorities to ensure the tournament at Roland Garros does not clash with the US Open.

The Parisian major was initially scheduled to start on Sunday but the coronavirus pandemic resulted in it being postponed until September 20 – a week after the final of the US Open.

Criticism of the decision was rife, and the calendar for the rest of the season remains up in the air with the ATP Tour and WTA Tour suspended until August at the earliest.

Forget said he is working towards a suitable resolution and expects an announcement on the US Open's plans in June.

"The official announcement has not been made yet. [The French Open] will probably be between the end of September and the beginning of October," Forget told French radio station Europe 1.

"We've been working closely with the ATP, the WTA and the ITF to make a global announcement on what the circuit will be like until the end of the year.

"There are so many question marks. New York City is more affected by the coronavirus than France. They also have a lot of organisational problems.

"They will make an announcement mid-June to say how it's going to be like for the US Open."

According to the John Hopkins University, New York City has seen 197,266 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 28,926 dying as a result. France has had 182,018 cases and 28,218 deaths.

Professional sports have been prohibited in France until September but Forget remains optimistic about the chances of staging a successful French Open.

"The signals are going in the right direction with the reopening of businesses," he said.

"We can imagine that this will also be the case for restaurants and bars in the coming weeks.

"Now we don't know what's going to happen in a month or two. We will adapt to what the government tells us.

"You have to be ambitions and optimistic. We hope that Roland Garros will take place, and in good conditions."

World number one Novak Djokovic will return to the court next month for a new tour in the Balkans.

The spread of coronavirus - and the subsequent suspension of the ATP Tour - means Djokovic has not played since beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final of the Dubai Tennis Championships in February.

The ATP Tour will not resume until August at the earliest, but Djokovic has confirmed he will participate in a new tournament that is launching in his native Serbia.

The Adria Tour will be held in four countries - Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina - with events on June 13-14, June 20-21, June 27-28 and July 3-4.

Djokovic, who turned 33 on Friday, will play in each leg of the series and will face Bosnian Damir Dzumhur on July 5 in a final exhibition match in Sarajevo.

He wrote on Twitter: "I'm proud to officially share the news that the #AdriaTour will be held across the #Balkans 13 June - 5 July kicking off with a tournament in Belgrade. Very grateful we could make this happen to play and support humanitarian projects across the region."

Tournament organisers said the aim of the series is to raise money for "humanitarian projects across the region" as well as helping tennis players get back in shape during the ATP Tour suspension.

As well as Djokovic, Austria's world number three Dominic Thiem has also signed up, as have Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov and Serbia's Viktor Troicki.

Organisers said tickets will be sold to fans if "the presence of the audience is allowed".

World number one Novak Djokovic will return to the court next month for a new tour in the Balkans.

The spread of coronavirus - and the subsequent suspension of the ATP Tour - means Djokovic has not played since beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final of the Dubai Tennis Championships in February.

The ATP Tour will not resume until August at the earliest, but Djokovic has confirmed he will participate in a new tournament that is launching in his native Serbia.

The Adria Tour will be held in four countries - Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina - with events on June 13-14, June 20-21, June 27-28 and July 3-4.

Djokovic, who turned 33 on Friday, will play in each leg of the series and will face Bosnian Damir Dzumhur on July 5 in a final exhibition match in Sarajevo.

He wrote on Twitter: "I'm proud to officially share the news that the #AdriaTour will be held across the #Balkans 13 June - 5 July kicking off with a tournament in Belgrade. Very grateful we could make this happen to play and support humanitarian projects across the region."

Tournament organisers said the aim of the series is to raise money for "humanitarian projects across the region" as well as helping tennis players get back in shape during the ATP Tour suspension.

As well as Djokovic, Austria's world number three Dominic Thiem has also signed up, as have Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov and Serbia's Viktor Troicki.

Organisers said tickets will be sold to fans if "the presence of the audience is allowed".

Former Australian Open champion Ashley Cooper has died at the age of 83.

Cooper, an eight-time major champion across singles and doubles competition, had been battling a lengthy illness.

Compatriot Rod Laver paid tribute to Cooper on Twitter, writing: "He was a wonderful champion, on and off the court. And what a backhand!

"So many cherished memories. Farewell my friend. My thoughts are with Ashley's wife, Helen, and his family."

Cooper played during Australia's golden era of men's tennis, winning four major singles titles including two on home soil.

He won three of the four slams in 1958, the French Open the only trophy to elude him, a year after leading Australia to Davis Cup success.

In 1958, Australia lost to the United States and Cooper attempted to withdraw from a professional contract signed with Jack Kramer as he "felt he owed" his country, according to Tennis Australia.

His 1959 wedding to Helen Wood, who was the reigning Miss Australia, attracted more than 3,000 well-wishers.

Following his retirement, Cooper worked as an administrator for Tennis Queensland and Tennis Australia and was instrumental in the construction of the Queensland Tennis Centre, built on the site of a disused power station.

Current women's world number one Ash Barty paid her own tribute, writing: "Thank you for everything that you have done for our sport. My thoughts are with your family and loved ones. Rest In Peace, Ashley."

Novak Djokovic celebrates his birthday on Friday, with the world number one showing no signs of slowing down as he turns 33.

The world number one lifted his 17th grand slam title in January with a five-set win over Dominic Thiem.

Five-set sagas have been the domain of Djokovic throughout his career, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin del Potro all sharing the court with him for a series of grand slam thrillers that live long in the memory.

Here we look back at a selection of Djokovic's most epic encounters.

2011 US Open Semi-final v Federer ​– Win

Djokovic is renowned for his power to recover from even the most precarious of positions and Federer was on the receiving end of two such Houdini acts in successive years at Flushing Meadows.

Indeed, after saving two match points in a last-four encounter with the Swiss great in 2010, Djokovic repeated the trick en route to a 6-7 4-6 6-3 6-2 7-5 victory after three hours and 51 minutes.

"It's awkward having to explain this loss," Federer said afterwards. "Because I feel like I should be doing the other press conference."

Federer offered little praise for a stunning forehand winner that helped the Serbian save a match point, saying that at that moment Djokovic did not look like a player "who believes much anymore in winning".

He added: "To lose against someone like that, it's very disappointing, because you feel like he was mentally out of it already. Just gets the lucky shot at the end, and off you go."

2012 Australian Open semi-final v Murray – Win

There has arguably been no tournament where Djokovic demonstrated a greater proclivity for endurance than at Melbourne Park in 2012.

His semi-final with Murray, who was weeks into his partnership with coach Ivan Lendl, produced a bewitching prelude of what was to follow in the final.

Murray pushed Djokovic to the limit in a marathon lasting four hours and 50 minutes, fighting back from 5-2 down in the final set of a match in which the ultimate victor battled breathing problems.

Djokovic recovered from surrendering that lead, however, and clinched a 6-3 3-6 6-7 (4-7) 6-1 7-5 victory to set up a final with Rafael Nadal that somehow surpassed the semi-final as the pair etched their name into the record books.

2012 Australian Open final v Nadal ​– Win

With Djokovic needing to produce an exhausting effort to get beyond Murray and Nadal having taken part in his own classic semi-final with Federer, albeit with victory secured in four sets, both would have been forgiven for putting on a final below their usual standards.

They instead did the exact opposite and delivered a showpiece considered by some to be the greatest final ever.

An undulating attritional battle went for five hours and 53 minutes, making it the longest final in grand slam history and the longest Australian Open contest of all time.

Nadal was on his knees as if he had won the tournament when he took the fourth set on a tie-break and was a break up in a fittingly frenetic decider.

However, it was Djokovic who ultimately prevailed at 1:37am (local time) with a 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 triumph that clinched his fifth grand slam.

Djokovic said: "It was obvious on the court for everybody who has watched the match that both of us, physically, we took the last drop of energy that we had from our bodies, we made history tonight and unfortunately there couldn't be two winners."

2012 US Open final v Murray – Loss

Having been the thorn in Murray's side in Melbourne for successive years, also defeating him in the final of the 2011 Australian Open, Djokovic succumbed to the Scot at Flushing Meadows, but only after a Herculean comeback effort.

Murray took the first two sets, the opener won in the longest tie-break (24 minutes) of a men's championship match. Djokovic, though, appeared primed to become the first man since Gaston Gaudio in 2004 to win a slam final after losing the first two sets.

However, Murray was not be denied and dominated the decider to close out a 7-6 (12-10) 7-5 2-6 3-6 6-2 victory, the longest final in US Open history.

Gracious in defeat, Djokovic said of Murray's first slam title: "Definitely happy that he won it. Us four [Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray], we are taking this game to another level. It's really nice to be part of such a strong men's tennis era."

2013 French Open semi-final v Nadal ​– Loss

With Nadal back from a serious knee injury that cost him seven months of his career, the Spaniard returned to peak form at his favourite slam with another absorbing duel with Djokovic.

Lasting four hours and 37 minutes, it did not quite match the heights of their Australian Open opus, but there were enough twists and turns to satisfy those clamouring for another Djokovic-Nadal classic.

Nadal was unable to serve for the match in the fourth set and Djokovic led 4-2 in the fifth, but a decider stretching one hour and 20 minutes went the way of the King of Clay.

"Serving for the match at 6-5 in the fourth, I was serving against the wind, so I knew it was going to be a difficult game," Nadal said after his 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7 (3-7) 9-7 win.

"I was ready for the fight. In Australia 2012 it was a similar match - today it was me [that won]. That's the great thing about sport."

2013 Wimbledon semi-final v Del Potro – Win

"It was one of the best matches I've been a part of."

Given his travails of 2012, Djokovic's words after his victory over the 2009 US Open champion served as remarkably high praise.

It was a match worthy of such an effusive tribute.

Having twisted his knee earlier in the tournament, Del Potro's contribution to a phenomenal last-four clash served as one of more impressive feats of the Argentinian's career.

Against another opponent, his unrelenting and thunderous groundstrokes would have prevailed, but it was Djokovic's court coverage that proved the difference after four hours and 43 minutes.

Following his 7-5 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 victory, Djokovic said of Del Potro: "[He showed] why he's a grand slam champion, why he's right at the top, because every time he's in a tough situation, he comes up with some unbelievable shots."

2015 French Open semi-final v Murray – Win

Two days were needed to separate Djokovic and Murray as the Parisian skies played their part in the semi-final.

A storm halted proceedings on the Friday with Djokovic 2-1 up heading into the fourth set.

Murray appeared to have benefited from the delay as he began Saturday by forcing a decider, but Djokovic was clinical in wrapping up the fifth in comfortable fashion.

He triumphed 6-3 6-3 5-7 5-7 6-1, though a first Roland Garros title would have to wait, however, with Djokovic stunningly defeated by Stan Wawrinka in the final 24 hours later.

2016 US Open final v Wawrinka ​– Loss

Wawrinka would again prove Djokovic's undoing in New York as an astonishing demonstration of shot-making saw the defending champion dethroned.

The Swiss' 18 hours on court ahead of the final were double that of Djokovic, but his toil paid dividends as he bounced back from dropping the first set on a tie-break.

It was a rare occasion where Djokovic ​– battling a blister on his big toe – was rendered powerless in the face of Wawrinka's 46 winners.

Wawrinka came through 6-7 (1-7) 6-4 7-5 6-3 after three hours and 55 minutes, with Djokovic saying: "Congratulations, Stan, to your team as well. This has been absolutely deserved today. You were the more courageous player in the decisive moment and he deserves his title."

2018 Wimbledon semi-final v Nadal - Win

Spread across two days having been made to wait six hours and 36 minutes for Kevin Anderson to outlast John Isner in the other semi-final, Djokovic and Nadal combined to deliver a spectacle eminently more memorable than the meeting of the two big servers.

Djokovic led by two sets to one when play suspended at 11:02 pm (local time), Wimbledon's curfew ending any hopes of a Friday finish.

The prospect of a swift Saturday was soon put to bed for Djokovic as Nadal claimed the fourth. However, Djokovic eventually came through a deciding set among the finest ever contested by the two greats to seal a 6-4 3-6 7-6 (13-11) 3-6 10-8 victory after five hours and 15 minutes.

It marked a first Wimbledon final since 2015 and the start of Djokovic's return to the top of the sport after struggles with injury saw him tumble out of the top 20 in 2018.

Djokovic said: "Speaking from this position right now it makes it even better for me, makes it even more special because I managed to overcome challenges and obstacles, get myself to the finals of a slam." 

2019 French Open semi-final v Thiem ​– Loss

Djokovic was bidding to become the first man to hold all four grand slams at the same time twice but fell foul of Thiem and the French weather.

The last-four meeting began on a Friday but was suspended three times due to wind and rain before organisers cancelled play for the day.

Thiem eventually edged an enthralling affair 2-6 6-3 5-7 7-5 5-7 in four hours and 13 minutes, but Djokovic was quick to direct his ire at tournament officials.

"It [was] one of the worst conditions I have ever been part of," said Djokovic.

"When you're playing in hurricane kind of conditions, it's hard to perform your best."

2019 Wimbledon final v Federer ​– Win

Few would argue Djokovic did not deserve to retain the Wimbledon title. Grinding down Federer remains one of the most arduous tasks in sport, but most would accept this was a final Djokovic was fortunate to win.

An awe-inspiring match, Federer's was a vintage performance, but it was underscored by missed opportunities that will stay with him long after his dazzling career comes to an end.

Federer had a pair of match points at 8-7 in a captivating fifth set. Both were squandered, and few players in the history of tennis have ever been as ruthless at compounding the missed chances of others as Djokovic. 

He duly exercised his flair for punishing profligacy by winning the first ever 12-all tie-break, clinching a fifth Wimbledon crown 7-6 (7-5) 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 13-12 (7-3) after four hours and 57 minutes.

"If not the most exciting and thrilling finals of my career, in the top two or three and against one of the greatest players of all time," Djokovic said. "As Roger said, we both had our chances. It's quite unreal to be two match points down and come back."

Andy Murray will benefit from tennis' extended break as it means he is not losing ground on the ATP's big three, according to Boris Becker.

Murray made his return to professional tennis after a second hip surgery last June, winning the doubles at Queens Club alongside Feliciano Lopez.

After contesting the men's and the mixed doubles - the latter with Serena Williams - at Wimbledon, Murray enjoyed increasingly encouraging results on the singles circuit, culminating in an emotional triumph at the European Open in October.

However, another hip issue forced him to pull out of the Australian Open and he has not played since the Davis Cup last November, with the coronavirus pandemic ensuring he would not have been able to return yet anyway.

But Becker, a six-time grand slam champion and former coach of world number one Novak Djokovic, believes the suspension of the ATP Tour will boost Murray's hopes of re-joining Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at the top of the sport.

He told Laureus.com of the former world number one: "I think Murray will benefit because he isn't fully fit yet after his hip injury and the long break is actually good for his recovery, so he's not losing ground."

While Becker talked up Murray's prospects, he is hopeful 2021 will see a member of the big three finally beaten in a grand slam final by one of the game's promising young talents.

Dominic Thiem has reached two French Open finals and the 2020 Australian Open showpiece but the breakthrough from the ATP's NextGen has yet to come.

Indeed, 33 of the 40 majors in the 2010s were won by either Djokovic, Nadal or Federer, with Murray (3), Stan Wawrinka (3) and Marin Cilic (1) the only players to interrupt their stranglehold.

Djokovic won the first slam of 2020 in Melbourne but Becker said: "Maybe 2021 will see the breakthrough of the young guns because they will be a year more experienced and the older players are another year older.

"I would like to see the top three still at their best and being beaten. I don't want the young generation to take over when the top three won't play anymore or are actually too old.

"I want to see a final between a 22-year-old and a 33-year-old. That would be the best thing in tennis."

Novak Djokovic says he might still be playing tennis at the age of 40 as he pursues historic accomplishments in the sport.

The Serbian has spoken of his "clear goals" to usurp Roger Federer as the player to win the most grand slam titles, as well as beating the Swiss star's record of spending the most weeks at world number one.

Djokovic won the Australian Open, his 17th major success, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic brought a halt to top sporting action all over the world, putting him three behind Federer.

With Wimbledon cancelled for 2020 and the ATP Tour suspended until at least the end of July, Djokovic's dreams are on hold for now.

But the world number one, who turns 33 next week, still feels like he has plenty of time on his hands to make history.

He is prepared to make significant changes to his schedule to match the incredible longevity shown by his 38-year-old rival Federer.

"I definitely want to go for a long time," Djokovic said in an interview on In Depth with Graham Bensinger.

"But I'm aware that the amount of tournaments I'm playing is going to decrease very soon.

"I will not be able to play at this intensity, with this many tournaments and this much travelling, for a long time.

"I might be playing at 40, but then there will probably be a focus on the biggest tournaments and the tournaments that mean the most to me.

"I don't believe in limits. I think limits are only illusions of your ego or your mind.

"I have clear goals, but [the records] are not the only thing that motivates me. What fuels me every day is something more related to my growth personally."

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