Rafael Nadal will respect the decision of any player who competes in the US Open for much-needed prize money as he further explained why he will not be taking part.

World number two Nadal announced on Tuesday he will not defend his title in New York due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The ATP Tour has been suspended since March but is due to resume this month, with the US Open scheduled to get under way behind closed doors on August 31.

As well as having concerns about the global health crisis, Nadal thought playing hard-court tournaments immediately before the rescheduled clay-court swing could have hindered the potential longevity of his career.

However, the 34-year-old acknowledged not all players can afford to pass up the prize money on offer at the major following a heavily disrupted season.

"In the current situation all decisions are valid," Nadal told a news conference on Wednesday.

"There are few things that influenced my decision and the first one is the sanitary reason. The situation worldwide does not look under control, so after checking with my team and family we decide to remain here.

"Secondly, there is a complicated calendar after many months without competing. To play on the hard surface first and then change to clay without a break is dangerous for my body and for my future, so this is another factor.

"And then obviously the personal spirits. Many people are going through a hard time and my mood wasn't ideal to travel to New York and to have all the senses focused in the competition and to give the maximum.

"With the many protocols that we have, it would have been complicated in addition to all that is happening in the world.

"I am not the one to say whether it is a wise decision or not [to stage the US Open]. I respect all the work and the positive attitude of the ATP and the USTA [United States Tennis Association] to make tennis come back.

"I also respect the other players who decide to go, because they have, for example, a different situation and want to earn money there that they need. I respect all decisions, but today it is difficult to say if it is the right thing or not."

The cancellation of the Madrid Open means Kitzbuhel and Rome are the only clay-court events remaining on the schedule ahead of the French Open, which was moved to a start date of September 28.

Nadal is yet to make a final decision on his plans ahead of the defence of his title at Roland Garros, where he has been triumphant a record 12 titles.

"I am preparing for clay in Europe. It depends on how the situation is and if everything is under control or not," said Nadal.

"I understood that it was much better for my body to train on a slow surface, which is less aggressive for the general well-being. Although that did not take away from me being able to play later in New York.

"I do not know if I will play Rome or not. I await news of the new adapted calendar after the cancellation of Madrid and from there I will have to make decisions."

Defending champion Rafael Nadal will not play in the US Open due to concerns over the coronavirus.

The world number two had long since cast doubt over whether he would travel to New York for a grand slam that will get under way behind closed doors on August 31.

Nadal on Tuesday confirmed he is not ready to play at Flushing Meadows, a matter of hours after it was announced that the Madrid Open - due to be staged next month - had been cancelled amid the global pandemic

"After many thoughts I have decided not to play this year's US Open. The situation is very complicated worldwide, the COVID-19 cases are increasing, it looks like we still don't have control of it," he tweeted.

"We know that the reduced tennis calendar is barbaric this year after 4 months stopped with no play, I understand and thank for the efforts they are putting in to make it happen. We have just seen the announcement of Madrid not being played this year.

"All my respects to the USTA, the US Open organisers and the ATP for trying to put the event together for the players and the fans around the world through TV.

"This is a decision I never wanted to take but I have decided to follow my heart this time and for the time being I rather not travel."

The legendary Spaniard's decision to pull out means he will not match Roger Federer's record tally of 20 grand slam singles titles in New York, where the Swiss great will also be absent after undergoing season-ending knee surgery.

Women's world number one Ash Barty also withdrew from the US Open last week, as she was not prepared to take the "significant risks" of heading to the United States.

Novak Djokovic, top of the men's rankings, is on the list of players due to feature but also cast doubts over whether he would play even before he tested positive for COVID-19.

It remains to be seen whether Nadal will make the trip to Paris for the French Open, a major he has dominated that is set to start on September 27.

Tennis had a rotten lockdown but now the professional tours are emerging from hibernation. 

The men must wait a fortnight, but in Sicily a number of leading women will, from Monday, take part in the Palermo Open, a minor clay-court event that will face scrutiny like it has never known before. 

Tennis must prove it can stage events responsibly, not least because the sport's reputation took a hit with the calamitous ad hoc Adria Tour. That event saw stars including men's world number one Novak Djokovic, whose brainchild it was, and Grigor Dimitrov hit by coronavirus. 

The ATP and the WTA, governing bodies of the men's and women's tours respectively, will apply stringent rules and demand impeccable player compliance over the coming months. 

They have already seen tennis wiped out in China for the rest of the year, on top of Wimbledon's cancellation, and can ill afford any further momentous setbacks. 

At the end of August, the US Open is due to begin at Flushing Meadows, a behind-closed-doors grand slam.

But with a number of leading players already opting out or showing reluctance to travel during the pandemic period, it would be easier to return a barrage of John Isner serves than to accurately figure how the rest of the tennis year pans out. 

Sicily for starters

Palermo organisers expected Simona Halep, the world number two and reigning Wimbledon champion, to join them, and it was with "great bitterness" that they acknowledged the news she would be staying at home in Romania. 

Halep cited rising COVID-19 cases in her home country and her own "anxieties around international air travel". 

Jelena Ostapenko, Johanna Konta and Svetlana Kuznetsova were among others to pull out, with a number of factors behind the loss of a host of the event's star attractions. 

Arguably, though, the standard of the tennis in the week ahead will pale into insignificance against the success of the tournament from a health and safety perspective. 

One player tested positive for coronavirus after arriving in Palermo, organisers said on Saturday, and was kept away from all others, withdrawing from the tournament. 

The eyes of the tennis world will focus on the modest ASD Country Time Club, not least because a small number of tennis fans will also be allowed entry. 

American trilogy

Can the United States, where over 150,000 have died with coronavirus, provide safe haven for the biggest stars in tennis later this month? 

Authorities are optimistic ahead of a disrupted US hard-court swing getting under way, but there can be no guarantees, despite best efforts. There are three major tournaments in the US in August, each brimming with the biggest names in the game. 

A new WTA event in Kentucky was announced in mid-July, and starts on August 10, with a field boasting Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens and Coco Gauff.  

From Kentucky, the best women's players in the world will head to New York for the Western and Southern Open, relocated to Flushing Meadows from Cincinnati this year in a move to save the tournament. 

That event, scheduled to run from August 21 to 28, is where the elite men make their re-entrance, with no ATP events scheduled until then. 

And the following week sees the US Open get under way at the same venue - all being well. 

Players will be expected to keep to their tournament bubbles throughout, tests will be carried out and players closely monitored. Any slip-ups could spell peril. 

Who's coming back? Who's not?

Halep is skipping Palermo and as of Sunday, August 2, she was not listed for the Western and Southern Open; however, she may play an event in Prague, starting on August 10. 

Given Halep's clear travel concerns, it would be little surprise were she to skip the US Open, which is a decision world number one Ash Barty has already taken. Barty's fellow Australian, Nick Kyrgios, has also chosen not to travel to the United States. 

Great Britain's Andy Murray, who appears keen to head to the States, has suggested a number of leading male players will swerve the US tournaments, yet the likes of Rafael Nadal, Djokovic and Dominic Thiem have entered the Western and Southern Open. 

Any of those players could still pull out, Nadal having notably expressed misgivings about international travel during lockdown. 

But will the temptation to go after another grand slam title at the US Open prove too alluring? Nadal is just one behind Roger Federer's record haul of 20 men's singles slams, with Djokovic having 17 majors to his name. 

Federer is sitting out all this drama, having undergone season-ending knee surgery. 

It comes as no surprise to see Serena Williams, one short of Margaret Court's women's record of 24 singles slams, committing fully to the weeks ahead. 

With no Barty and perhaps no Halep, Williams, who turns 39 next month, may perhaps never have a better opportunity to draw level with Court.

Tennis lovers worldwide should have been licking their lips in anticipation of the Wimbledon finals this weekend.

There were two contrasting singles championship matches last year, Simona Halep dismantling Serena Williams before Novak Djokovic got the better of Roger Federer in an epic marathon five-set thriller.

Centre Court crowds and millions watching all over the planet have been treated to classic finals over the years, but there have also been showdowns that many would have expected to see that never transpired.

While there was no 2020 grass-court grand slam this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, we look at a selection of finals that never occurred at the All England Club for one reason or another.

 

Steffi Graf v Martina Hingis

Graf and Hingis met twice at SW19 but the latest round in which they did battle was for a place in the quarter-finals.

German legend Graf was unable to go for a third consecutive Wimbledon title in 1997 due to injury and it was Swiss sensation Hingis who lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish for the first and only time, defeating Jana Novotna.

Novotna gained revenge by dumping Hingis out at the semi-final stage 12 months later after Graf - 12 years older than Hingis - was beaten by Natasha Zvereva in the third round.

Hingis never went beyond the quarter-finals after that, while in 1999 Graf fell to Lindsay Davenport in her last appearance at a tournament she won seven times.

 

John McEnroe v Boris Becker

McEnroe and Becker have shared a commentary box at Wimbledon, but they were never on the opposite side of the net in a final.

A packed crowd would have most certainly been on the edge of their seats to watch two of the most colourful characters in the sport throw everything at each other in pursuit of major glory, but it was not to be.

The closest it came to materialising was in 1989, when American legend McEnroe was denied a place in the final by Stefan Edberg.

Becker beat Edberg in the final to take the title for a third and last time. They may well have met in a final if McEnroe had not missed the 1986 tournament due to taking a break from the sport or suffered a back injury the following year.

 

Justine Henin v Kim Clijsters

Belgium would have surely come to a standstill if Henin and Clijsters had graced Centre Court in a final.

Henin won seven grand slam titles before retiring in 2008 aged only 25 and although she made a comeback in 2010, the former world number one called it a day again the following year as she struggled with an elbow injury.

She quit as a two-time Wimbledon runner-up, while Clijsters - who announced she was making a surprise comeback last year - has never reached the final at SW19.

Semi-final appearances in 2003 and 2006 are as far as Clijsters has been at Wimbledon, and it is a great shame the four-time major singles winner and her compatriot never contested a battle of Belgium for one of the biggest prizes in sport at the peak of their powers.

 

Andy Murray v Rafael Nadal

There have been 24 matches contested by Murray and Nadal, with three of those staged at Wimbledon.

Nadal broke the hearts of Murray fans by beating him on each occasion at his home grand slam, twice in the semi-finals and once in the last eight 12 years ago.

You have to go back to 2011 for Spanish legend Nadal's last appearance in a Wimbledon final, while Murray was crowned champion four years ago but has not played in the tournament since 2017 due to career-threatening hip injury.

While a fit-again Murray is hoping to work his way back to the top and Nadal remains a huge force, time is not on their side and it appears unlikely they will be opponents in a Wimbledon final.

Rafael Nadal has chosen to launch his clay-court season in Madrid during the week that follows the US Open.

The world number two could face a hectic schedule if he elects to travel to New York to defend his grand slam title.

That tournament will be behind closed doors at Flushing Meadows and it remains to be seen whether the Madrid Open, a Masters Series event, must also operate in the same circumstances.

Madrid's showpiece event was postponed from May and is now scheduled to begin on Sunday, September 13, the day of the men's US Open final.

Nadal may not need to play in Madrid until possibly the Wednesday, but it is possible he could be considering skipping the trip to the United States, focusing instead on the delayed clay-court swing.

After Madrid comes the Internazionali d’Italia in Rome, with the French Open, which Nadal has won a record 12 times, then beginning on September 27.

The 34-year-old Nadal has previously indicated he was unsure about travelling to New York, questioning whether that event should happen given the COVID-19 crisis.

Playing closer to home is more straightforward for Spain's 19-time grand slam winner.

Madrid tournament director Feliciano Lopez, who as a player won the Queen's Club singles and doubles titles last year, wrote on Twitter that Nadal had agreed to play his tournament.

"I've spoken with my friend @RafaelNadal and he's confirmed he will take part in Madrid this September," Lopez said.

He said Nadal would be welcomed "with open arms" at the event.

Nadal responded by writing: "Same with you Feli. See you in September in Madrid."

Wimbledon should have been getting under way on Monday and the queue would have been building all weekend long, a tented village of flag-waving, gin-swigging tennis diehards doing whatever it takes to land a prized ticket.

The practice courts would have been bustling, news conferences with the world's elite players running all day Saturday and into Sunday, and the first bumper delivery of fresh strawberries would have arrived fresh from the fields of Kent.

Elite athletes and their entourages would have been milling around the grounds, before at 10.30am on Monday morning the paying spectators would have been released from their holding bay, many racing straight to the grass bank that is officially named Aorangi Terrace but better known as Henman Hill.

And at 11.30am, the first players would have been walking on court, the championships getting under way. To be there at such a time is a delicious thrill, the waiting over, the grounds teeming, the first points being played, and the anticipation escalating as to what might unfold over the next fortnight.

Yet this year Wimbledon was all quiet across the weekend; thousands did not queue for tickets; the line painters, the stewards, and the ball boys and ball girls stayed at home; and a whole lot more strawberry jam is being produced in England this year than last.

The 2020 championships were cancelled on April 1, the only reasonable decision available to the All England Club amid the coronavirus pandemic, but organisers are already preparing for next year's return.

And from the plot lines that are already emerging, it is clear we can expect a classic Wimbledon.

A farewell to great champions?

There is the very real prospect of tennis losing a huddle of its biggest stars practically all at once, with anyone that was considering bowing out this year surely now giving the glad eye to 2021.

Roger Federer will be just weeks short of his 40th birthday by next year's Wimbledon, and the same applies to Serena Williams, whose sister Venus will already be 41.

Andy Murray will be a relatively young 34 but his body has taken a battering, the Scot desperate to play more grand slams but also realistic enough to know there may not be many left for him. He longs for another Wimbledon, maybe just one more.

Between them, that quartet have won 22 Wimbledon singles titles, and all four could choose the 2021 tournament as their opportunity to bid farewell to the All England Club.

It's going to be an emotional tournament in any case, if we are back to normal, but if there are goodbyes to be said too, the championships promise to be one packed with indelible memories, and so many tears.

The magic numbers

Serena Williams has lost each of the past two Wimbledon women's finals and has been stuck on 23 grand slams since winning the 2017 Australian Open, agonisingly one short of Margaret Court's record.

Could Wimbledon be where Williams matches or even passes Court's total? The American remains the player to beat at Wimbledon, and her hunger for grand slam success has not remotely diminished over time.

There can be little doubt she is playing not purely for the love of it, but because of the thrill of the chase, and Williams might wind up disappointed at the end of her career, still marooned one adrift.

But what a story it would be if Williams were to win another Wimbledon, the last of her thirties. Don't put anything past her.

And the race to finish as the all-time leader on the men's side keeps rolling, a devil of a duty to predict who will come out on top between Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Another Wimbledon win for any of them could take on momentous significance in that respect.

A new men's Centre Court king, at last?

The last player to win the Wimbledon's men's singles, besides the 'Big Four' of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, was Lleyton Hewitt in 2002.

And while the era of those four great players dominating in SW19 has been one to treasure, seeing a new champion crowned would be rather special.

There have been nine winners of the women's singles over the same period of time, multiple champions among them but also terrific one-off stories such as Marion Bartoli's triumph, the 17-year-old Maria Sharapova's big breakthrough, Amelie Mauresmo's great achievement, and the unbridled joy of Simona Halep last year.

Certainly there is so much to admire about the quartet that have ruled the men's singles, but a little novelty feels overdue.

Those queueing up to form a new dominant group need to push themselves forward, rather than play a waiting game.

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

What a revelation Coco Gauff became last year, defeating her great hero Venus Williams and reaching the fourth round, where it took eventual champion Halep to halt the 15-year-old's run.

She dramatically followed up by reaching the third round of the US Open and then round four of the Australian Open at the start of this year.

Between those two grand slams, Gauff also landed her first WTA title, in Linz, Austria, where she became the youngest winner on tour for 15 years.

The American teenager is the real deal, that much is clear, and she has a bright future.

Gauff demonstrated wisdom beyond her years off the court in early June with a terrific, powerful address at a Black Lives Matter rally in her Florida home town of Delray Beach.

May she return many times to Wimbledon.

This day in sporting history marked a moment to savour for Rafael Nadal.

But while the tennis star brought up a milestone achievement at the French Open on this date, June 11 will not be so fondly recalled by Mike Tyson.

It is also a day of perpetual significance for former Formula One driver Jean Alesi.

Here are the stories behind the key events to happen on this day in sport.

 

2017 - NADAL WINS 10TH FRENCH OPEN TITLE

Few people in any sport have enjoyed as much dominance of a single event as Nadal has of the French Open.

The undisputed King of Clay won his 10th French Open title on this day in 2017.

He thrashed Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 6–2, 6–3, 6–1 to make it double figures at Roland Garros.

You need not ask who won in 2018 and 2019... 

2005 - TYSON'S LAST FIGHT?

There is talk that Tyson may make a comeback to the ring.

Based on his most recent fight 15 years ago, he might want to reconsider.

The ferocious American heavyweight, then 38, was stopped in the sixth round by Kevin McBride.

Having also been beaten in his previous bout, a KO at the hands of Danny Williams, Tyson knew the time had come to hang up his gloves.

1995 - ALESI'S GRAND BIRTHDAY PRESENT

A veteran of 201 grands prix, Alesi only stood atop the podium once.

The Frenchman certainly picked his moment, though, earning his solitary triumph on his birthday.

Alesi turned 31 on the day he finally took the chequered flag at the Canadian Grand Prix.

He had started fifth on the grid and capitalised when pole-sitter Michael Schumacher suffered gearbox issues.

June 8 is likely to be a date forever remembered fondly by Rafael Nadal, who secured two of his historic 12 French Open titles on this day.

Serena Williams also twice had reason to celebrate on the clay of Roland Garros on this date, although one final was tinged with the regret of having beaten her sister.

The Golden State Warriors tasted glory once again in 2018, while there was truly a shock for the ages when Argentina faced Cameroon at the World Cup in 1990.

Going back nearly 60 years, there was also a moment of baseball history for the Milwaukee Braves.

 

1961 - Milwaukee Braves hit home-run record

There were six teams scrambling for top spot in the National League when the Braves met the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field.

In front of a sparse crowd of just over 5,000 fans - many seem to have been exhausted by three previous night games in the series - the Reds claimed a 10-8 victory.

The Braves did at least make history with four consecutive home runs through Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Joe Adcock and Frank Thomas in the seventh inning.

 

1990 - Argentina shocked by Cameroon

Perhaps the biggest World Cup upset in history, the reigning champions were beaten 1-0 by Cameroon at Italia 90.

A solitary goal from Francois Omam-Biyik was enough for the Indomitable Lions to defeat Diego Maradona's Argentina at San Siro.

Cameroon progressed as group winners and reached the quarter-finals, where they lost to England. Argentina made it to the final again but were beaten by West Germany.

 

2002 - Serena wins all-Williams final in Paris

The first of Serena's three French Open singles titles came 18 years ago when she defeated sister Venus 7-5 6-3.

It was the first step in the American's path to winning all four majors in a row, which would become known as the 'Serena Slam'; she claimed Wimbledon and the US Open later that year before winning the 2003 Australian Open, defeating her sister in each of those finals.

Twelve years later, Serena would achieve the feat a second time.

This date also marks seven years since Serena beat Maria Sharapova in the final at Roland Garros.

 

2008 - Nadal equals Borg record with Federer thrashing

Nadal became the first man since Bjorn Borg to win four French Open singles titles in a row when he defeated Roger Federer in the 2008 final.

The Spaniard, a 12-time champion at Roland Garros, triumphed 6-1 6-3 6-0 in a decidedly one-sided contest against his long-time rival.

Six years later, Nadal won French Open number nine on the same date, defeating Novak Djokovic 3-6 7-5 6-2 6-4 to draw level with Pete Sampras on 14 major singles titles. He has won a further five since.

 

2018 - Warriors claim third title in four years

Inspired by NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant, the Warriors claimed their third NBA championship in four seasons on this day two years ago.

Golden State completed a 4-0 sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 108-85 win at what was then known as Quicken Loans Arena.

It was the second time in his career that LeBron James suffered the ignominy of a Finals sweep, having also endured it against the San Antonio Spurs in 2007.

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.

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."

Rafael Nadal is like a Formula One racing team with the way he operates at the French Open, says Henri Leconte.

After winning on his first appearance at Roland Garros as a 19-year-old in 2005, Nadal has gone on to take the title 12 times in 15 editions to establish himself as the 'King of Clay'.

The left-hander has only lost two matches at the Paris major, going down to Robin Soderling in 2009 and Novak Djokovic in 2015. He withdrew due to a wrist injury ahead of the third round in 2016.

Former French Open finalist Leconte, who lost in the 1988 showpiece to Mats Wilander, believes tweaks to Nadal's game each year at Roland Garros often go unnoticed.

Leconte told Stats Perform: "When you think about it, 12 Roland Garros in 15 years (whistles). You don't think it would be possible. If someone told you that, you'd say, 'You're crazy.'

"What's astonishing to me is how he evolved physically, how he changed his game, how he improved.

"I like to compare him to an F1 racing team which is producing a new car every year, he is coming every year with a new way of playing and adapting. He works on his serve, on his right hand, his left hand, and he's always changing some things.

"He's been able to improve every year which allowed him to win Roland Garros, this is amazing. And mentally, he's out of this world. To play at his level at Roland Garros, under these circumstances, physically and mentally, I couldn't even play one set like that.

"During my time, [Sergi] Bruguera was a bit like him, and when I had to play him on clay, with my style, I knew it was over, I was about to run everywhere and get destroyed.

"Rafa is extraordinary. This is what's impressive and people don't realise how much he works."

Leconte lauded Nadal's ability to take a match away from his opponent on clay, likening him to "a cheetah" and "a bottle of champagne exploding".

"When they tell you, 'You play Rafa in the first round'. If you play him at Wimbledon or the Australian Open, you're like (sighs). It's going to be hard.

"But on clay, and it's five sets, so three sets to win, you just started the match, it's 2-2, you visited Roland Garros, the Bois de Boulogne, you ran everywhere, and it's only 2-2 and you've been playing for 25 minutes. You are thinking, 'I have three more sets like that.'

"This is where he is really strong. He's like a cheetah, he's toying with you, and he decides to kill you, it's over. He's playing with you, 2-2, 3-3. We've seen many players going to 3-3, 4-4, they even get a set point, and suddenly, it's like a bottle of champagne exploding, and then they lose 6-1, 6-2.

"They implode, they can't take it physically. Some players can contain him, but he still can overcome them on clay, someone like Stan Wawrinka who can hit very hard, or Novak Djokovic, or [Andy] Murray who could match him at one point.

"Or you have a guy who did it once in his life, Soderling, he hit flat, full strength on the lines, and it worked. Rafa is amazing."

Nadal will aim to win the French Open for a 13th time when the tournament, which was pushed back to September due to the coronavirus pandemic, takes place.

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