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In-form Gauff downs Anisimova in Parma

By Sports Desk May 20, 2021

Coco Gauff continued her fine form with a 6-3 6-3 quarter-final triumph over fellow American Amanda Anisimova at the Emilia-Romagna Open.

In a contest between two teenage stars, it was 17-year-old Gauff who sealed her second semi-final spot in as many weeks, having made the last four at the Internazionali d'Italia.

Third seed Gauff will face Katerina Siniakova next, after the Czech followed up her win over Serena Williams with a 7-5 6-1 defeat of Caroline Garcia.

"I was pretty satisfied with the way I played," Gauff said, after fending off Anisimova.

"I do think I could have served a little bit better, but other than that, I was pretty happy with the way I played."

Despite her valid concerns, Gauff won 72 per cent of points after landing her first serve and forced six breaks to win in style, reeling off six games on the trot from 3-0 behind in the second set.

The other semi-final will see second seed Wang Qiang take on Sloane Stephens.

Wang prevailed 7-6 (7-4) 3-6 7-5 against Petra Martic, while Stephens saw off Sara Errani 6-3 6-0.

It was another rain-affected day at the Serbia Open, where Maria Camila Osorio Serrano managed to get past Kamilla Rakhimova 4-6 6-3 6-4.

Anna Kalinskaya and Reka Luca Jani were locked at one set apiece in the only other match to get started before the weather halted play.

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    Alexander Zverev is preparing to face a Rafael Nadal at the peak of his powers when they collide in the first round at the French Open.

    The fourth seed takes on the 14-time winner in the most eye-catching tie of the opening round at Roland Garros, where they memorably locked horns in the 2022 semi-finals.

    It looked set to be a classic encounter on Court Philippe Chatrier until Zverev suffered a horrifying ankle ligament injury at the back end of the second set, following which he was forced to retire.

    The German admits that will be in the back of his mind two years on, and the three-time semi-finalist is fresh from claiming his first ATP Masters title in three years at the Italian Open last time out.

    Nadal, meanwhile, has suffered an almost endless battle with injuries since that last-four clash, but stepped up preparations for his Roland Garros swansong with successive appearances in Barcelona, Madrid and Rome.

    Nevertheless, Zverev is ready to face an inspired Spaniard, who boasts an incredible 112-3 record at this event.

    "In my mind, I'm going to play peak Rafa Nadal," the 27-year-old said. "That's what I expect him to be. I expect him to be at his absolute best. I expect him to play the best tennis he's played in a long time on this court.

    "I wanted to play Rafa again in my career, in his career, because I didn't want my last memory of me playing against Rafa to be me leaving the court in a wheelchair.

    "Ideally, I would have liked to play him in the later stage of the tournament, but it is how it is now. He is unseeded this year. I am seeded. It's a tough draw, but it's a tough draw for both of us. We'll see how it goes on Monday."

  • Rafa's last dance: Nadal's farewell shot at Roland-Garros glory Rafa's last dance: Nadal's farewell shot at Roland-Garros glory

    Rafael Nadal is about to step out at Roland-Garros for the final time.

    The Spanish great - a 22-time grand slam champion – is set for his farewell appearance at the French Open, which he has won a record 14 times.

    It seems unlikely the soon-to-be 38-year-old will extend that record on Court Philippe-Chatrier over the coming two weeks, though of course you never know.

    Familiar foe Novak Djokovic goes in with better odds than Nadal, as the world number one aims to retain his crown.

    Yet, there is the new generation of superstars looking to take control, and on Nadal's farewell appearance at the tournament he has dominated, it would be fitting if the baton was handed over to Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner or another star of the next generation.

    Let's dive into the data ahead of the 2024 French Open.

    Rafa's last dance

    We couldn't start anywhere else. What an icon Nadal has been, especially at Roland-Garros, and you would be a brave punter to bet against anyone matching or bettering his haul of 14 titles in Paris.

    Nadal is one of two players to have won 10 men's singles titles at a single major, along with Djokovic at the Australian Open (10 titles).

    The Spaniard holds a 100 per cent winning record in the French Open final, while he has also taken the Roland-Garros crown on four occasions without dropping a single set (2008, 2010, 2017 and 2020).

    His tally of 112 matches won at the French Open is more than any other player has managed when it comes to match wins at a single major, seven ahead of Roger Federer's tally of 105 at Wimbledon.

    Indeed, Nadal's win percentage at Roland-Garros (97.4 per cent) is the best of any player at a single grand slam. He has only lost three of his 115 matches at the French Open and only two opponents have managed to beat him there – Djokovic (twice) and Robin Soderling.

    Nadal's best consecutive run of matches won at the French Open is 39, which is only bettered by Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon (41) and Federer in the US Open and Wimbledon (40 at each tournament) in the Open Era.

    Only Djokovic, Margaret Court (24 each) and Serena Williams (23) have won more major titles than Nadal, while only Djokovic and Federer have appeared in more grand slam men's singles finals than Nadal in the Open Era.

    Yet, if he is to dazzle the Paris crowd in one last dance at Roland-Garros, he is going to have to do it the hard way, having been drawn against world number four Alexander Zverev.

    The German is coming off the back of claiming his second Italian Open title, becoming the third player since 2000 to win that tournament on multiple occasions, after Nadal (10) and Djokovic (six).

    A good omen for Rafa, perhaps, is that he is the only player with over 10 wins against top-five opponents at Roland-Garros since the ATP Rankings were published in 1974, with 20 such victories.

    Should he make it beyond Zverev, Nadal could have a relatively kind run to the last 16, in which Holger Rune may be waiting. Daniil Medvedev or Alex de Minaur would be the quarter-final opponent before a potential semi against Djokovic, and a possible final against Nadal's heir apparent in Alcaraz.

    Nadal is not the only modern great who is set to make his farewell French Open appearance. Andy Murray has indicated he will retire in the coming months, too.

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    The spotlight might be on Nadal, but Djokovic is the defending title and is out to make history, as he bids to surpass Court's record of 24 majors and become the outright leader for grand slam titles across men's and women's singles events.

    Aged 36 years and 20 days, Djokovic became the oldest winner of the men's singles at Roland-Garros in the Open Era when he triumphed last year. Djokovic is one of two players in the Open Era aged 35 or over to win the event, along with Nadal (2022).

    Since the start of the 2020 season, three players have registered 50 or more men’s singles match wins at grand slam events, with Djokovic leading the way (86), ahead of Medvedev (59) and Zverev (56). 

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    In the event he reaches the quarter-final barring walkovers, Djokovic will surpass Federer (369) for the most men's singles match wins at grand slams in the Open Era. Djokovic is currently on 366. 

    At least one of Federer, Nadal or Djokovic has made the men's singles final at Roland-Garros since 2005. Expect the three-time French Open champion to go on a deep run again.

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    Alcaraz can't be discounted. The world number three has yet to reach a French Open final, but is the youngest player in the Open Era to reach the round of 16 at seven consecutive majors.

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    He is the player with the highest winning percentage so far in 2024 (93.3 per cent, 28-2), and is also only the second Italian in the Open Era to hold a top-three seed in the men's singles at Roland-Garros after Adriano Panatta (1977), who was defending champion that year.

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    Only three unseeded players have won the men’s singles title at Roland-Garros in the Open Era – Mats Wilander (1982), Gustavo Kuerten (1997) and Gaston Gaudio (2004). Do not expect that to change this time around. 

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    Novak Djokovic admits he is concerned by his performance levels this season ahead of launching his title defence at the French Open.

    The world number one's wait for his first silverware of 2024 continued following a semi-final defeat by Tomas Machac in Geneva on Friday.

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    Therefore Djokovic, who split from long-term coach Goran Ivanisevic earlier in the campaign, can be forgiven for not being full of confidence ahead of his latest quest for a record-breaking 25th grand slam singles title at Roland Garros.

    "Of course, I am worried. I haven't been playing well at all this year," he said after his defeat to Machac.

    "It's not enjoyment when you are suffering on the court feeling this way. You're not able to focus on tennis when you have other stuff happening. I just hope I can be fit and ready and prepared for Roland Garros.

    "I don't want to take anything away from his win, he deserved it. I don't know what to think about this match, to be honest. I want to forget about it and move on to Paris.

    "It was good that I could come here and play more than one match. I played three. I just need to feel better."

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