French Open: Another milestone for Nadal as Djokovic welcomes Hamilton comparison

By Sports Desk June 05, 2021

Rafael Nadal set another French Open record and hit one more grand slam milestone with victory on Saturday, while world number one Novak Djokovic also progressed at Roland Garros.

Nadal, a 13-time French Open champion, reached the last 16 of the tournament for a record 16th time by beating Cameron Norrie 6-3 6-3 6-3.

It marks the 50th time Nadal has made it through to the fourth round of a grand slam in his outstanding career. Djokovic is second on the all-time list with 54 appearances in the last 16 of a major – behind only Roger Federer - after he saw off Ricardas Berankis 6-1 6-4 6-1 in just 92 minutes.

While Nadal is set for a repeat of last year's quarter-final against Jannik Sinner, top seed Djokovic will be taking on another promising youngster in the form of Lorenzo Musetti.

DJOKOVIC THRILLED WITH HAMILTON COMPARISON

Djokovic is yet to drop a set at Roland Garros in 2021, with last year's beaten finalist – who is well on course to meet up with his old foe Nadal in the last four this time around – looking every bit worthy of his status as top seed.

His dominant display against Berankis drew comparisons, from one commentator at least, to Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton.

"It's like the dominance of Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes team. Berankis is a great driver, he maximises everything under the hood. But Novak Djokovic is driving a completely different race car," said former French Open champion Jim Courier.

"Berankis can't do the same things. On the same track, he can't race the same. Novak can drive how he wants."

It was a comparison which delighted Djokovic.

"Well, I'm honoured to be compared to Lewis. I respect Lewis and everything he does in his career, but also, off the track with his activism," said the 34-year-old, who is hunting a 19th major win. "Something that truly inspires me and a lot of athletes.

"I don't want to talk about my driving next to Lewis' name. Honestly, it's embarrassing to speak about my driving, and in the same sentence with Hamilton! But the analogy and the comparison of my game with an F1 car, it's definitely something that pleases me."

NADAL ENJOYING ROLAND GARROS BACKING

Given his sensational achievements in Paris down the years, it is no surprise that Nadal feels right at home whenever he returns to Roland Garros.

There were, of course, no fans allowed into the stands last year, but a limited number of spectators, including his family, are on hand to cheer him on once more this time.

"It is true that for the last year and a half it has been difficult for every player, although I didn't play so much," Nadal said.

"Those who have been travelling week after week without the chance to have family and a full team with them is very tough. They have been challenging conditions.

"For me it is very important to have the team and family behind me, because of them I am what I am today. I'm happy to have crowds, that is so important for us."

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

Though the era of dominance enjoyed by Federer, Nadal and Djokovic is only just starting to show signs of slowing down – albeit they still monopolise the grand slams – round four is going to throw up two fascinating contests.

Sinner came up against Nadal in the 2020 quarter-finals, and the Italian will be looking to cause an almighty upset this time around after overcoming Mikael Ymer.

Joining Sinner in the last 16 is his compatriot and fellow teenager Musetti, who has the small task of taking on the world's best player following a hard-fought victory over Marco Cecchinato.

It is the first time two teenagers have reached the fourth round at Roland Garros since Djokovic and Gael Monfils did so in 2006.

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  • Wimbledon: 'For the moment I am healthy enough to keep going' – Nadal looks forward to quarter-final Wimbledon: 'For the moment I am healthy enough to keep going' – Nadal looks forward to quarter-final

    Rafael Nadal spoke about how he is fighting against his physical decline after defeating Botic van de Zandschulp 6-4 6-2 7-6 (8-6) to advance to the Wimbledon quarter-final.

    It was Nadal's second consecutive straight sets win after dropping a set to both Ricardis Berankis and Francisco Cerundolo in his first two rounds.

    After not competing at Wimbledon since reaching the semi-final in 2019, Nadal is back as he tries to keep his dreams of a calendar slam alive, having won the Australian Open and the French Open already this year.

    Speaking to the media after his fourth-round win, the Spaniard declined to give detail about his injuries, saying he is "healthy enough to keep going".

    "I am a little bit tired of talking about my body," he said. "It's not that I don't want to answer the question, but at the same time, sometimes I am tired of myself, and all the issues I'm having.

    "I'd prefer to not talk about it now – I'm sorry for that – but I am in the middle of the tournament, and I have to keep going. 

    "All respect to the rest of my opponents, I am just trying my best every single day, and for the moment I am healthy enough to keep going, and to fight for the things that I want."

    He added: "I think I made a big effort to be here.

    "It takes a lot of mental and physical effort to try to play this tournament after the things I went through the last couple of months.

    "But as everybody knows, Wimbledon is a tournament that I like so much, and it's been three years without playing here. I really wanted to be back, and that's what I'm doing, so that's why it means so much to be in the quarter-finals."

    Nadal did not want to get into a discussion about his physical struggles, but it was unavoidable when he was asked about how his grass-court play has evolved over the years.

    "I won here in 2008, and I played the final in 2006 and 2007," he said. "So I have to say that during that period of time there were a lot of things I did well [on grass courts].

    "At very early stages of my career I was able to play very well on this surface too, but of course I am running less than before, that is obvious.

    "When I am losing things, in terms of physical performance, you need to add things to keep being competitive. That's what I did all my career, try to add things to my game, and improve things I need to still be competitive after losing some physical capacities, and other things you lose during your career.

    "At the same time, one of the things I'm more proud of is the way I've been able to adjust and accept the challenges in terms of physical issues, and to be able to always find a way to be competitive and improve my game."

    Looking forward to his quarter-final clash with American Taylor Fritz – who defeated Nadal in the final of the Indian Wells Masters back in March – the legend said he was in too much pain during that contest to learn any lessons.

    "Honestly, what I learned out at our last match was zero, because I had a stress fracture in my rib," he said. "That made it difficult to learn many things, because honestly the pain was terrible playing that match. 

    "He's playing at a very, very high level, having a great season, winning matches everywhere, and you can see it. He won the tournament last week – the week before Wimbledon – and now the quarter-finals, winning already in a Masters 1000, he's in a very high position in the race already."

    He added: "At the same time, we're in a quarter-final, so you can't expect an easy opponent."

  • Wimbledon: 'I've come a long way, that's for sure' – Kyrgios feels he is a changed man Wimbledon: 'I've come a long way, that's for sure' – Kyrgios feels he is a changed man

    Nick Kyrgios reflected on what he feels is a new-found maturity after defeating Brandon Nakashima to earn his spot against Cristian Garin in the Wimbledon quarter-final.

    The 27-year-old Australian needed five sets to make it past the 20-year-old American, eventually winning 4-6 6-4 7-6 (7-2) 3-6 6-2.

    In a match that was far from smooth sailing, Kyrgios needed a medical timeout following the first set to deal with some shoulder discomfort that has flared up since his fiery win against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

    Speaking to the media after his success, Kyrgios said everyone is dealing with niggling injuries this deep into a grand slam, but he is proud of the way he has handled adversity this time around.

    "I woke up after Tsitsipas and had some shoulder pain," he said. "I’ve played so much tennis over the last month and a half that I felt it was about time for my body to start feeling some niggles. 

    "I don’t think anybody is feeling 100 per cent at this time, Rafa – you see him dealing with something all the time – so it’s something I just manage. Mentally, I think I deal with these things a lot better now. 

    "I knew today I wasn’t feeling 100 per cent, but mentally I stayed quite calm, knowing that I wasn’t able to serve full out for the five sets."

    His ability to fight through his injury was just one aspect of how Kyrgios feels he has grown as both a player and a person, touching on how far he has come since being dragged out of the pub by his manager in 2019.

    "I feel like I’ve been through so much, now I can stay composed," he said. "It’s the first time in my career that I wasn’t playing well, but I was able to say ‘wow, look how far I’ve come’ – It was rewarding. 

    "I think I’m enjoying the battle a bit more – I’m expecting everyone to play well against me now. I was that kid once, the underdog, whereas today walking on Centre Court being the favourite was completely different for me, but I was able to navigate that.

    "There was a time when I was having to be forced out of a pub at 4am to play Nadal [in the second round of 2019] – my agent had to come and get me out of a pub at 4am before I played my match on Centre Court, Wimbledon. 

    "So I’ve come a long way, that’s for sure… to sit here, quarter-finals at Wimbledon, feeling composed, mature, completely blessed and comfortable in my own skin."

    Having burst onto the scene at such a young age, Kyrgios said he feels he helped pave the way for the current generation of young stars.

    "This is almost my 10th year on Tour," he said. "I kind of feel like I was the first guy who broke through young, like at 19, beating Rafa at Wimbledon. 

    "I was the first young guy to show all the other guys – like Zverev and Thiem and stuff – that they could do it as well, I feel like I was the first one to break the mould. You look at guys like Alcaraz, Sinner who are just absolutely fearless. 

    "I think a lot of players think that Federer, Djokovic and Nadal are almost Gods and you can’t hurt them. I feel like I showed at least one of them was human that day."

  • Wimbledon: 'I don't moan, I love it!' – Kyrgios revels in controversy and laughs off criticism Wimbledon: 'I don't moan, I love it!' – Kyrgios revels in controversy and laughs off criticism

    Wimbledon quarter-finalist Nick Kyrgios admitted to having a "chip on his shoulder" but dismissed the suggestion he bemoaned the controversy that seems to follow him, insisting he "loves it".

    Two days on from an ill-tempered victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas that resulted in both players been fined, Kyrgios defeated 20-year-old Brandon Nakashima to progress to the quarter-finals of a grand slam for the third time in his career.

    It will be the Australian's first appearance in the last eight of the singles draw at a major since 2015 in Melbourne, however, with his other grand slam quarter-final showing having come at Wimbledon in 2014 – Kyrgios having beaten Rafael Nadal to reach that stage on that occasion.

    Cristian Garin of Chile is next up, after what was a reasonably well-mannered display against Nakashima, who Kyrgios was full of praise for.

    Yet he still managed to spark some contention on Monday, having wore a red cap and a pair of red Nike Jordan trainers during his post-match on-court interview, breaching Wimbledon's strict dress code.

    This was put to Kyrgios in his post-match news conference, with the journalist in question asking the 27-year-old if he thought he was above the rules.

    "Because I do what I want," Kyrgios replied. "I'm not above the rules. I just like wearing my Jordans. I'll wear some [Jordan] triple whites tomorrow.

    "Nobody else, even after Wimbledon, really walks with Jordans on the court. I don't moan [about controversy], I love it – more attention for me.

    "What's that saying? Any publicity is good publicity, right?"

    Kyrgios' fellow Australian Pat Cash said over the weekend that his compatriot had taken tennis to "the lowest level".

    Yet Kyrgios insists he now laughs off criticism, which he believes is a sign of how he has matured as a player.

    "Honestly, I don't care. I just smile. It's so funny. It's hilarious," he chuckled. "I almost just wake up and read things and just laugh.

    "I never forget things people might have said three, four years ago, they stick with me. I have a massive chip on my shoulder.

    "And I sit here now, quarter-finals of Wimbledon again, and I just know there's so many people that are so upset. It's a good feeling.

    "I don't think in the past when I’ve got this far in a grand slam, or played big matches, I used to be on my phone a lot, attached to technology, seeing everyone's opinions or highlights, but I feel like I'm able to switch off from that, and that's a big part of my growth. Being obsessed with my girlfriend helps!

    "I'm really able to just let that go, separate tennis and life, I think that's the most important thing."

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