Alex Ovechkin emotionally accepts Olympic fate

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Alex Ovechkin had the final word on Olympic hockey. 645 words, actually. With two exclamation points.

“Our countries are now not allowed to ask us to play in the Olympics,” Ovechkin said in a statement posted by the Washington Capitals late Thursday night. “Me, my teammates and all players who want to go all lose. So do all the fans of hockey with this decision that we are not allowed to be invited. NHL players in the Olympics is good for hockey and good for Olympics. It sucks that will we not be there to play!!”

Ovechkin, 31, spent the last two years adamantly saying he would play for Russia at a fourth straight Olympics in PyeongChang.

Even after many other superstars accepted the NHL’s decision in April not to participate in the Winter Games for the first time since 1994.

Now, Ovechkin is saying he will not play for Russia because the decision has been taken away from him.

“I said every time I was asked since last Olympics that nobody is going to tell me I can’t play because my country was going to be allowed to ask me,” Ovechkin said. “Now the IIHF and NHL say my country is not allowed to ask anybody in the NHL to play, and there is nothing to talk about anymore.”

IIHF and NHL officials reportedly said earlier this month that the two bodies would work together to not allow NHL players on Olympic rosters.

The IIHF held out hope for months that an agreement could be reached, or at the very least that exceptions could be made for individual NHL players.

Russia will still likely have the most NHL experience of the 12 Olympic hockey rosters, given its top domestic league, the KHL, will send players to PyeongChang.

The KHL, the world’s second-best league behind the NHL, is home to former NHL All-Stars Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Ovechkin’s full statement:

“I wanted to make this statement so that my words are clear and nobody misunderstands what I am saying.  The Olympics are in my blood and everybody knows how much I love my country. Ever since I was a kid and all the time I have played in the NHL, NHL players have played in the Olympic Games. We never have to make choice between our team and our country my whole career. I love the Capitals and my teammates here as much as I love my country and I know all the other NHL players feel the same for their teams. We should not have to be in position to make this choice. 

My mom was a two-time Olympic champion and when I start to play hockey I dream that if I have chance to play for my country I will do it every time they ask me. Ever since I was teenager I have played for Junior Russia National team whenever they ask me to. Ever since I was good enough to play on Men’s National Team, whenever they ask me I play.   When they ask me to be part of Olympics Closing Ceremony in Vancouver before Sochi get the Olympic Games I said ok let’s do it.   When they ask me to be Ambassador for Sochi Olympic Games I did it. When they ask me to go to Greece and be first Russian to carry Olympic flame on way to Sochi I do it.   When they ask me to play in World Cup I do it. I am proud that we win on Junior team and for the National team in World Championships but we do not win the most important thing yet. Olympic Gold Medal.

I see the news this week and I am very disappointed that IOC, IIHF and NHL put me and all NHL players in this position when some of the best players in world do not have chance to play in the Olympic Games. This is not just about me but all the NHL players who want to play and have a chance to win Gold for their country. Our countries are now not allowed to ask us to play in the Olympics. Me, my teammates and all players who want to go all lose. So do all the fans of hockey with this decision that we are not allowed to be invited. NHL players in the Olympics is good for hockey and good for Olympics. It sucks that will we not be there to play!!  

I said every time I was asked since last Olympics that nobody is going to tell me I can’t play because my country was going to be allowed to ask me. Now the IIHF and NHL say my country is not allowed to ask anybody in the NHL to play and there is nothing to talk about anymore. I talk to Ted about this last year and he support me and have my back and understand what I want to do if I was allowed to be asked to go. Me and my family thank him for his support. 

There is nothing like Olympic Games. It is still my dream to win an Olympic Gold medal for my country. I hope things will change and all of us will have a chance to go again in 2022. What’s most important to remember is kids have lots of dreams. My focus as it always is this time of year is on my other dream as a kid, to try to win the Stanley Cup. I am excited training camp has started in Washington and the time for talking is done.  We just have to go out and do it and I will try my hardest to help my teammates win like I do every year since I came to the NHL.”

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2023 Australian Open men’s singles draw, scores

Novak Djokovic Australian Open
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At the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic can win a men’s record-extending 10th Australian Open title and tie Rafael Nadal for the most men’s major singles titles in history.

Djokovic was PointsBet Sportsbook’s pre-tournament favorite despite being seeded fourth after missing last year’s Australian Open and U.S. Open because of his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

He now faces No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final, also with the No. 1 ranking on the line. Tsitsipas made his fifth Grand Slam semifinal and second final, still seeking his first major title. Every other man in the Open Era (since 1968) to make it to both of those rounds that many times has won a Slam except Todd Martin.

Djokovic’s stock in Melbourne rose after Nadal, the defending champion and top seed, was injured and ousted in the second round by American Mackenzie McDonald. The next day, the No. 2 seed, Norwegian Casper Ruud, was knocked out by American Jenson Brooksby.

Djokovic won three consecutive Australian Opens after a fourth-round defeat in 2018. He is bidding to move one shy of the overall record 11 Australian Open singles titles held by Margaret Court and become the second man to win any major 10 times.

The other man to do it is of course Nadal, who owns 14 French Open crowns. Nadal also owns the men’s record 22 Grand Slam singles titles overall, just one ahead of Djokovic.

Last year, Nadal won the Australian Open on the heels of a chronic foot injury that had him questioning coming back to tennis at all. He also overcame foot problems to win the French Open, then reach the Wimbledon semifinals before withdrawing with an abdominal muscle tear.

Starting with his U.S. Open fourth-round defeat, Nadal went 1-6 in his seven matches leading into the Australian Open. He beat Jack Draper in the first round this year, but was swept by McDonald amid a hip injury in the second round.

This is the first Australian Open since Roger Federer‘s retirement. Also missing: the injured world No. 1 and U.S. Open champion Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, who at 19 became the youngest men’s Grand Slam champion since Nadal’s first title at the 2005 French Open.

MORE: Australian Open Women’s Draw

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2023 Australian Open Men’s Singles Draw

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Novak Djokovic faces Stefanos Tsitsipas in Australian Open final for Slam titles record

Novak Djokovic
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic put aside some shaky play in the early going and took over his Australian Open semifinal against unseeded American Tommy Paul on Friday, winning 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 to close in on a 10th championship at Melbourne Park and 22nd Grand Slam title overall.

Djokovic’s parents and brother are in town for the tournament for the first time since he claimed major trophy No. 1 there back in 2008, but his father stayed away from this match after getting caught up in a flap connected to spectators who brought banned Russian flags on site earlier in the week.

Forget about that potential distraction. Forget about the heavily taped left hamstring that was an issue last week. Forget about how Djokovic produced twice as many unforced errors, 24, as winners, 12, in the opening set. Forget that he dropped four games in a row in one stretch. As usual, Djokovic summoned what it took to extend his Australian Open winning streak to 27 matches, the longest in the Open era, which dates to 1968.

There was a pause in that string of victories a year ago, of course, when Djokovic was deported from Australia before competition began because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. He still has not gotten the shots, but the strict border controls established by the country during the pandemic have been eased.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

On Sunday, No. 4 seed Djokovic will take on No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who eliminated Karen Khachanov 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3 to reach his first final at Melbourne Park and second at a Slam.

Whoever wins the final will rise to No. 1 in the ATP rankings. For Djokovic, that would mark a return to a spot he has occupied for more weeks than anyone; for Tsitsipas, if would mark a debut there.

“I like that number. It’s all about you. It’s singular. It’s ‘1,’” said Tsitsipas, who was 0-3 in Australian Open semifinals before Friday. “These are the moments that I’ve been working hard for.”

Djokovic has never lost a semifinal or final in Melbourne, going a perfect 19-0, and his nine triumphs there already are a men’s record. If he can add one more to go alongside his seven titles at Wimbledon, three at the U.S. Open and two at the French Open, the 35-year-old from Serbia would equal Nadal for the most Grand Slam trophies earned by a man.

Djokovic is 10-2 against Tsitsipas, taking the last nine encounters in a row.

Tsitsipas’ other major final came at the 2021 French Open, when he grabbed the first two sets before blowing that big lead and losing to Djokovic in five.

Which was all related to an amusing moment this week, when Djokovic said about Tsitsipas: “He has never played a final, am I wrong?” Reminded by reporters about what happened at Roland Garros, Djokovic replied: “That’s right. Sorry, my bad.”

Asked about that exchange Friday, Tsitsipas responded with a deadpan expression and the words: “I don’t remember, either.”

Until this week, the 35th-ranked Paul never had been past the fourth round in 13 previous appearances at majors.

The 25-year-old was born in New Jersey and grew up in North Carolina, playing tennis at a club where the walls were festooned with posters of Andy Roddick — the last American man to win a Grand Slam singles title, way back at the 2003 U.S. Open. That drought will continue for now, because even though Djokovic was not at his best in the opening set, he was good enough at the end of it, breaking in the last game, and never relented.

The blips for Djokovic arrived right at the outset.

The footwork was not up to his usual reach-every-ball standard. The shotmaking was subpar. The serving was so-so.

He got into a bit of a discussion with the chair umpire. He started gesturing and shouting in the direction of coach Goran Ivanisevic and the rest of this entourage.

In the first game, Djokovic flubbed an overhead, a weakness he’s never solved. He dumped a backhand into the net. He double-faulted. And just like that, three minutes in, he offered up a break point to Paul. Djokovic saved that, but then another missed backhand provided another break chance to someone playing the biggest match of his life.

Djokovic saved that, too, collected that game and would race to a 5-1 lead. Then came the lull. He got broken when serving for the set there. And again at 5-3, when Paul walloped a down-the-line forehand and Djokovic’s backhand on a 29-stroke point landed out.

Paul held for 5-all. Might he be making a match of it?

Not for much longer. Djokovic, the greatest returner or his, or maybe any, generation, broke to close that set, when Paul sent a forehand wide. Serbian flags were displayed throughout the stands and Rod Laver Arena was filled with chants of Djokovic’s two-syllable nickname, “No-le! No-le!”

The contest was never much of a contest from there on out.

Tsitsipas had a harder time strictly following the rules governing the 25-second serve clock and foot-faults than he did outplaying Khachanov for nearly three full sets, then recovered after blowing two match points late in the third.

Tsitsipas regained his footing quickly, grabbing a 3-0 lead in the fourth and closing out the win about 40 minutes after his initial opportunity.

Looking ahead to Sunday, he declared: “Couldn’t be more ready for this moment.”

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