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Jared Donaldson nearly records biggest U.S. men’s upset at French Open since 2000

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Two of the top four men’s seeds rallied for five-set, second-round wins at the French Open on Wednesday, keeping the draw from being turned upside down like it hasn’t been in more than a decade.

No. 2 Alexander Zverev nearly became the highest men’s seed to lose in the first two rounds since Andy Roddick in 2005. The German Zverev trailed by a set and a break — and was down a broken racket, too — before eventually collecting himself and coming back to beat 60th-ranked Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 2-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Zverev equaled his best showing at Roland Garros; he also reached the third round two years ago.

If the 21-year-old German is going to get to the round of 16 he’ll need to do something he never has at a Grand Slam tournament: defeat a player ranked in the top 50. Zverev’s next match comes against 26th-seeded Damir Dzumhur.

Lajovic lost his eighth consecutive match that stretched to five sets.

Unseeded Jared Donaldson nearly became the first U.S. man to beat a single-digit seed at the French Open since 2000, leading No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov two sets to one.

But the Bulgarian came back to win 6-7 (2), 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 10-8. Donaldson, 21, struggled so much that he resorted to an underhanded serve late in the fifth set (and won a point). The last U.S. man to beat a single-digit seed in Paris was Jan-Michael Gambill, who upset No. 8 Nicolas Kiefer in the first round in 2000.

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“I would never try [the underhand serve] if I was feeling 100 percent and stuff,” said Donaldson, who could barely move by the end because of painful cramps in his legs. “But obviously Grigor was playing so far back on the return that I felt like, ‘You know, maybe it’s just something that I’ll try.’ He obviously wasn’t expecting it, you know what I mean? It’s kind of a cheeky way to get a point.”

Another young American, Michael Chang, used an underhand serve while cramping during a fourth-round win over Ivan Lendl on the way to the 1989 French Open title at age 17; he remains the youngest man to win a major singles championship.

Dimitrov was not angered by the tactic.

Quite the opposite, actually, shrugging his shoulders and conceding it was smart for Donaldson to try it.

“It was beautiful, right?” Dimitrov said. “He wanted to use something different to kind of try to put me off guard.”

Before his first underhand attempt, Donaldson was actually two points from the victory, leading 6-5 in the fifth set and at love-30 on Dimitrov’s serve. But Dimitrov took the next four points.

In the next game, at 6-all, 40-30, Donaldson successfully used the underhand motion. He hit a short serve that two-time Grand Slam semifinalist Dimitrov returned long to allow Donaldson to hold.

After Dimitrov broke to lead 8-7 and serve for the victory, Donaldson broke right back.

In the next game, though, Donaldson could barely stand, let alone run. He double-faulted. Then he tried his second underhand serve, dropping the point. Dimitrov hit a winner to break for a 9-8 lead, Donaldson slowly limped to the sideline for the changeover and, soon enough, it was over.

Also Wednesday, 2016 French Open champion Novak Djokovic posted another straight-set win to reach the third round. Facing Spanish qualifier Jaume Munar, the Serb delivered a solid display to prevail 7-6 (1), 6-4, 6-4 and move into the third round for the 13th time.

Djokovic, who underwent right elbow surgery earlier this year, is the 20th-seeded player in Paris, his lowest Grand Slam seeding since the 2006 U.S. Open.

“At the moment, I’m not playing at the level I wish to, but at the same time, I understand that it is the process that obviously takes time,” he said. “And I’m trying to not give up.”

Top-ranked Simona Halep put aside a terrible start and came back to claim 12 of the last 14 games, beating 83rd-ranked Alison Riske of the United States 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 to reach the second round,

It was the last match of the tournament’s opening round.

Halep, the runner-up at Roland Garros in 2014 and a year ago, played poorly in the first set, with only four winners and 16 unforced errors. But she had 16 winners and 12 unforced errors the rest of the way, while Riske made more and more mistakes.

Serena and Venus Williams won their first Grand Slam doubles match in nearly two years.

The sisters moved into the second round by coming back for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over the 14th-seeded Japanese pairing of Shuko Aoyama and Miyu Kato in front of a Court 3 crowd that raucously supported the Americans.

The Williams-Williams duo last competed at a major tournament together at Wimbledon in 2016. They won their 14th Grand Slam title in women’s doubles at the All England Club.

This return to doubles came a day after Serena Williams participated in Grand Slam singles for the first time in 16 months, winning her first-round match. Venus Williams lost in the first round of singles on Sunday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s first Olympic track and field medalist, has coronavirus

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s lone Olympic track and field medalist, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to World Athletics and an Iranian news agency.

“We’ve received word from several Asian journalists that Iranian discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi has tested positive for coronavirus,” according to World Athletics. “[Hadadi] trains part of the year in the US, but was home in Tehran when he contracted the virus.”

Hadadi, 35, became the first Iranian to earn an Olympic track and field medal when he took silver in the discus at the 2012 London Games. Hadadi led through four of six rounds before being overtaken by German Robert Harting, who edged the Iranian by three and a half inches.

He was eliminated in qualifying at the Rio Olympics and placed seventh at last fall’s world championships in Doha.

Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics, one year later than expected

Jordan Larson
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Whether the Tokyo Olympics would have been this summer or in 2021, Jordan Larson knew this: It will mark her final tournament with the U.S. volleyball team, should she make the roster.

“I’m just not getting any younger,” said Larson, a 33-year-old outside hitter. “I’ve been playing consistently overseas for 12 years straight with no real offseason.

“I also have other endeavors in my life that I want to see. Getting married, having children, those kinds of things. The older I get, the more challenging those become.”

Larson, who debuted on the national team in 2009, has been a leader the last two Olympic cycles. She succeeded Christa Harmotto Dietzen as captain after the Rio Games. Larson started every match at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

As long as Larson was in the building, the U.S. never had to worry about the outside hitter position, said two-time Olympian and NBC Olympics volleyball analyst Kevin Barnett.

“She played as if she belonged from the start,” he said. “They will miss her all-around capability. They’ll miss her ability to make everyone around her better. She’s almost like having a libero who can hit.”

Karch Kiraly, the Olympic indoor and beach champion who took over as head coach after the 2012 Olympics, gushed about her court vision.

“It’s a little dated now, but somebody like Wayne Gretzky just saw things that other people didn’t see on the hockey rink,” Kiraly said in 2018. “And I remember reading about him one time, and the quote from an opposing goalie was, oh my god, here he comes, what does he see that I don’t see right now? She sees things sooner than most people.”

Larson grew up in Hooper, Neb., (population 830) and starred at the University of Nebraska. She was a three-time All-American who helped the team win a national title as a sophomore. She had the opportunity to leave Nebraska and try out for the Olympics in 2008 but chose to remain at school for her final season.

She earned the nickname “Governor” as a Cornhusker State sports icon.

Larson helped the U.S. win its first major international title at the 2014 World Championship. She was also part of the program’s two stingers — defeats in the 2012 Olympic final and 2016 Olympic semifinals, both matches where the U.S. won the first set (and convincingly in 2012).

“It just gives me chills thinking about it now,” Larson said of the Rio Olympic semifinals, where Serbia beat the U.S. 15-13 in the fifth. “That team, we put in so much. Not just on the court but off the court working on culture and working on how are we best for each other. How can we be the best team? How can we out-team people? Certain teams have a better one player that’s a standout that we maybe didn’t have or don’t have. So how can we out-team the other teams? We had just put in so much work that was just heartbreaking.”

Larson and the Americans rebounded to win the bronze-medal match two days later.

“I don’t know anybody that didn’t have their heart ripped out. It was just a soul-crusher of a match,” Kiraly said of the semifinal. “More meaningful was what a great response everybody, including Jordan, mounted to the disappointment of that loss.”

The U.S. took fifth at worlds in 2018 and is now ranked second in the world behind China.

Larson spent the past club season in Shanghai. The campaign ended in mid-January. She hadn’t heard anything about the coronavirus when she took her scheduled flight back to California, learning days later that LAX started screening for it. Now, she’s working out from her garage.

Larson is in line to become the fifth-oldest U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball player in history, according Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

Her decade of experience could go a long way to help the next generation of outside hitters, led by three-time NCAA champion and Sullivan Award winner Kathryn Plummer.

“If you’re coming into the USA program as an outside hitter, in the next year or the quad or the quad after that,” Barnett said, “the measuring stick is going to be Jordan Larson.”

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