Rafael Nadal wins 11th French Open title, ties record

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PARIS (AP) — In full control of the French Open final, a rather familiar position for him, Rafael Nadal suddenly was worried.

He led by two sets plus a break early in the third, when the middle finger on his racket-wielding left hand was cramping so badly he couldn’t straighten it. After serving a fault, Nadal took the unusual step of heading to the sideline in the middle of a game.

“Tough moment,” Nadal would say later. “I was very scared.”

Up in the stands, Nadal’s uncle Toni, his former coach, was nervous, too, “because I thought maybe we can have a problem,” he said. “But in the end, it was not too difficult.”

It rarely is for Nadal at a place he has lorded over the way no other man ever has at any Grand Slam tournament. Nadal dealt with that ultimately minor inconvenience and claimed his record-extending 11th French Open championship Sunday by displaying his foe-rattling excellence in a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 7 seed Dominic Thiem.

“There is a reason why he won 11 times here,” said Thiem, a 24-year-old Austrian appearing in his first major final. “It’s definitely one of the best things somebody ever achieved in sport.”

Thiem was on the couch, watching on TV, in 2005, when Nadal earned his first Grand Slam trophy in Paris at age 19. That began a run of four consecutive French Open triumphs through 2008. He added five straight from 2010-14 and now has two in a row.

Throw in three titles at the U.S. Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open, and Nadal is up to 17 majors, second among men only to Roger Federer’s 20. The two stars have combined to win the past six Slams.

The victory also allowed the 32-year-old Nadal to hold onto the No. 1 ranking, ahead of Federer.

If there were any reason for a bit of intrigue entering Sunday, it was this: Thiem beat Nadal on red clay at Rome in May 2017 and again at Madrid last month.

But those are not quite the same as the French Open, where Nadal is 86-2 for his career.

“I am sure you will win here in the next couple of years,” Nadal told Thiem afterward.

Against many other opponents — maybe ANY other — Thiem would have made things interesting. He pounded huge serves that topped 135 mph (220 kph) — about 25 mph (40 kph) better than Nadal’s fastest — and translated into seven aces but also had five double-faults. He took the biggest of big cuts on groundstrokes, his feet leaving the ground as he threw his whole body into them, as if the very outcome — not of any individual point, but the whole shebang — depended on the strength of that one whip of his white racket. That led to 34 winners (eight more than Nadal) but also 42 unforced errors (18 more than Nadal).

It worked. For a bit.

Until 4-all, 15-all in the opening set, to be precise. Nadal held for 5-4, and Thiem basically handed over the next game — and the set — with four mistakes. A volley into the net. A forehand wide. A forehand into the net. A forehand long.

“Terrible misses,” Thiem acknowledged.

Just like that, Nadal was off on a five-game burst to lead 3-0 in the second set.

By then, Nadal was finding his spots. One down-the-line forehand winner landed right at the baseline, leaving Thiem sagging his shoulders and muttering. Another forehand winner from Nadal found a corner, and Thiem yelled toward his coach.

It was a cloudy and steamy afternoon, with the temperature at 77 degrees (24 Celsius) and the humidity approaching 70 percent. Midway through the opening set, Nadal’s aqua T-shirt was so soaked with sweat it stuck to him. Those conditions might have contributed to the cramping that affected Nadal about two hours into the final, at 2-1 in the third set.

“I was not able to move the hand, the finger,” Nadal said. “I was not (in) control of my finger.”

His uncle thought wrapping around Nadal’s left forearm was too tight. When he first halted play, Nadal removed that tape, which he said let his circulation improve. At the following changeover, he was given a salt pill by a doctor and had his left forearm massaged by a trainer. After guzzling water during that break, Nadal felt better and was back to playing his unmistakable brand of nearly unbeatable clay-court tennis.

Shortly, he’d be holding the silver trophy, the one he knows so well, and crying.

A few hours earlier, as Nadal and Thiem warmed up, the booming voice of the announcer at Court Philippe Chatrier detailed the bona fides of both. Nadal’s introduction included a year-by-year accounting of every time he’d already won the French Open.

The crowd responded at the mention of 2005, initially offering polite applause. It added more voices by the time 2008 rolled around. The crescendo rose to a full-throated roar for 2017.

Go ahead and 2018 to the lengthy list.

“If you tell me seven, eight years ago that I will be here … having this trophy with me again, I will tell you that is something almost impossible,” Nadal said. “But here we are.”

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Russia to finish Youth Olympics with most medals

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Russia clinched the top spot in the Youth Olympic medal standings, two days before the Closing Ceremony in Buenos Aires and eight months after it was excluded from the PyeongChang Winter Games for its doping problems.

The Russians have 52 medals with 25 golds so far, distancing the rest of the world.

1. Russia — 52 total, 25 gold
2. China — 36 total, 18 gold
3. Mixed NOCs — 36 total, 12 gold
4. Japan — 34 total, 14 gold
5. Italy — 31 total, 10 gold
10. U.S. — 15 total, 4 gold

China and Russia went one-two in total medals at the first two Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010 and Nanjing, China in 2014. The U.S. has never topped a Youth Olympic total medal table, be it Summer or Winter Games.

The U.S. has, however, earned the most total medals at the last six Summer Olympics, beginning with the 1996 Atlanta Games.

The Youth Olympics, for athletes ages 14 to 18, do not emphasize medal counts (plus have many medal events where athletes from different nations compete on the same team). The Games include many Olympic events and some that are not on the Olympic program, including break dancing, where a Russian who goes by Bumblebee earned gold last week.

The next Youth Olympics are the winter version in the IOC base of Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2020, followed by the summer version in 2022 in Dakar, Senegal, the first Olympic Games of any kind to be held in Africa.

The Youth Olympics conclude with the last full day of medal competition on Wednesday and the Closing Ceremony on Thursday.

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Aliya Mustafina returns to gymnastics worlds, year after giving birth

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Aliya Mustafina, an all-around medalist at the last two Olympics, made Russia’s team for next week’s world gymnastics championships, 16 months after giving birth to daughter Alisa.

Mustafina, 24, is joined by one Rio Olympic teammate, Angelina Melnikova, and three world championships rookies (plus Olympian Daria Spiridonova as an alternate), according to Russia’s gymnastics federation.

Mustafina is the last non-American woman to win an Olympic or world championships all-around, back in 2010 in her first year as a senior gymnast. A series of injuries followed, including surgeries on both knees and her left ankle.

She missed the 2015 Worlds with back pain but rebounded for a medal of every color in Rio (uneven bars gold, team silver and all-around bronze, just as she had done at London 2012).

Her seven total Olympic medals are tied for the most by a Russian woman since the fall of the Soviet Union with retired gymnast Svetlana Khorkina.

Viktoria Komova, the 2012 Olympic all-around silver medalist who has also struggled with injuries, is not on Russia’s team for worlds in Doha. She last competed at a global championship in 2015, sharing the uneven bars title with three other gymnasts.

Mustafina joins a list of distinguished moms to return to the top level of gymnastics, including Oksana Chusovitina, who began competing in the Soviet Union in the 1980s and, seven Olympics later, is still competing at age 43 (for Uzbekistan).

The most decorated Olympic gymnast, Soviet Larisa Latynina, earned 12 of her 18 medals after becoming a mom.

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