Novak Djokovic joins Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal in French Open semifinals

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Novak DjokovicRoger Federer and Rafael Nadal are all into the French Open semifinals. They were last in the final four, together, at a Grand Slam at this tournament seven years ago.

“It’s a different time for us now than it was five years ago now, obviously. We’re a bit older,” Djokovic said. “But, you know, we have still been enjoying some of our best tennis in biggest events, talking about Federer, Nadal, and myself. That’s great to see.

“Nadal and Federer, arguably the biggest legends of this sport and best players, successful players ever, so to be in the mix with them and to have myself successful career is quite a great feeling.”

No. 1 Djokovic and No. 4 Dominic Thiem swept quarterfinals Thursday to join No. 3 Federer and No. 2 Nadal in Friday’s semifinals. Federer plays Nadal at 6:50 a.m. ET with NBCSN coverage starting at 7 a.m. Djokovic gets Thiem after that.

Djokovic, trying to hold all four majors at once for the second time in his career, dominated young No. 5 Alexander Zverev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 in the quarters. Thiem had it even easier, dusting No. 10 Karen Khachanov of Russia 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.

Djokovic, Federer and Nadal own a combined 52 Grand Slam singles titles. Thiem, much younger at 25, is the best player on the men’s tour without a major.

It’s the first time the top four men’s seeds at a Grand Slam made the semifinals since the 2013 Australian Open. Since then, tennis’ Big Three traded turns at No. 1 and missed Slams due to injuries.

Federer went four and a half years between major titles from to 2012 to 2017. He’s playing the French for the first time since 2015, on the 10th anniversary of his lone Roland Garros title. It could be, at age 37, his last French Open.

Nadal didn’t make a Grand Slam semifinal in 2015 or 2016, ending the latter season early with a wrist injury. He overcame one of his latest sets of knee problems to make the Australian Open final in January and arrived in Paris favored for his record-extending 12th French Open crown.

Djokovic held all four Slam titles after taking the 2016 French Open. But he, too, declined and then underwent elbow surgery in January 2018, falling out of the top 20 before a comeback Wimbledon title in July. Djokovic then won the U.S. Open and Australian Open, retaking the No. 1 ranking and, with 15 majors, closing in on Nadal (17) and Federer (20).

“The presence I think of history-making is stronger than ever right now in my career,” Djokovic said. “That’s one of the greatest motivations I have, obviously.”

Earlier Thursday, American Amanda Anisimova became the first player born in the 2000s to make a Grand Slam semifinal, ousting defending champ Simona Halep. She plays the highest remaining women’s seed, No. 8 Ashleigh Barty of Australia, who denied an all-American semifinal by sweeping Madison Keys.

The other semi pits No. 26 Jo Konta against unseeded, 19-year-old Czech Marketa Vondrousova.

The men’s final four, average age 32, have a combined 80 career Grand Slam finals and 760 weeks at No. 1. The women’s final four, average age 22, have a combined zero career Grand Slam finals and zero weeks at No. 1.

Men’s Quarterfinals
(1) Novak Djokovic def. (5) Alexander Zverev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2
(4) Dominic Thiem def. (10) Karen Khachanov 6-2, 6-4, 6-2
(3) Roger Federer def. (24) Stan Wawrinka 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4
(2) Rafael Nadal def. (7) Kei Nishikori, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3

Women’s Quarterfinals
(8) Ashleigh Barty def. (14) Madison Keys, 6-3, 7-5
Amanda Anisimova def. (3) Simona Halep 6-2, 6-4
(26) Jo Konta def. (7) Sloane Stephens, 6-1, 6-4
Marketa Vondrousova def. (31) Petra Martic, 7-6 (1), 7-5

FRENCH OPEN: TV Schedule | Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

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U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new uptempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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