Rafael Nadal chases different kind of history in French Open final

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Rafael Nadal may be 11-0 in French Open finals, but he’s lost at some point in all 14 Grand Slams when given the chance to draw within two titles of Roger Federer‘s record total.

That’s the real history Nadal chases in Sunday’s final against Dominic Thiem (9 a.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app): an 18th Slam to close in on Federer’s 20. He already owns the Roland Garros record book.

“The day that we start thinking about if it’s incredible or not probably will be the day to do another thing,” Nadal said when told he is trying to double Björn Borg‘s previous Open Era record of six French Open crowns. “So what I have to do today is not think about if it’s incredible. … Even if it’s something I never dreamed about five, six, eight years ago.”

Thiem, who was 11 when Nadal won his first Roland Garros crown in 2005, said he never would have dreamed of playing Nadal in a French Open final. But now it’s happening a second straight year.

The fourth-seeded Austrian can become the first man to beat Novak Djokovic and Nadal in back-to-back matches at a Grand Slam. But he must do it on 23 hours’ rest (to Nadal’s 47) and knowing he’s lost all nine sets to Nadal in three French Open meetings. Nadal is 92-2 in his French Open career.

“It’s an unbelievable opportunity,” Thiem said after dumping top-ranked Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 in a semifinal that started Friday and finished Saturday after four interruptions. “I said last year that I hope to get another chance in a Grand Slam final and hope to do better then, so tomorrow there is the chance.”

Thiem is undoubtedly more accomplished than a year ago, when Nadal told him on court, “I’m sure that you will win here soon.” Thiem has this season beaten Djokovic, Federer (twice, including from a set down in the Indian Wells final for his biggest career title) and, most importantly, Nadal on clay.

“It was six weeks ago,” Thiem said Saturday of defeating Nadal 6-4, 6-4 in the Barcelona semifinals. “It’s way tougher to play him here.”

But Thiem’s record against Nadal on clay overall — 4-7 — is among the best. Djokovic is 7-17. Federer fell to 2-14 when Nadal swept him in Friday’s semifinal.

“I know how to play against him. I have a plan,” Thiem said before the 2018 French Open final, which he lost 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

Nadal must be aware. He praised Thiem after their first meeting in the 2014 French Open second round.

“This player has a huge potential and could be one of the ones who’s going to replace us,” he said when Thiem was ranked 57th and playing his second major event.

Five years later, Thiem is now, as one journalist put it to Djokovic, the Ringo Starr of men’s tennis. Ranked fourth behind Djokovic, Nadal and Federer.

“I’m sure some people would debate if Ringo Starr was the less famous,” Djokovic replied. “Some people liked him the most.”

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

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Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

Kenenisa Bekele
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LONDON — Kenenisa Bekele made headlines last week by declaring “of course I am the best” long distance runner ever. But the Ethiopian was fifth-best at Sunday’s London Marathon, finishing 74 seconds behind Kenya’s Amos Kipruto.

Bekele, 40, clocked 2:05:53, the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. He was with the lead pack until being dropped in the 21st mile.

But Bekele estimated he could have run 90 to 120 seconds faster had he not missed parts of six weeks of training with hip and joint injuries.

“I expect better even if the preparation is short,” he said. “I know my talent and I know my capacity, but really I couldn’t achieve what I expect.”

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner in history behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own world record by clocking 2:01:09 at the Berlin Marathon last week.

“I am happy when I see Eliud Kipchoge run that time,” Bekele said. “It motivates all athletes who really expect to do the same thing.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Bekele’s best time was within two seconds of Kipchoge’s previous world record (2:01:39). He described breaking Kipchoge’s new mark as the “main goal” for the rest of his career.

“Yes, I hope, one day it will happen, of course,” Bekele said. “With good preparation, I don’t know when, but we will see one more time.”

Nobody has won more London Marathons than Kipchoge, a four-time champion who set the course record (2:02:37) in 2019. But the two-time Olympic marathon champion did not run this year in London, as elite marathoners typically choose to enter one race each spring and fall.

Bekele does not know which race he will enter in the spring. But it will not be against Kipchoge.

“I need to show something first,” Bekele said. “I need to run a fast time. I have to check myself. This is not enough.”

Kipchoge will try to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles at the Paris Games. Bekele, who will be 42 in 2024, has not committed to trying to qualify for the Ethiopian team.

“There’s a long time to go before Paris,” Bekele said. “At this moment I am not decided. I have to show something.”

So who is the greatest long distance runner ever?

Bekele can make a strong case on the track:

Bekele
Four Olympic medals (three gold)
Six World Championship medals (five gold)
Former 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
Four of the five best marathon times in history
Two-time Olympic marathon champion
12 World Marathon Major victories

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Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
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Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

MORE: Bekele looks ahead to Kipchoge chase after London Marathon

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