Rafael Nadal wins 12th French Open, closes in on Roger Federer’s Grand Slam record

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For Rafael Nadal, make it 12 French Open titles. And 18 Grand Slams overall, moving closer than ever to Roger Federer‘s total.

Nadal dug deep, like only he can do at Roland Garros, to extinguish the world’s second-best clay-courter, Dominic Thiem, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 in a rematch of last year’s final.

“I still hold the passion for what I am doing, that’s all,” Nadal told John McEnroe on NBC. “Then, of course, you need to be a little bit of lucky and be ready for these two weeks. Happened a lot of times in my career.”

Nadal, 93-2 in a 15-year French Open career, now has twice as many titles at this Slam than any other man (Björn Borg). He became the first player, man or woman, to win any Slam 12 times. Margaret Court won 11 Australian Championships, though some were played in an amateur era.

“Twelve times here,” Thiem said in the trophy presentation, followed with an incredulous cackle. “It’s unreal.”

Nadal moved within two Slams of Federer’s record tally for the first time in his career, after failing in all 14 previous majors with a chance to do it.

“It’s a motivation, but it’s not my obsession,” Nadal said of the chase. “If you ask me whether I would like it, of course. If that’s a goal in my career, no. It’s not what makes me get up every morning or go and train and play.”

Sunday’s turning point came at the beginning of the third set. Nadal, after dropping a set to Thiem for the first time in four French Open meetings, won the first 11 points in breaking the Austrian twice. Broken is a good term. Thiem won just two games the rest of the match.

“I dropped in my game for some reason,” Thiem said. “It’s not that bad against some other guys, but Rafa stepped on me.”

Thiem’s task was unprecedented, to beat Novak Djokovic and Nadal in back-to-back matches at a Slam (and on back-to-back days).

“I just come from heaven to hell, I guess,” he said. “You have to beat seven good players to win this tournament, and then towards the end, you have to beat one or two true legends.”

Still, he padded an argument the last two weeks as one of the greatest in history not to win a Slam. He is the only active man younger than 30 to reach a final and not win a major. The men to make four Grand Slam semifinals and two finals, like Thiem has done, and never lift a trophy: Todd Martin, Miloslav Mecir and Cedric Pioline.

“Sorry,” Nadal said to Thiem. “Keep going. You will win this for sure.”

Nadal opened his year by withdrawing from an Australian Open tune-up event with a thigh strain, raising concerns for a player who has missed Slams due to wrist and knee problems.

After making the Australian Open final, where he was routed by Djokovic, he had to withdraw again before a Federer clash in Indian Wells in March. This time, a knee injury. Then Nadal lost his first three clay-court events this spring: to Fabio Fognini in Monte Carlo, Thiem in Barcelona and Stefanos Tsitsipas in Madrid.

In his last event before Roland Garros, Nadal beat both Tsitsipas and Djokovic in Rome, consolidating his favorite status with his first title of 2019.

“I have been going through some very tough moments, the last 18 months,” he said. “When I started the clay-court season without the best preparation, have been some low moments for me. The thing that I am proud of, more than even the trophy, that I was able to, with the help of my family and team, keep going.”

Nadal heads to the season’s last two Slams with a chance to draw even with Federer. But it will be difficult, no more so than at Wimbledon in three weeks. Nadal last won the grass Slam in 2010 and has made it past the fourth round just once in the last seven years.

Djokovic should enter as the favorite, but he’s now three Slams behind Nadal. The Spaniard is doing his best to distance himself from and draw near to, arguably, his two biggest rivals for greatest in history.

There are no arguments, though, when it comes to spring time in Paris.

FRENCH OPEN: Barty wins French Open after cricketing

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Justin Morneau nixes Olympic baseball qualifying return

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Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP with the Minnesota Twins, was taken off Canada’s Olympic baseball qualifying roster before he would have played his first competitive game in more than two years.

Morneau, 38, experienced an unspecified setback in training and was replaced on Canada’s roster for next month’s Premier12. The global tournament marks the first opportunity for many world baseball powers to qualify for the sport’s return to the Olympics.

Morneau never played in the Olympics before baseball was cut from the Games after 2008; active MLB players have never competed in the Games. But he was on Canada’s roster at all four World Baseball Classics from 2006 through 2017.

At November’s Premier12, the top nation from North and South America will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Japan and Israel are already qualified. Those that do not qualify will get another chance next year.

Morneau could become the second Major League Baseball MVP to play Olympic baseball as a medal sport. The other was Jason Giambi, who made the U.S. team in 1992, the same summer he was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics.

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MORE: Joe Girardi replaced as U.S. baseball manager by World Series champion

Kolohe Andino is first U.S. Olympic surfing qualifier; Kelly Slater faces last chance

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Kolohe Andino is the first American to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut, which leaves one spot left for 47-year-old Kelly Slater to chase at the final contest of the season.

Andino, a 25-year-old Californian whose first name means “rascal” in Hawaiian, clinched his place in Tokyo on Friday at the penultimate stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour in Portugal. He is ranked fifth in the world, trailing a trio of Brazilians.

One more American man will join Andino on the Olympic team. It will be one of Slater, the 11-time world champion, John John Florence, the 2016 and 2017 World champion, and rising 22-year-old Hawaiian Seth Moniz.

Slater was handed a golden opportunity to qualify when Florence announced in early July that he tore an ACL for the second time in 13 months. Florence had won two of the first five events this season.

Slater has been chasing the sidelined Florence in the standings ever since. But it has not been easy.

Slater hasn’t made the quarterfinals in any of his last seven contests going into December’s finale — the prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said in July, noting a back injury. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, who won the Pipe Masters seven times between 1992 and 2013, must reach the quarterfinals at this year’s event to have any chance of passing Florence to qualify for the Olympics.

Complicating matters: Florence said in August it was his “goal to get better for Pipeline in case I have to come back and compete and gain points,” according to ESPN.com. If Florence does return for the December contest, and makes the quarterfinals, Slater could only pass him with a victory.

Moniz goes into the finale ranked one spot behind Slater, meaning he, too, can grab that second and final Olympic spot with a win or a runner-up.

Slater, who turns 48 on Feb. 11, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, according to the OlyMADMen.

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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