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Rafael Nadal outlasts Daniil Medvedev in U.S. Open epic; one shy of Roger Federer’s record

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NEW YORK — Rafael Nadal would not succumb to Daniil Medvedev in 4 hours, 51 minutes in the U.S. Open final. But the two-minute tribute video after Nadal won his 19th Grand Slam singles title in the five-set epic?

That brought the fiercest competitor in tennis to tears.

“Unforgettable moment,” Nadal said. “The emotions have been there watching all the success, all the moments that came to my mind in that moment. Yeah, I tried to hold the emotion, but some moments was impossible.”

Nadal has achieved what many thought was not possible in this sport. He is now one Slam title shy of Roger Federer‘s record total after outlasting a resilient Medvedev 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4. Nadal was up a break of a serve in the third, then later had two break points to serve for the match in that set.

“A crazy match, no?” said Nadal, who is 209-1 when winning the first two sets in a five-set match. “The nerves were so high after having the match almost under control.”

Medvedev, trying to become the first man born in the 1990s to win a Slam, had one of the most impressive major final debuts in defeat. The fifth seed nearly ended a run of 11 straight majors won among Nadal, Federer and Novak Djokovic. It could have been a turning point going into a new decade.

He was ready to concede when down in that third set.

“In my mind I was already, OK, what do I say in the [runner-up] speech,” said Medvedev, who had never before made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam. “Trying to give a fight but not really. … See how far it goes. It went far, but unfortunately it didn’t go my way.”

At 33, Nadal becomes the first man to win five Slams in his 30s. He did so after Federer, 38, and Djokovic, 32, exited the last Slam of the 2010s with injuries. It was on Nadal to extend the Big Three’s streak.

VIDEO: Nadal cries while watching Grand Slam titles montage

Who knows how much longer they will reign, but 2020 is shaping up to be special.

Federer must win the Australian Open in January, or Nadal can at least tie the record with a 13th French Open title in the spring. Nobody has had more success in Australia than seven-time champ Djokovic, who is still in the mix with 16 Slams.

Nadal has said the chase is a motivation, but not an obsession.

“You can’t be all day looking next to you about if one having more or one having little bit less because you will be frustrated,” he said. “All the things that I achieved in my career are much more than what I ever thought and what I ever dream.”

Nadal is on a roll and looking healthier than his fellow living legends. He made the semifinals of all four Grand Slams this year for the first time since 2008, when he overtook Federer for the No. 1 ranking for the first time. This comes after Nadal was pegged years ago to have the shortest career of the trio, given his every-point-is-your-last style and knee problems.

Medvedev, 23, bid for history, one day after Bianca Andreescu became the first woman born in the 2000s to lift a major trophy. It would have been a party-crashing way to end the decade and snap a streak of 61 straight men’s Slams won by 1980s babies.

Not to be for Medvedev, who became a villain of sorts this tournament, giving a covert middle finger to a chair umpire and drawing boos from the crowd all the way through his introduction Sunday. Arthur Ashe Stadium turned as he rallied in the third and fourth sets. It began chanting “Med-ve-dev.”

“I will remember every moment of it,” he said. “I knew I have to leave my heart out there for them.”

He came the closest of any man in the next generation to breaking through thus far. Medvedev’s previous longest Slam match was 3 hours, 54 minutes. Nadal, who had played five matches of 5:05 or longer, took control after the four-hour mark in the fifth set, breaking Medvedev twice in a row. Medvedev broke back one last time before Nadal extinguished him.

“The way you are playing is a big joke,” Medvedev told Nadal at the trophy ceremony. “What you’ve done for tennis in general, I think a hundred million of kids watching you play want to play tennis.”

For Medvedev, taking three sets off Nadal was too much of a task after winning 20 matches since the end of Wimbledon (same amount as Nadal, Federer and Djokovic combined going into Sunday). When Nadal’s baseline game wasn’t working, he went to net. He serve-and-volleyed.

Ten years ago here, Argentine Juan Martin del Potro ended a streak of 18 straight majors won by the Big Three (17 by Federer and Nadal). It brought into question if a shift might start in the 2010s.

Each of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic lulled for a stretch over the next decade. Others broke through. But each of the Big Three pulled back from injury or a drop in form to win more Slams. Namely, all of them since the start of 2017.

“I would love to be the one who have more, yes,” Nadal said. “But I really believe that I will not be happier or less happy if that happens or not happen. What gives you the happiness is the personal satisfaction that you gived your best.”

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Rafael Nadal wins Australian Open first round; Maria Sharapova exits

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal says he’s thinking about his next opponent … and his next practice session … and trying to recreate the superb tennis he played in his straight-set victory in the Australian Open’s first round.

What he insists is not on his mind is the number 20 — as in Roger Federer’s record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, which Nadal would equal by claiming the trophy at Melbourne Park.

“I don’t care about 20 or 15 or 16. I just care about (trying) to keep going, keep enjoying my tennis career. It’s not like 20 is the number that I need to reach. If I reach 20, fantastic,” Nadal said Tuesday, raising his hands in the air. “If I reach 21, better. If I (stay at) 19? Super happy about all the things that I did in my tennis career, no?”

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

He must have been pleased with the way his 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 win over Hugo Dellien went.

That was built with a 38-15 edge in winners and breaks in eight of Dellien’s 11 service games.

Nadal, at age 33 the oldest No. 1 in ATP history, owns 19 major championships, but only one came in Australia, 11 years ago.

Twelve, of course, were collected at the French Open, four at the U.S. Open and two at Wimbledon.

“I won the U.S. Open a few months ago, and I was super happy in that moment. But today I’m happier than if I didn’t win the U.S. Open? Probably not,” Nadal said with a hearty laugh. “The only thing I can do is put all my efforts on (trying) to keep going the best way possible. The rest of the things, the future will see.”

Former No. 1-ranked Maria Sharapova’s run of first-round exits at the majors continued with a 6-3, 6-4 loss to 19th-seeded Donna Vekic.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam title winner, was given a wild card for the main draw at Melbourne Park after her year-end ranking slipped to 136 in 2019 after a season interrupted by injuries. Her ranking falls outside the top 300 now.

The 2008 Australian Open winner reached the fourth round here last year, missed the French Open and then lost in the first rounds at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

A few young Americans were also eliminated Tuesday.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, seeded fourth after his U.S. Open runner-up, took out 2019 Australian Open quarterfinalist Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Fast-rising teenager Amanda Anisimova played her first Grand Slam match since her father, who also coached her, died last year. His sudden passing came just before the U.S. Open, so she withdrew from that tournament.

Anisimova reached the semifinals of the French Open in 2019 at age 17, becoming the first player born in the 2000s to get that far at a major. She was ranked 51st at the time and unseeded.

Now 18, she was seeded 21st at Melbourne Park, but was beaten 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 by Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan.

Credit Fabio Fognini with a career Grand Slam of comebacks: His 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5) rain-interrupted victory across two days against Reilly Opelka of the U.S. gave the 12th-seeded Italian a total of eight wins in matches after dropping the opening two sets.

And now that he’s done it at the Australian Open, Fognini has a full collection, with at least one such reversal at each of the four major tournaments. According to the International Tennis Federation, only 11 other men have done it at each Slam, a group that includes Federer, Rod Laver and Boris Becker, but not Nadal or Novak Djokovic.

The most famous example of an 0-2 comeback by Fognini came against Nadal at the 2015 U.S. Open. Fognini said he doesn’t recall all of his turnaround victories, but he sure does remember that one.

So does Opelka, who rued the fact that play was halted against Fognini because of showers Monday after the initial game of the third set.

Opelka said that Nadal match wasn’t really on his mind, but “if anything, it was just more to have me prep to expect (Fognini) to want to win and believe in himself that he can win. Clearly, he did.”

Felix Auger-Aliassime is considered a future star of men’s tennis, a 19-year-old from Canada who was seeded 20th at the Australian Open — and is already out after a first-round loss against Ernests Gulbis, who once was a young up-and-comer himself.

Back when he was in his 20s, Gulbis reached the French Open semifinals and earned a spot in the top 10 of the ATP rankings. A series of injuries waylaid his career, including a back problem in 2019; he entered Tuesday ranked only 256th and needed to go through qualifying just to get into the main draw.

Made the most of it, though, beating Auger-Aliassime 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4.

“We saw the good Gulbis today,” Auger-Aliassime said.

The 31-year-old Gulbis, who is from Latvia, described himself as “emotional when I was walking back to the locker room, because it’s not easy. Its not easy to come back. It’s not easy to play Challengers. But these moments are really worth it.”

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40 years ago today: Jimmy Carter lays plan for Olympic boycott

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On Jan. 20, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he would not support sending a U.S. team to the Moscow Olympics later that summer if the Soviet Union did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Carter detailed his stance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing that Sunday. A transcript:

Bill Monroe: Assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics, and if not, what are the alternatives?

Carter: No. Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan — within a month — I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics. It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is. I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the Summer and the Winter Games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the Summer Games would be Greece. This will be my own position, and I have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to take this position to the International Olympic Committee, and I would hope that as many nations as possible would support this basic position. One hundred and four nations voted against the Soviet invasion and called for their immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan in the United Nations, and I would hope as many of those as possible would support the position I’ve just outlined to you.

Monroe: Mr. President, if a substantial number of nations does not support the U.S. position, would not that just put the U.S. in an isolated position without doing much damage to the Soviet Union?

Carter: Regardless of what other nations might do, I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow while the Soviet invasion troops are in Afghanistan.

Three days later, Carter said in his State of the Union address, “I have notified the Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.”

The Soviets did not withdraw troops.

Though Carter did not have the authority to order a boycott, the U.S. Olympic Committee did decide on April 12 not to send a team.

The U.S. was among more than 60 nations that were invited to the Moscow Games and did not participate (for various reasons). Other notable absences included Canada, West Germany, Japan and China.

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