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Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem meet in Australian Open final, another generational duel

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On paper, Novak Djokovic versus Dominic Thiem in Sunday’s Australian Open final marks the third time in the last four Grand Slams that one of the Big Three faces a next-generation talent looking to break through.

Djokovic doesn’t quite see it that way.

“I think [Thiem is] not really anymore next generation,” he said. “I mean, he’s been around for many years and now already established top-five, top-10 player. … He definitely has the game. He has the experience now. He has the strength. He has all the means to really be there.”

No younger player has been a more consistent challenger to Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal than the Austrian Thiem.

He lost to Nadal in the last two French Open finals and beat Djokovic in four of their last five meetings, most recently at last season’s ATP Finals on an indoor hard court.

But Djokovic is 15-0 in semifinals and finals at Rod Laver Arena. He eyes a record-extending eighth Australian Open title (Sunday, 3:30 a.m. ET) and to keep Thiem from becoming the first man born in the 1990s to win a Slam.

Few players have shown more dominance at a single Slam than Djokovic. Perhaps only Nadal at the French. The 26-year-old Thiem is well aware.

“He’s the king of Australia,” Thiem said of Djokovic on court after dispatching fellow child of the 1990s Alexander Zverev in Friday’s semifinals. “I’m always facing the kings of this certain Grand Slam in the final.

“If I walk off the court as a loser in two days, I still have to be patient, still have to trust the process.”

For Djokovic, it’s a chance to move within three Grand Slam titles of Federer’s male record 20, and two behind Nadal. The Serb, at 32, is six years younger than Federer and one year younger than Nadal, with less wear and tear.

“I don’t see tennis anymore only as I’m going to go there, and I’m going to win the trophy, do everything possible to achieve that, and once that’s done it’s done, and that’s the only reason I’m playing,” Djokovic said before the Australian Open, according to The New York Times. “I’ve finished with that kind of chapter in my life. I guess through the evolution of my life I came to the stage where it’s more than that.”

Djokovic hasn’t dropped a set since the first round. He swept a hobbled Federer in the semifinals. He is a clear favorite against Thiem, who is now used to the underdog role in major finals.

Thiem said it’s a completely different situation playing Djokovic in Australia versus Nadal in Paris. But he could not deny similarities.

“I mean, we are playing in tough times, we young players,” he said. “We always have to beat all these unbelievable legends.”

MORE: Coco Gauff eyes Olympics; can she qualify?

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Coco Gauff upsets 9th seed to start French Open

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Coco Gauff notched yet another impressive Grand Slam match win, taking out ninth seed Jo Konta in her French Open main draw debut on Sunday.

Gauff, a 16-year-old American, upset the Brit Konta, a 2019 French Open semifinalist, 6-3, 6-3 on the first day of play at Roland Garros despite 12 double faults. Konta had 41 unforced errors to 22 winners.

“Every match is a great win,” said Gauff, the youngest player in either singles draw. “I don’t really take anything for granted because I’m just happy to be playing. I don’t think maybe winning Slams, matches at Slams is something I’m used to. Especially, this is my first main draw Roland Garros. When I’m on the court. I can act like I’m used to it. When I’m off the court, I’m just happy to be here.”

The clay-court Slam was postponed from May due to the coronavirus pandemic, is being held with damp temperatures in the 50s and has limited spectators to 1,000 per day.

“I’m pretty sure this is my first ever pro tournament, maybe even tournament in general, playing in weather like this,” said Gauff, noting she warmed up for 20 minutes before going on court so she could walk in with a sweat.

Gauff, the 2018 French Open junior champion, gets Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan in the second round after playing a match in leggings for the first time in about six years.

She’s coming off an impressive last year-plus, reaching the fourth round at the most recent Wimbledon and Australian Open. In between, she became the youngest WTA tournament champion since 2004. She recorded wins over Venus Williams and Naomi Osaka.

Gauff will bid over the next nine months to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team outright by being among the top four Americans in WTA rankings after the 2021 French Open. Therefore, her result at this French Open will not count toward Olympic qualifying.

She is currently ranked 51st overall and eighth among Americans.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Earlier Sunday, Williams finished her 2020 with a third first-round loss in as many Grand Slam tournaments — 6-4, 6-4 to Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

With the WTA’s autumn Asian swing canceled, Williams said she won’t play before next season starts in Australia.

Williams, 40 years old and ranked 76th, will need a scintillating start to 2021 to make the U.S. Olympic team in singles. She is currently the 14th-highest-ranked American. If she doesn’t make it in singles, Williams (or Gauff) could be chosen as a doubles-only player for the Tokyo Games.

Top seed Simona Halep took the last 10 games of her 6-4, 6-0 win over Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo. Halep, who is on a 15-match win streak dating to February, could play Gauff in the quarterfinals.

On the men’s side, Stan Wawrinka swept Andy Murray 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in a battle of three-time major champions and a rematch of their life-changing 2017 semifinal in Paris.

“I need to have a long, hard think about it,” Murray said. “I don’t feel like the conditions are an excuse for it.”

It marked Murray’s first match on clay since that semi, won by Wawrinka in five sets. After that match three years ago, Wawrinka underwent two knee surgeries and Murray had two hip surgeries. Neither has made a Grand Slam semifinal since, and Murray nearly retired due to hip problems.

U.S. men went 3-0 on Sunday after winning one match total at the 2019 French Open.

The most notable victor: Sebastian Korda, the 20-year-old son of Czech 1998 Australian Open winner Petr Korda and brother of Nelly Korda, the world’s second-ranked female golfer.

Korda beat Italian veteran Andreas Seppi 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to become the youngest U.S. man to win a French Open main-draw match since 18-year-old Andy Roddick defeated Michael Chang in 2001.

Korda, after his first tour-level win, gets John Isner in the second round.

Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal, each trying to tie Grand Slam singles titles records, play first-round matches on Monday.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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Julian Alaphilippe wins world road race title with late attack

Julian Alaphilippe
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Julian Alaphilippe became the first Frenchman to win a road cycling world title in 23 years, attacking late and holding on to prevail by 24 seconds in Imola, Italy, on Sunday.

Alaphilippe, who wore the Tour de France yellow jersey for 16 stages between the last two years, went clear from a star-filled group at the top of the last climb with about eight miles left of a 160-mile day.

“It was a dream of my career, you know,” said Alaphilippe, whose best previous worlds finish was eighth. “I came here with, for sure, a lot of ambition. It’s just a dream day for me.”

Belgian Wout van Aert took silver, followed by Swiss Marc Hirschi in a five-man bunch sprint for the last two medals. Van Aert also earned silver in the time trial on Friday.

Slovenian Primoz Roglic, who was second in the Tour de France, finished sixth in the same time as the silver and bronze medalists after more than six and a half hours of racing.

The top American was Sepp Kuss in 52nd place, 12:35 behind.

Full results are here.

The last Frenchmen to win world titles were Laurent Brochard (road race) and Laurent Jalabert (time trial) in 1997.

Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, who won the Tour de France last Sunday, attacked with 26 miles left. He led by as much as 25 seconds before being reeled back in with about 13 miles to go.

The cycling season continues with the last two Grand Tours, each starting later than normal due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Giro d’Italia begins Oct. 3, and the Vuelta a Espana starts Oct. 20, before the Giro finishes.

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MORE: A more equal future for women’s cycling? Lizzie Deignan has high hopes