Alex Zanardi
AP

Alex Zanardi airlifted to hospital after accident

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ROME (AP) — Alex Zanardi, the Italian race car champion who transitioned into a gold medalist Paralympian after losing both of his legs, was seriously injured in a handbike race on Friday.

Zanardi was transported by helicopter to Santa Maria alle Scotte hospital in Siena following a crash near the Tuscan town of Pienza during a national race for Paralympic athletes, police told The Associated Press.

A medical bulletin from the hospital said Zanardi underwent “a delicate neurosurgery operation” due to “severe cranial trauma.”

The surgery lasted about three hours, after which Zanardi was moved to the intensive care unit.

“His condition remains very serious,” the hospital said.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte tweeted: “You’ve never given up and with your extraordinary strength within you’ve overcome a thousand troubles. Forza Alex Zanardi. Don’t give up. All of Italy is with you.”

A Carabinieri police official in Montepulciano said the incident involved a “heavy vehicle.”

Local TV at the scene of the crash showed what was apparently Zanardi’s handbike lying on its side and missing two of its three wheels. A large truck pulling a semitrailer appeared parked on the road ahead.

“It happened on a slightly downhill straightaway just before a slight curve in the road,” national team coach Mario Valentini, who was following the race, told La Repubblica Florence. “Alex veered slightly into the oncoming lane just when a truck came. (The truck) tried to swerve but couldn’t avoid the crash.”

Prosecutors in Siena opened a criminal investigation into the incident and into the race’s organization.

Repubblica said Zanardi remained conscious until medical personnel arrived, and he was breathing by himself.

“Twenty minutes passed from the time of the accident to when the medical personnel arrived. It took some time to load him (into the ambulance). His wife helped. After the accident he was talking,” Valentini added in another interview with local media.

Valentini said he was not an eyewitness to the accident but arrived at the scene immediately afterward.

“It was a sunny day and everyone was happy. We were 20 kilometers (12 miles) from (the finish line) in Montalcino,” Valentini said. “The truck didn’t make a mistake. Alex made the mistake.”

The coach added that Zanardi’s helmet came off during the crash.

Racing great Mario Andretti tweeted, “I am so anxious and frightened about Alex Zanardi that I’m holding my breath. I am his fan. I am his friend. Please do what I’m doing and pray pray (for) this wonderful man.”

The 53-year-old Zanardi won two championships in CART In the United States before a brief move to Formula One. He returned to America and was racing in Germany in a CART event in 2001 when both of his legs were severed in a horrific accident the weekend after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. CART raced only because the series was already in Germany at the time of the attacks and could not return to the U.S.

During his recovery, Zanardi designed his own prosthetics — he jokes he made himself taller — and learned to walk again. He then turned his attention to hand cycling and developed into one of the most accomplished athletes in the world. He won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics, competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record.

His spirit, will, and determination gave the beloved Italian a larger than life persona. When he returned to the U.S. in 2019 to compete for BMW at the Rolex 24 of Daytona without his prosthetics, he was the most revered driver in a field that included F1 champion Fernando Alonso.

Drivers from around the world sought out Zanardi for photographs and were transfixed as he told elaborate, often embellished, tales of his adventures in the nearly two decades since many had seen him.

Noted for his infectious smile and fanciful storytelling, Zanardi proved time and again to be among the most determined people his peers have ever known.

“He has seven lives,” Valentini said. “Like cats.”

2020 French Open women’s singles draw, bracket

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If Serena Williams is to win a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title at the French Open, she may have to go through her older sister in the fourth round.

Williams, the sixth seed, could play Venus Williams in the round of 16 at Roland Garros, which begins Sunday.

Serena opens against countrywoman Kristie Ahn, whom she beat in the first round at the U.S. Open. Serena could then get her U.S. Open quarterfinal opponent, fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, in the second round.

If Venus is to reach the fourth round, she must potentially get past U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka in the second round. Azarenka beat Serena in the U.S. Open semifinals, ending the American’s latest bid to tie Margaret Court‘s major titles record.

Venus lost in the French Open first round the last two years.

The French Open top seed is 2018 champion Simona Halep, who could play 2019 semifinalist Amanda Anisimova in the third round.

Coco Gauff, the rising 16-year-old American, gets 2019 semifinalist Jo Konta of Great Britain in the first round in the same quarter of the draw as Halep.

The field lacks defending champion Ash Barty of Australia, not traveling due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Also out: U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka, citing a sore hamstring and tight turnaround from prevailing in New York two weeks ago.

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2020 French Open men’s singles draw, bracket

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Rafael Nadal was put into the same half of the French Open draw as fellow 2018 and 2019 finalist Dominic Thiem of Austria, with top-ranked Novak Djokovic catching a break.

Nadal, trying to tie Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, could play sixth-seeded German Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals before a potential clash with Thiem, who just won the U.S. Open.

Djokovic, who is undefeated in 2020 save being defaulted out of the U.S. Open, could play No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy in the quarterfinals before a possible semifinal with Russian Daniil Medvedev.

Medvedev is the fourth seed but is 0-3 at the French Open. Another possible Djokovic semifinal opponent is fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who reached the fourth round last year.

The most anticipated first-round matchup is between three-time major champion Andy Murray and 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka. In Murray’s most recent French Open match, he lost in five sets to Wawrinka in the 2017 semifinals.

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