Rafael Nadal meets Novak Djokovic in French Open final, eyeing Roger Federer

Rafael Nadal
Getty Images

Rafael Nadal plays Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s French Open final in what could be a history-altering showdown.

The top two seeds won two very different semifinals on Friday to set a clash anticipated since both men committed to the first Roland Garros held in the autumn. NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app air live coverage at 9 a.m. ET.

Nadal eyes a record-extending 13th French Open title, and a 20th Grand Slam singles title to match Roger Federer‘s male record.

The 34-year-old Spaniard hasn’t dropped a set in six matches, dispatching 12th-seeded Argentine Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (0) on Friday.

Nadal, avenging a straight-sets loss to Schwartzman on clay last month, improved to 99-2 in his French Open career. One of those defeats came to Djokovic in 2015.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

“I know that is a court that I have been playing well for such a long time, so that helps,” Nadal said of Court Philippe Chatrier, where he’s undefeated in semifinals and finals. “But at the same time [Djokovic] has an amazing record here, too, being in the final rounds almost every single time.

“I like to play in this scenario. I know I have to make a step forward. I think I did one today. But for Sunday is not enough. I need to make another one.”

Later Friday, Djokovic dropped fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1, after holding a match point on his serve in the third set. Djokovic improved to 216-1 when winning the first two sets in Grand Slam matches.

“I’m in the last match of the tournament, playing against the biggest rival, the biggest obstacle and challenge that you can have. This is what it comes down to,” Djokovic said, noting that the tournament being played in a cooler time of year, out of Nadal’s comfort zone, could work to his advantage. “Regardless of the conditions, he’s still there, he’s Rafa, he’s in the finals and we’re playing on clay.”

Djokovic is 37-1 in 2020, the outlier being a default at the U.S. Open for striking a ball in anger that inadvertently hit a linesperson in the throat.

The Serbian, who is one year younger than Nadal and six years younger than Federer, goes for his 18th Slam title on Sunday. He can move within one of Nadal and within two of Federer, before his most successful Slam, the Australian Open, in January.

“I don’t think it’s the biggest match that I have ever played in my life,” Djokovic said. “In terms of importance, I mean, if I have to compare, even though I don’t like [to], but probably the first Wimbledon finals that I actually played against [Nadal in 2011, winning four sets]. Wimbledon was always the one that I wanted to win as a kid and dreamed of winning. That’s probably the one that stands out.”

Sunday marks the ninth Grand Slam final between Nadal and Djokovic, tying Federer and Nadal and Venus and Serena Williams for the second-most common matchup in the Open Era. Only Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova played each other more often in major finals in the last 50 years.

Djokovic and Nadal evenly split their previous eight Slam final matchups.

In the most prolific men’s tennis rivalry of the Open Era, Djokovic leads the head-to-head 29-26 across all tournaments (that’s as many meetings as there have been Super Bowls).

Djokovic won their last three matches in majors. Nadal last defeated Djokovic at a Slam in the 2014 French Open final. This one will be the oldest French Open final in the Open Era by combined age, supplanting Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall in 1969.

“[Nadal] is the No. 1 favorite,” Djokovic said before the French Open. “The record that he has there, the history of his results, you just can’t put anybody in front of him.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever

Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi

Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!