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

Rafael Nadal
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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.

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“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.”

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Saudi Arabia to host 2029 Asian Winter Games

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Saudi Arabia will host the Asian Winter Games in 2029 in mountains near the $500 billion futuristic city project Neom.

The Olympic Council of Asia on Tuesday picked the Saudi candidacy that centers on Trojena that is planned to be a year-round ski resort by 2026.

“The deserts & mountains of Saudi Arabia will soon be a playground for Winter sports!” the OCA said in a statement announcing its decision.

Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal said the kingdom’s winter sports project “challenges perception” in a presentation of the plan to OCA members.

“Trojena is the future of mountain living,” the minister said of a region described as an area of about 60 square kilometers at altitude ranging from 1,500 to 2,600 meters.

The Neom megaproject is being fund by the Saudi sovereign wealth vehicle, the Public Investment Fund.

Saudi Arabia also will host the Asian Games in 2034 in Riyadh as part of aggressive moves to build a sports hosting portfolio and help diversify the economy from reliance on oil.

A campaign to host soccer’s 2030 World Cup is expected with an unprecedented three-continent bid including Egypt and Greece.

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Jim Redmond, who helped son Derek finish 1992 Olympic race, dies

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Jim Redmond, who helped his injured son, Derek, finish his 1992 Olympic 400m semifinal, died at age 81 on Sunday, according to the British Olympic Association, citing family members.

At the 1992 Barcelona Games, Derek pulled his right hamstring 15 seconds into his 400m semifinal, falling to the track in anguish.

He brushed off help from officials, got up and began limping around the track. About 120 meters from the finish line, he felt the presence of an uncredentialed man who rushed down the stadium stairs, dodged officials and said, “We started this together, and we’re going to finish this together,” according to Olympedia.org.

“As I turned into the home straight, I could sense this person was about to try and stop me,” Derek said in an NBC Olympics profile interview before the 2012 London Games. “I was just about to get ready to sort of fend them off, and then I heard a familiar voice of my dad. He said, ‘Derek, it’s me. You don’t need to do this.'”

Derek said he shouted to his dad that he wanted to finish the race.

“He was sort of saying things like, ‘You’ve got nothing to prove. You’re a champion. You’ll come back. You’re one of the best guys in the world. You’re a true champion. You’ve got heart. You’re going to get over this. We’ll conquer the world together,'” Derek remembered. “I’m just sort of saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.'”

At one point, Derek noticed stadium security, not knowing who Jim was, having removed guns from their holsters.

“It’s the only time I’ve ever heard my dad use bad language,” Derek said. “He just goes, ‘Leave him alone, I’m his father.'”

Derek told himself in that moment, “I’m going to finish this race if it’s the last race I ever run.” It turned out to be the last 400m race of his career, after surgery and 18 months of rehab were not enough to yield a competitive comeback, according to Sports Illustrated.

Derek had missed the 1988 Seoul Games after tearing an Achilles, reportedly while warming up for his opening race. He looked strong in Barcelona, winning his first-round heat and quarterfinal.

“I’d rather be seen to be coming last in the semifinal than not finish in the semifinal,” he said, “because at least I can say I gave it my best.”