Novak Djokovic wins 9th Australian Open, closes on Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal

Novak Djokovic Australian Open
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Novak Djokovic won a record-extending ninth Australian Open, sweeping Daniil Medvedev to move within two Grand Slam singles titles of the male record shared by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Top-ranked Djokovic routed the fourth-seeded Russian 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 for an 18th major title. Half of them have come in Melbourne.

“I love you more and more each year,” Djokovic said inside Rod Laver Arena after the quickest of his 28 major finals — 1 hour, 53 minutes. “The love affair keeps growing.”

Djokovic is 33 years, 8 months old. Nadal won his 18th of 20 at age 33. Federer won his 18th at 35 years, 5 months. The chase is on going back to Nadal’s domain — the French Open in late May.

“Whether I think about winning more Slams and breaking records, of course. Of course, I do,” Djokovic said. “Most of my attention and my energy from this day forward, until I retire from tennis, is going to be directed in majors, trying to win more major trophies.”

Djokovic, who first won the Australian Open at age 20 in 2008, improved to 18-0 in semifinals and finals in Melbourne.

Over the last two weeks, he overcame what he called an oblique muscle tear to outlast American Taylor Fritz in five sets in the third round. Djokovic said in his post-match on-court interview that night — after midnight — that he may have to withdraw from the tournament.

“It has been definitely emotionally the most challenging Grand Slams that I ever had,” he said Sunday.

The Serbian endured, taking out Milos Raonic and Alexander Zverev in four sets. Then he swept 114th-ranked Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev in the semifinals to reach a meeting with a player he called “the man to beat.” Djokovic’s five dropped sets were his highest ever going into a major final.

Medvedev entered the final on a 20-match win streak dating to October, including 12 wins over top-10 foes, most notably Djokovic at the ATP Finals in November.

“It’s [Djokovic] who has all the pressure,” Medvedev said before the final, “getting to Roger and Rafa in the Grand Slams.”

But it was Medvedev who played with the weight on his wiry shoulders. He is the highest-ranked man without a major title, having lost a 2019 U.S. Open final epic to Nadal that lasted five sets and nearly five hours.

Many believed after that match in New York that Medvedev, now 25, was ticketed for major success. That may still come, but Djokovic held him off a little bit longer.

“U.S. Open hurt more because I had more chances finally to win it than I had today,” said Medvedev, who called Djokovic, Nadal and Federer “cyborgs.” “For me it felt like 30 minutes [match time against Djokovic], and I was there holding the finalist trophy.”

Djokovic, after winning the 2020 Australian Open for his 17th Slam, had hoped last year to catch Federer and Nadal.

But then Wimbledon, which he’s won five times and on the last two occasions, was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He was the favorite at the U.S. Open — with Nadal and Federer absent — but was defaulted for striking a ball in anger that inadvertently hit a lineswoman in the throat.

Then at rescheduled Roland Garros in October, he won seven total games off Nadal in a one-way final.

Now, Djokovic is closer to the record than ever. If he can topple Nadal in Paris, it’s likely he will catch Federer and Nadal by the end of this year.

If Nadal wins a 14th French Open in June, the earliest Djokovic can possibly tie the record would be next January.

That’s when the King of Melbourne Park — as Tennis Australia chair Jayne Hrdlicka called him during Sunday’s trophy ceremony — can move one shy of Margaret Court‘s overall record for Australian Open titles. Court won 11 when including pre-Open Era conquests when it was known as the Australian Championships.

“The longer the time passes, the more difficult it’s going to become for me to get my hands on the major trophy because you have, of course, new young players coming up,” Djokovic said, before turning attention back to his contemporaries. “Roger and Rafa inspire me. That’s something that I’ve said before. I’ll say it again, I think as long as they go, I’ll go.”

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”