Rafael Nadal’s French Open bid: break Grand Slam record he shares with Roger Federer

French Open Tennis. Roland-Garros 2021.
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Go back, for a moment, to May 8, 2005, when Rafael Nadal was still just 18 and yet to appear in a French Open, let alone win one.

After collecting his first trophy on the red clay of Rome — which had been preceded by his first trophy on the red clay of Barcelona, which in turn had been preceded by his first trophy on the red clay of Monte Carlo — Nadal was asked that day whether he agreed with the notion that all of this success would make him a popular pick for his first trophy on the red clay of Paris soon thereafter.

In an answer brimming with a mix of humility and common sense, Nadal noted that, yes, it did seem he was deemed the favorite for Roland Garros every time he won a match on the surface, but “after two weeks, I don’t know if I (will) play the same like now, no?” and, so, really, the favorite for the French Open should be whoever was playing the best during the French Open itself.

We all know how that turned out back then and, more often than not, ever since.

When his favorite tournament starts Sunday — in May, not September, as it did last year because of the pandemic, and with crowds numbering more than 5,000 on-site daily at the start and 10,000 or more by the end, not merely 1,000, like last year — Nadal will be pursuing a 14th championship in at Roland Garros.

That would break his own record that he keeps breaking and, of even more historic heft, go alongside four triumphs at the U.S. Opens, two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open to give the indefatigable lefty from Spain a total of 21 Grand Slam titles in all, which would break the men’s mark he shares with Roger Federer.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

There are, certainly, other stories to follow over the 15 days of play in Paris.

Federer’s return after 15 months away from the Grand Slam stage because of two operations on his right knee. No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic’s attempt to close within one major title of his rivals by getting his 19th, while also becoming the first man in the professional era to win each Slam tournament twice. Members of the younger set, such as Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev, are still trying to get a first, meanwhile.

Serena Williams, owner of 23 Slam singles trophies, is participating in the last French Open of her 30s. Naomi Osaka, who’s won four majors on hard courts, is trying to get past the third round at Roland Garros for the first time — after declaring she won’t speak to the media during the tournament. Two women can say they are defending French Open titles: 2020 champion Iga Swiatek, of course, but also 2019 champion Ash Barty, who did not enter the event last year because of the pandemic.

Osaka, who opens the proceedings at Court Philippe Chatrier against Patricia Maria Tig of Romania, is among a half-dozen major champions on the Day One schedule.

Nadal’s reign is so remarkable, so unprecedented, a 10-foot statue was unveiled in his honor at the place this week — a rare tribute to an active athlete.

“It’s true that I did something very special here in this event,” said Nadal, who turns 35 on Thursday.

He is 100-2 for his career at the French Open, 459-42 overall (.916 winning percentage) on clay, with 62 of his 88 titles on the surface, including 12 at Barcelona, 11 at Monte Carlo and 10 at Rome.

“For such a long time, I have been playing well during this part of the season,” Nadal said, by way of explanation. “Probably the clay adapts well to my game, no?”

There are so many measures of the man’s mastery, of course, but how about this one: The list of players who can boast of holding a winning record on clay against Nadal consists of Alex Corretja, Olivier Mutis and Andrey Rublev.

That’s the list.

Each is 1-0 against him.

“He’s one of the legends,” said Rublev, a 22-year-old from Russia who beat Nadal at Monte Carlo in April.

Over the years, Nadal’s infrequent losses on clay have become far more newsworthy than his victories.

What hasn’t changed from May 2005 to May 2021: As the French Open gets underway, the man from Mallorca is the man to beat.

“I play with passion, with clear goals and with love for the game, no? So that’s the main issues that I have been working on in my tennis career, no?” Nadal said. “Just keep playing with the right intensity and at the same time have enough passion to go on court every day and try to be better player. That’s the whole thing.”

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Eliud Kipchoge breaks marathon world record in Berlin

Eliud Kipchoge Berlin Marathon

Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge broke his own world record in winning the Berlin Marathon, clocking 2:01:09 to lower the previous record time of 2:01:39 he set in the German capital in 2018.

Kipchoge, 37 and a two-time Olympic champion, earned his 15th win in 17 career marathons to bolster his claim as the greatest runner in history over 26.2 miles.

His pacing was not ideal. Kipchoge slowed in the final miles, running 61:18 for the second half after going out in an unprecedented 59:51 for the first 13.1 miles. He still won by 4:49 over Kenyan Mark Korir.

“I was planning to go through it [the halfway mark] 60:50, 60:40,” Kipchoge said. “My legs were running actually very fast. I thought, let me just try to run two hours flat, but all in all, I am happy with the performance.

“We went too fast [in the first half]. It takes energy from the muscles. … There’s still more in my legs [to possibly lower the record again].”

MORE: Berlin Marathon Results

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa won the women’s race in 2:15:37, the third-fastest time in history for somebody who ran one prior marathon in 2:34:01. Only Brigid Kosgei (2:14:14 in Chicago in 2019) and Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25 in London in 2003) have gone faster.

American record holder Keira D’Amato, who entered as the top seed, was sixth in 2:21:48. D’Amato, who went nearly a decade between competitive races after college, owns the American record of 2:19:12 and now also the 10th-best time in U.S. history.

“Today wasn’t my best day ever, but it was the best I could do today,” she said in a text message, according to Race Results Weekly, adding that she briefly stopped and walked late in the race.

The last eight instances the men’s marathon world record has been broken, it has come on the pancake-flat roads of Berlin. It began in 2003, when Kenyan Paul Tergat became the first man to break 2:05.

The world record was 2:02:57 — set by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in 2014 — until Kipchoge broke it for the first time four years ago.

The following year, Kipchoge became the first person to cover 26.2 miles in under two hours, clocking 1:59:40 in a non-record-eligible showcase rather than a race.

Kipchoge’s focus going forward is trying to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles in Paris in 2024. He also wants to win all six annual World Marathon Majors. He’s checked off four of them, only missing Boston (run in April) and New York City (run every November).

Kipchoge grew up on a farm in Kapsabet in Kenya’s Rift Valley, often hauling by bike several gallons of the family’s milk to sell at the local market. Raised by a nursery school teacher, he ran more than three miles to and from school. He saved for five months to get his first pair of running shoes.

At 18, he upset legends Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele to win the 2003 World 5000m title on the track. He won Olympic 5000m medals (bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008), then moved to the marathon after failing to make the 2012 Olympic team on the track.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup

The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final