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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Diana Taurasi says 2024 Paris Olympics ‘on my radar’

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi said immediately after winning her fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo that she might try for a record sixth in Paris.

It’s still on her mind 17 months out of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“It’s something that it’s on my radar,” Taurasi told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday after the first day of a USA Basketball training camp in Minnesota, her first national team activity since Tokyo. “I’m still competitive, still driven, still want to play, I still love being a part of USA Basketball.”

Taurasi will be 42 at the time of the Paris Games — older than any previous Olympic basketball player — but said if she’s healthy enough she’d like to give it a go.

“If the opportunity comes to play and be a part of it, it’s something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in,” said Taurasi, who shares the record of five Olympic basketball gold medals with the retired Sue Bird. “When you get to my age at this point in my career, you just try to win every day. Right now this is a good opportunity to be part of this team moving forward we’ll see what happens.”

She said she would have played at the FIBA World Cup last year in Australia, but had a quad strain that kept her out of the end of the WNBA season.

“I got hurt a little bit before. I had a good conversation with Coach (Cheryl) Reeve and (USA Basketball CEO Jim) Tooley. I felt like I hadn’t played enough basketball to be out there and help,” Taurasi said. “That’s the biggest thing with USA Basketball is being able to help the team win.”

Reeve said Monday that when she succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach a few months after Tokyo, she wasn’t sure whether Taurasi would play for the national team again. That was before her conversation with Taurasi.

“I look forward to having a chance to have her be around and be, as I told her, a great voice,” Reeve said. “Obviously, the competitive fire that she competes with is something that we all do well with.”

In Tokyo, Taurasi started all six games and averaged 18.8 minutes per game, sixth-most on the team (fewer than backup guard Chelsea Gray). Her 5.8 points per game were her fewest in her Olympic career, though she was dealing with a hip injury.

Taurasi is an unrestricted free agent although she is expected to return back to Phoenix where she’s spent her entire career since getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.

“Phoenix still has things they need to work out,” the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer said.

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Alexis Pinturault wins world championships combined; American in fourth

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France’s Alexis Pinturault won the world Alpine skiing championships combined at his home venue after defending world champion Marco Schwarz blew a lead in the final seconds of his slalom run.

Pinturault, a 31-year-old who hadn’t won a race in nearly two years (the longest drought of his distinguished career), prevailed by one tenth of a second over the Austrian Schwarz in Courchevel, France.

“I hope to enjoy it because it was pretty difficult some months ago,” Pinturault said.

Austrian Raphael Haaser took bronze in an event that combined times from a morning super-G run and an afternoon slalom run, one day after his older sister took bronze in the women’s combined.

River Radamus was fourth, a quarter of a second from becoming the first U.S. man to win an Alpine worlds medal since 2015. Radamus’ best event is the giant slalom, which is scheduled for Feb. 17 at worlds.

“It’s nice, but honestly, you don’t come to world championships hoping to get fourth,” Radamus said.

Five skiers finished within 2.98 seconds of the winner in an event that has been dropped from the annual World Cup schedule and is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Pinturault had the fastest super-G run by six hundredths over Schwarz. Schwarz, a slightly better slalom skier than Pinturault, erased that deficit early in the slalom and had a three tenths lead at the last intermediate split.

He gave it all away about six gates from the finish, slamming on the brakes. Moments later, he crossed the finish line one tenth behind Pinturault, who reacted by pumping his fists in the air.

The Frenchman earned his first race victory since the March 2021 World Cup Finals giant slalom, where he clinched his first World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. Last season, Pinturault went winless on the World Cup for the first time since he was a teenage rookie in 2011, plus went medal-less at the Olympics.

Pinturault, who grew up in Courchevel and now co-owns the family’s five-star Hotel Annapurna there, had retirement cross his mind in the offseason, according to Eurosport. He skipped a pre-worlds Sunday press conference due to illness.

Nonetheless, Pinturault was on the front page of French newspapers this week, including L’Equipe on Tuesday. In a sports cover story for Le Figaro, Pinturault said that, given the circumstances, it would be almost a “nice surprise” to go for a medal at these worlds.

Olympic champion Johannes Strolz of Austria skied out of the slalom after tying for 29th in the super-G.

Olympic silver and bronze medalists Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway and Jack Crawford of Canada were among the speed specialists who did not start the slalom. They essentially used the event as a training run for Thursday’s super-G.

Worlds continue Wednesday with the women’s super-G, where Mikaela Shiffrin is a medal contender but not the favorite. She can tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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