French Open: Rafael Nadal wins first match in record bid; Ash Barty manages injury

Rafael Nadal
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PARIS — Rafael Nadal’s bid for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title started with a straight-set victory at the French Open.

Nadal twice was a point from dropping the third set against Alexei Popyrin but eventually held on there and wound up winning the first-round match at Court Philippe Chatrier 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (3).

Nadal has now won 26 consecutive sets at Roland Garros dating to the 2019 final that he won. He won last year’s title at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament for his record-extending 13th trophy in Paris. That also allowed him to tie Roger Federer for the men’s record with 20 major singles championships.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

At the mercy of Bernarda Pera’s deep groundstrokes and struggling with her moves, top-ranked Ashleigh Barty gave the impression that her return to Roland Garros would be short-lived.

In ideal playing conditions on the sun-kissed Court Philippe Chatrier, Barty was often left stranded on the red clay by the big shots of her American rival.

But two years after claiming the French Open title, the top-ranked Australian fought hard enough to overcome the challenge and eventually prevailed 6-4, 3-6, 6-2

As Pera lost her focus and hit 19 unforced errors in the deciding set, Barty made up for her lack of mobility with clever combinations of lobs and angled shots. She played with her left thigh bandaged and received medical treatment after Pera leveled at one-set apiece.

“I just keep fighting, I just keep trying,” Barty said after improving her three-set match record to 12-2 this year.

Barty decided not to defend her title last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. In the buildup to the French Open, she played 13 matches on clay, winning 11. But she was forced to retire in the quarterfinals in Rome because of an injury to her right arm, raising concerns about her condition ahead of the tournament in Paris.

“It’s going to be a little bit tough this week,” she said. “I think over the weekend we had a bit of a flare-up through my left hip, which obviously just needed a bit of help today, needed some assistance to try and release it off as best I could.”

American teenager Coco Gauff won her first match as a seeded player at any Grand Slam tournament.

The 17-year-old Gauff erased set points before pulling out the opening tiebreaker and went on to beat Aleksandra Krunic 7-6 (11), 6-4. Gauff next faces Wang Qiang, who happens to be the woman she beat in straight sets in the final of the Emilia-Romagna Open in Parma, Italy, on Saturday.

That gave Gauff — who also won the doubles title there — her first clay-court singles title and pushed her up to No. 25 in the WTA rankings. That career best made Gauff the youngest American woman to make her Top 25 debut since Serena Williams in 1998. Gauff is seeded 24th at Roland Garros.

Venus Williams was runner-up at Roland Garros against her sister 19 years ago but has now lost her opening match at the clay-court major for the fourth year in a row.

The American veteran’s 24th appearance at the French Open ended in a 6-3, 6-1 defeat against Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia.

The seeded players in the women’s draw scheduled early in the day got off solid starts. Fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina trailed 5-2 in the second set but beat wild card Oceane Babel 6-2, 7-5. Australian Open runner-up Jennifer Brady breezed past Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-3 to reach the second round and match her best performance at the French Open.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova pulled out of the tournament because of an ankle injury. Kvitova said she fell and hurt her ankle during “post-match press requirements” after her first-round victory on Sunday. The 11th-seeded Kvitova saved a match point before coming back to beat Greet Minnen 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5), 6-1.

In the men’s draw, No. 1 Novak Djokovic improved to 17-0 in first-round matches at Roland Garros by beating Tennys Sandgren 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 in just under two hours on Tuesday night. Djokovic saved all six break points he faced and compiled a total of 33 winners in the last match of the clay-court tournament’s first round.

Up-and-coming Aslan Karatsev beat American Jenson Brooksby 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 and was joined in the second round by 14th-seeded Gael Monfils.

Seventh-seeded Andrey Rublev was knocked out in the first round, losing 6-3, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 3-6, 6-4 to Jan-Lennard Struff.

Earlier, play was briefly delayed on Court Simonne-Mathieu following a bomb scare near the stadium that turned out to be a false alarm, according to French police. A security perimeter was quickly set up as spectators and tournament employees were forced to enter the venue via another access.

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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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