At the French Open, it’s Rafael Nadal versus the lot and Iga Swiatek versus the field

French Open Tennis. Roland-Garros 2022.
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Rafael Nadal strode Thursday morning onto Court Philippe Chatrier, where he has lifted a record 13 Coupes des Mousquetaires, and spotted Iga Swiatek seated in a chair. He diverted his path from passing behind Swiatek to approaching in front of her, stuck out his right hand and offered a “congrats” and a hand clasp.

Maybe not a torch passing, but it laid clear how different this French Open is looking.

Nadal, for so long the dominant figure at Roland Garros, enters this tournament as the joint third favorite in the men’s draw. Swiatek, who broke through to win this major at age 19 in 2020, is now so far ahead of her foes that she may be favored over the rest of the field in Paris.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Nadal was carrying multiple tennis rackets, some towels and a racket bag over his right shoulder. He was wearing a white T-shirt with an image printed smack in the middle of his chest of a forearm and fist connected by a white wristband bearing his bull logo, an image that conveys his trademark fight and determination.

He will need every bit of that these next two weeks. And it might not be enough.

For the first time, Nadal enters the French Open having not won a clay-court tournament so far in the season (not counting the pandemic-shortened 2020). After going 21-1 in the winter hard-court swing, he lost before the semifinals of two clay events.

He won the Australian Open in January, breaking his tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for the men’s career major titles record (21). Starting in March, a rib injury followed by the return of chronic foot pain that had him considering retirement last year stunted his prep for Paris.

“I am not injured. I am a player living with an injury,” he said last week after losing in the third round of the Italian Open, one of four clay events he previously won at least 10 times. “What can happen in the next couple of days, I don’t know. What can happen in one week, I really don’t know now.”

Nadal often downplayed his chances going into past majors (including before Australia), but now he is 35, older than any previous French Open singles champion in the Open Era (since 1968).

“Suffering after [the Italian Open] for a couple of days, but I feel better, no?” Nadal said Friday. “That’s why I’m here.

“My real goal is just practice well, put myself in a position to be competitive since the very first round, and then let’s see what can happen.”

He may have to go through not only his longtime rival Djokovic (who beat Nadal in last year’s semifinals in Paris), but also his 19-year-old countryman Carlos Alcaraz, who won his last two clay events, including back-to-back match victories over Nadal and Djokovic.

Thursday’s draw only made the task more difficult. Nadal is in Djokovic’s quarter and Alcaraz’s half. Stefanos Tsitsipas, who blew a two-set lead over Djokovic in last year’s final, is the only man out of the top five favorites in the bottom half. The Greek was a distant fourth among the favorites, but after the draw pulled even with Nadal behind Djokovic and Alcaraz.

Swiatek has no company, oddsmakers say. The only person in Paris who may know what it’s like to be so favored is years-ago Nadal.

“The way that she’s playing this year looks unstoppable,” Nadal said, “but let’s let her play with calm and without an extra pressure.”

The Polish star was gifted the No. 1 ranking when Australian Ash Barty abruptly retired in March. She earned the right to keep it solely on her own merit. Swiatek is on a 28-match win streak, with 19 of the last 20 victories coming in straight sets.

If she lifts the trophy on June 4, she will have the longest WTA Tour run of victories since Venus Williams in 2000.

“I already know that I did some great stuff this season, so I feel like I can just play freely and not think I have to win some tournaments, or I have to win some matches or I have to save some points,” she said after winning her fifth consecutive tournament in Rome last week.

The women’s tour has changed mightily in the last year.

Barty, a dominant No. 1, won Wimbledon and the Australian Open and left the sport for a second time before turning 26. Serena Williams, now 40, hasn’t played since Wimbledon. Naomi Osaka came into last year’s French Open having won the previous two majors, but she took a break last summer after what happened in Paris and enters this tournament unseeded without much match time on clay.

Swiatek’s toughest test could come in a potential fourth round against 2018 French Open champion Simona Halep of Romania. No. 3 seed Paula Badosa of Spain could await in the semifinals. Tunisian Ons Jabeur is the favorite in the other half of the draw.

Swiatek won her most recent meeting with all of them.

It appears Nadal will not be the only player offering her a congratulatory handshake on Chatrier over the next two weeks.

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Joel Embiid gains U.S. citizenship, mum on Olympic nationality

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Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center Joel Embiid said he is now a U.S. citizen and it’s way too early to think about what nation he would represent at the Olympics.

“I just want to be healthy and win a championship and go from there,” he said, according to The Associated Press.

Embiid, 28, was born in Cameroon and has never competed in a major international tournament. In July, he gained French nationality, a step toward being able to represent that nation at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

In the spring, French media reported that Embiid started the process to become eligible to represent France in international basketball, quoting national team general manager Boris Diaw.

Embiid was second in NBA MVP voting this season behind Serbian Nikola Jokic. He was the All-NBA second team center.

What nation Embiid represents could have a major impact on the Paris Games.

In Tokyo, a French team led by another center, Rudy Gobert, handed the U.S. its first Olympic defeat since 2004. That was in group play. The Americans then beat the French in the gold-medal game 87-82.

That France team had five NBA players to the U.S.’ 12: Nicolas BatumEvan FournierTimothe Luwawu-CabarrotFrank Ntilikina and Gobert.

Anthony Davis, who skipped the Tokyo Olympics, is the lone U.S. center to make an All-NBA team in the last five seasons. In that time, Embiid made four All-NBA second teams and Gobert made three All-NBA third teams.

No Olympic team other than the U.S. has ever had two reigning All-NBA players on its roster.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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LA 2028, Delta unveil first-of-its-kind emblems for Olympics, Paralympics

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Emblems for the 2028 Los Angeles Games that include logos of Delta Air Lines is the first integration of its kind in Olympic and Paralympic history.

Organizers released the latest set of emblems for the LA 2028 Olympics and Paralympics on Thursday, each with a Delta symbol occupying the “A” spot in LA 28.

Two years ago, the LA 2028 logo concept was unveiled with an ever-changing “A” that allowed for infinite possibilities. Many athletes already created their own logos, as has NBC.

“You can make your own,” LA28 chairperson Casey Wasserman said in 2020. “There’s not one way to represent Los Angeles, and there is strength in our diverse cultures. We have to represent the creativity and imagination of Los Angeles, the diversity of our community and the big dreams the Olympic and Paralympic Games provide.”

Also in 2020, Delta was announced as LA 2028’s inaugural founding partner. Becoming the first partner to have an integrated LA 2028 emblem was “extremely important for us,” said Emmakate Young, Delta’s managing director, brand marketing and sponsorships.

“It is a symbol of our partnership with LA, our commitment to the people there, as well as those who come through LA, and a commitment to the Olympics,” she said.

The ever-changing emblem succeeds an angelic bid logo unveiled in February 2016 when the city was going for the 2024 Games, along with the slogan, “Follow the Sun.” In July 2017, the IOC made a historic double awarding of the Olympics and Paralympics — to Paris for 2024 and Los Angeles for 2028.

The U.S. will host its first Olympics and Paralympics since 2002 (and first Summer Games since 1996), ending its longest drought between hosting the Games since the 28-year gap between 1932 and 1960.

Delta began an eight-year Olympic partnership in 2021, becoming the official airline of Team USA and the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Athletes flew to this year’s Winter Games in Beijing on chartered Delta flights and will do so for every Games through at least 2028.

Previously, Delta sponsored the last two Olympics held in the U.S. — the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

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