US Open: Nadal-Anderson seems a mismatch, but upsets happen

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NEW YORK (AP) U.S. Open finalists Rafael Nadal and Kevin Anderson are both professional tennis players who were born in 1986. Not much else in common.

Heading into Sunday’s match – well, mismatch, apparently – Nadal owns 15 Grand Slam titles, including two at Flushing Meadows in 2010 and 2013. Anderson: zero.

Nadal has participated in 22 major finals. Anderson: zero.

Nadal has spent a total of more than 140 weeks at No. 1, his spot right now. Anderson: zero. Indeed, at No. 32, Anderson is the lowest-ranked U.S. Open finalist since the ATP began using computer rankings in 1973.

Of their previous tour-level matches, Nadal has won four. Anderson: zero.

Add it all up, and this much is certain: There are not a lot of reasons to expect Anderson to beat Nadal.

Sure, the 6-foot-8 (2.03-meter) Anderson, the tallest Grand Slam finalist in history, is equipped with a booming serve – he’s been broken only five times across 108 service games over the past two weeks – and so, in theory, the South African could make Nadal uncomfortable. Although even that seems unlikely, given that the 6-foot-1 (1.85-meter) Nadal is among the game’s top returners and has won 43 percent of his opponents’ service games in the tournament.

“He serves so well. Playing with tons of confidence and doing it very aggressively,” Nadal said about Anderson. “I will need to impose my tempo.”

Anderson’s coach, Neville Godwin, put forth the idea that his guy, only once before even so far as a quarterfinal in 33 previous appearances at majors, should be pressure-free Sunday.

“He’s completely free. He’s completely surpassed any expectations he may have had,” Godwin said. “So he’s got to release himself and just go and play.”

Yes, there is still a match to be contested, and three sets to be won, and an Anderson victory would not be the first time an unheralded tennis player managed to beat a presumably unbeatable one.

Here is a look at some of the sport’s biggest Grand Slam upsets, a list that includes Nadal’s name:

U.S. OPEN

– Roberta Vinci beats Serena Williams in the semifinals, 2015: Williams was bidding for the first calendar-year Grand Slam since 1988, but the 43rd-ranked Vinci won 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

– Juan Martin del Potro beats Nadal in the semifinals, then Roger Federer in the final , 2009: del Potro was 20 and managed to first wallop Nadal 6-2, 6-2, 6-2, then end Federer’s 40-match, five-title winning streak at Flushing Meadows in a five-set comeback.

WIMBLEDON

– George Bastl beats Pete Sampras in the second round, 2002: Sampras was a seven-time Wimbledon champion. Bastl was ranked 145th and a “lucky loser,” someone who was eliminated in qualifying but got into the main draw because someone withdrew.

– Richard Krajicek beats Sampras in the quarterfinals, 1996: The only match Sampras lost at the All England Club from the start of the 1993 tournament to the end of the 2000 tournament.

– Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis , Nick Kyrgios, Dustin Brown beat Nadal at Wimbledon, 2012-15: Each of those opponents was ranked outside the top 100 when they stunned Nadal, a two-time champion at Wimbledon.

– Sergiy Stakhovsky beats Roger Federer in the second round, 2013: Federer’s earliest Grand Slam exit in a decade, ending a run of 36 consecutive quarterfinal appearances at majors. Stakhovsky was ranked 116th.

– Ivo Karlovic beats Lleyton Hewitt in the first round, 2003: Hewitt became the first men’s defending champion in the professional era, which began in 1968, to bow out in the first round at the All England Club.

– Lori McNeil beats Steffi Graf in the first round, 1994: Graf became the first women’s defending champion to lose her opener.

FRENCH OPEN

– Virginie Razzano beats Williams in the first round, 2012: The 111th-ranked Razzano’s stunning win remains Williams’ lone first-round exit in 66 Grand Slam tournaments.

– Robin Soderling beats Nadal in the fourth round, 2009: Nadal was 31-0 with four consecutive titles at Roland Garros (a total he has since raised to 10). Soderling had never won even a third-round match at a major before that tournament.

– Michael Chang beats Ivan Lendl in the fourth round, then Stefan Edberg in the final, 1989: Chang was 17 and remains the youngest man to win a Grand Slam title.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN

– Mark Edmonson beats John Newcombe in the final, 1976: Newcombe was the defending champion and Edmonson was ranked 212th. He remains the lowest-ranked man to win a Grand Slam title.

Rival players support seeding Serena Williams at French Open

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ROME – Several of Serena Williams’ biggest rivals believe that the 23-time Grand Slam champion deserves more than just a guaranteed spot in the French Open draw.

Williams, who is expected to play in her first major since returning from maternity leave, should also receive a top seed that befits the No. 1 ranking she held when she left the tour, the players say.

The WTA Tour said it is considering a rule change to add protected seeding for highly-ranked players returning from maternity leave but the earliest that could take effect is next year.

“I would like to see that change,” Maria Sharapova said. “It’s such an incredible effort for a woman to come back from physically, emotionally. … There’s just another whole dimension to the travel, to the experiences, to the emotions to the physicality of every single day.

“Tennis is such a selfish sport but I think when there’s a child in your life you lose a little bit of that, because there’s something that’s so much more important,” added Sharapova, who has lost three Grand Slam finals to Williams. “So yeah, I definitely think that would be a nice change.”

The French Open draw will be made Thursday, with the tournament starting on Sunday.

All Grand Slam events make their own decisions on seeding players, so it’s still possible that Roland Garros will make Williams one of the 32 seeded players even though her current ranking is down to near No. 500.

Otherwise, Williams could be forced to play top-ranked players in the early rounds.

The French tennis federation did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s normal to give birth to a kid. It’s normal to have protected ranking. … It’s more than tennis,” top-ranked Simona Halep said. “So the people will decide what seed she will get. But in my opinion it’s good to protect the ranking when someone is giving birth.”

Williams returned to the tour briefly this year, after a 14-month absence to give birth to her daughter. She was not seeded at tournaments in Indian Wells, California, and Miami, and compiled two wins and two losses.

Williams has recounted the difficulties she faced in childbirth and a pulmonary embolism that made it hard for her to breathe shortly after her daughter was born. But after a period of training, coach Patrick Mouratoglou last week told the WTA tour’s website “Serena will play the French Open to win it.”

Current rules covering maternity leave and injuries allow a protected or “special” ranking to be utilized for entry into tournaments but not for seeding purposes regardless of the reason for a player’s absence.

However, this past year the WTA adjusted the rule so that absences for maternity leave are treated the same as those for injury and illness by providing all players a two-year window to begin using a special ranking, plus an additional year from the date of return to utilize the special ranking.

“Historically, WTA players have not been supportive of the use of special rankings for seeding purposes,” the WTA said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The rule is currently under further review as part of our 2019 rules process. We remain committed to evolving with the needs of our players and are very supportive of those players returning from maternity leave to the tour.”

Fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina, who defended her Italian Open title on Sunday, was also supportive of seeding Williams.

“If you’re like finished or you stopped because you’re going to have a child and you will be in top eight, I think you should have this kind of thing, to have protected seeding,” Svitolina said. “She was No. 1 so she deserves seeding.”

William has won the French Open three times – more than any current player – and last year’s Roland Garros champion, Jelena Ostapenko, is looking forward to her return.

“She’s someone who the tour was missing – because she’s a great champion,” Ostapenko said. “She was my idol since I was growing up.”

AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington and AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin in Paris contributed.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Nadal beats Zverev for Italian Open title

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ROME — Rafael Nadal came out on top in a matchup of this year’s top two clay-court players, beating defending champion Alexander Zverev 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 Sunday to win a record-extending eighth Italian Open title.

Nadal recovered from an early break in the third set after a 50-minute rain delay.

The victory means Nadal will reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Roger Federer on Monday.

Federer is sitting out the clay season to prepare for Wimbledon.

Nadal and Zverev had each won two titles on clay this season entering the final, with Nadal lifting trophies in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and Zverev taking Munich and Madrid.

Nadal improved to 5-0 in his career against Zverev and gained an extra measure of confidence entering the French Open, which starts next Sunday.

Earlier, Elina Svitolina defended the women’s title, facing little resistance from top-ranked Simona Halep in a 6-0, 6-4 win.