No. 1 Djokovic to face No. 2 Nadal for Australian Open title

AP Photo
1 Comment

MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic was about as perfect as can be in his semifinal at Rod Laver Arena. Didn’t miss much. Almost couldn’t, really.

It was a performance so flawless, so fantastic, that it was easy to feel as if only one man on the planet might have a chance of preventing Djokovic from claiming a record seventh Australian Open title: Rafael Nadal. As it happens, that is who he’ll face in Sunday’s final.

Djokovic never relented, not for a moment, while making an unheard-of total of five unforced errors against an overmatched Lucas Pouille en route to a 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 semifinal victory that lasted less than 1½ hours.

“I guess you’re driven by some force that takes over you, and you feel divine. You feel like in a different dimension,” Djokovic said. “It’s quite an awesome feeling that we all try to reach and stay in. Probably the biggest challenge, I think, is how to repeat that, how to stay there for as long as you possibly can.”

This was as good as he gets. As good as it gets.

“When he’s playing like this,” the 28th-seeded Pouille said, “yeah, he’s the best in the world, for sure.”

Now Djokovic will line up against his old rival, Nadal, for the 53rd time on tour, eighth in a Grand Slam final.

It will be the No. 1-ranked Djokovic — owner of 14 Grand Slam titles, including the past two — against No. 2 Nadal, who’s won 17 majors. Roger Federer, with 20, is the only man whose total is higher.

“I would definitely want to buy a ticket,” Djokovic told the crowd.

He holds a 27-25 edge over Nadal in their head-to-head series; Nadal leads 4-3 in Slam finals. The only other time they met with the Australian Open trophy on the line, in 2012, Djokovic won 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in 5 hours, 53 minutes, making it the longest Grand Slam title match in history.

“Once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Djokovic called that one, “and hopefully the outcome can be the same for me.”

Given how well both men are playing at the moment, this showdown shapes up as another potential classic.

“Rafa,” Pouille said, “looks pretty amazing, too.”

Indeed, Nadal was superb while beating Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 on Thursday night and has yet to drop a set in the tournament as he seeks his second title in Melbourne.

A day later, Djokovic played as if setting out to say, “Anything you can do, I can do better.”

This was Djokovic’s 34th Grand Slam semifinal and he’s now won his last 10. Pouille, a 24-year-old Frenchman coached by former women’s No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, was making his debut at this stage.

The plan, Pouille explained afterward, was to try to be the aggressor and take charge of points.

So much for that.

“I was trying to find a solution, but couldn’t find any,” Pouille said. “I couldn’t put a strategy in place.”

The wide gulf in experience and accomplishments showed on a cloudy, breezy evening as Djokovic improved to 7-0 in semifinals at Melbourne Park.

He is also unbeaten so far in Australian Open finals, sharing the men’s mark of six titles with Roy Emerson and Federer.

“Everything worked the way I imagined it before the match,” Djokovic said. “And even more so.”

Other than one face-down pratfall he took when he slipped while trying to change direction, what didn’t go right for Djokovic on Friday?

He won 25 of 34 points on Pouille’s second serve and broke the guy seven times.

He won 45 of 53 points he served, never facing a single break chance.

Even managed to deliver a second-serve ace.

That he made so few mistakes while taking enough risk to accumulate 24 winners was remarkable.

It took Pouille more than a half-hour to merely grab one game, and spectators roared, likely relieved at the prospect of a more competitive, not to mention longer, match.

Never materialized.

It’s a far cry from the 2018 Australian Open, when Djokovic lost in the fourth round while dealing with pain in his right elbow.

Soon after, he had surgery. Then began the climb back to the top.

“It was highly unlikely 12 months ago that I would be where I am today, a year later,” Djokovic said. “I’ve said it before, but I always have plenty of belief in myself, and the self-belief always prevails.”

Paul, McDonald give U.S. 2-0 lead over Uzbekistan in Davis Cup

Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

LONDON – Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul and Mackenzie McDonald, who beat Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park, gave the United States a 2-0 lead over host Uzbekistan in Davis Cup qualifying.

Paul beat Khumoyun Sultanov 6-1, 7-6 (6) after McDonald’s Davis Cup debut produced a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Sergey Fomin on an indoor hard court in Tashkent.

The best-of-five-match series finishes with one match in doubles followed by two in singles. The Americans can clinch a spot in the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals if Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek defeat Fomin and Sanjar Fayziev in doubles.

“A sweep would be nice,” Paul said. “Bring out the broomsticks.”

Paul moved into the top 20 in the ATP rankings for the first time this week by reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal in Australia, where he lost to eventual champion Novak Djokovic. McDonald eliminated 22-time Grand Slam champion Nadal in the second round at the year’s first Grand Slam tournament.

David Nainkin is serving as interim captain for the United States, replacing Mardy Fish.

There are 12 qualifiers being held this weekend with the winners of each advancing to the Davis Cup Finals group stage in September, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will then advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

Nick Kyrgios pleads guilty to assault, has no conviction recorded

Getty Images
1 Comment

CANBERRA, Australia — Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios apologized for shoving a former girlfriend to the ground two years ago after he escaped conviction on a charge of common assault.

The 2022 Wimbledon runner-up pleaded guilty in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court to assaulting Chiara Passari during an argument in his hometown of Canberra in January 2021.

Magistrate Beth Campbell did not record a conviction against Kyrgios for reasons including that the offense was at the low end of seriousness for a common assault, was not premeditated and he had no criminal record.

Kyrgios, who was using crutches following recent surgery on his left knee, ignored reporters’ questions as he left court but issued a statement through a management company.

“I respect today’s ruling and am grateful to the court for dismissing the charges without conviction,” Kyrgios said. “I was not in a good place when this took place and I reacted to a difficult situation in a way I deeply regret. I know it wasn’t OK and I’m sincerely sorry for the hurt I caused.

“Mental health is tough. Life can seem overwhelming. But I’ve found that getting help and working on myself has helped me to feel better and to be better,” he added.

The only media question he responded to as he was about to be driven away from the court was: “what’s next for Nick Kyrgios?”

“Just recovery and get back on court,” Kyrgios replied.

Campbell described the shove as an act of “stupidity” and “frustration.”

She assured him his celebrity was not a factor in him avoiding a criminal record.

“You’re a young man who happens to hit the tennis ball particularly well and your name is widely recognised outside this court room,” Campbell told Kyrgrios.

“I deal with you exactly the same way as any young man in this court.”

Kyrgios’ psychologist, Sam Borenstein, said in a written report and testimony by phone that Kyrgios had suffered major depressive episodes around the time of the assault and had used alcohol and drugs to cope. Kyrgios’ mental health led to impulsive and reckless behavior.

His recent knee injury had resulted in mild to moderate symptoms of depression, but his mental health was improving, Borenstein said.

“He’s doing very well,” Borenstein said. “His mental health has improved significantly.”

“Given the history, he is still vulnerable to recurrent episodes of depression depending on life circumstances,” Borenstein added.

Lawyers for Kyrgios had sought to have charge dismissed on mental health grounds but the application was unsuccessful.

In arguing against a conviction being recorded, defense lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith cited the opinion of Kyrgios’s manager of a “strong likelihood of sanctions and impact upon sponsorship” from a conviction. Kyrgios had faced a potential maximum 2-year prison sentence if convicted.

The assault occurred when Kyrgios had been attempting to leave Passari during an argument late Jan. 10, 2021, outside her apartment in the inner-Canberra suburb of Kingston.

He called an Uber but Passari stood in the way of him closing the front passenger door. The driver wouldn’t leave with the door open.

Kyrgios eventually pushed Passari’s shoulders backward with open palms, causing her to fall to the pavement and graze her knee, according to agreed facts read to the court.

Passari signed a police statement alleging the assault 11 months later, after her relationship with Kyrgios had ended.

His current partner, Costeen Hatzi, wrote in a character reference that she had no concerns of such violence in her relationship. Hatzi was among Kyrgios’ supporters who sat behind him in court.

Kyrgios, wearing a dark suit and using the crutches for support, first spoke in court when the magistrate asked him if he could stand to enter a plea.

Kyrgios replied: “Yep, no worries, Your Honor,” as he rose to plead guilty.

In February last year, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs last year to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense last September to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

The 27-year-old Kyrgios had a career setback last month when he withdrew from the Australian Open because the knee injury which later required arthroscopic surgery.