What’s it like to play Nadal at French Open? ‘Rough’

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PARIS (AP) Like so many others who have faced Rafael Nadal, Yannick Hanfmann thought he had a plan. Until, that is, tennis’ greatest clay-court player dismantled it stroke by stroke on the red dirt where he has won 11 French Open titles.

“After the first two sets, you’re thinking like, `Damn,”‘ Hanfmann, a German ranked 184th, said after losing 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 on Monday. “It’s rough.”

The 27-year-old former college player at the University of Southern California, who won three qualifying matches to earn the dubious honor of being Nadal’s punching bag in the opening round of the main draw, didn’t make a fool of himself in what was his first career match on the showcase Court Philippe Chatrier.

Indeed, in what would have amounted to a minor earthquake in the arena that is practically Nadal’s backyard had he converted, Hanfmann even had four chances to break the Spaniard in his first service game.

But the experience of facing Nadal for the first time, and at Roland Garros to boot, can do strange things to the uninitiated.

Before the first point was played, as the players broke away from their pre-match photo session with two kids at the net, Hanfmann stuck out a hand, looking for a shake. Later, even he couldn’t explain why he had done it, and not waited until the end of the match, as is traditional. Had Nadal blanked him, the memes could have gone viral. Thankfully, the winner of 17 major titles didn’t leave Hanfmann hanging and instead took his outstretched hand.

“That was weird. I don’t know what I was doing, to be honest. I was a bit out of it there,” Hanfmann said. “I saw him shaking this kid’s hand and the ref’s hand and I then stuck out my hand. I don’t know why.”

Looking ahead, the one hour and 57 minutes of tennis in a brisk breeze didn’t reveal any hitherto unknown secrets about how Nadal is feeling in his pursuit again this year of the Musketeers’ cup. After his unsteady first game, the 32-year-old was not pressed hard or long enough to gauge much about what the next two weeks might have in store.

But Hanfmann got some answers.

Having only ever watched Nadal, he’d been curious to find out for himself exactly what it feels like to be on the receiving end of the left-hander’s fiercely spun shots.

Well, now he knows.

“That was kind of cool,” Hanfmann said, showing he can put a positive spin on things, too. “It just comes off the ground really fast and high, fast high balls. You think you’re set up for it, with the backhand or forehand or whatever, but then you’re still on the back foot and maybe mishit it a little because it’s very spinny.”

And like so many of Nadal’s opponents, he also was struck by just how hard it is to unsettle him.

“You just feel like, `OK, here I played a great shot,’ but then there’s a great answer from him,” Hanfmann said.

Roger Federer’s first-round opponent, 74th-ranked Lorenzo Sonego, said the same sort of thing after losing 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday to the 20-time major champion.

And top-seeded Novak Djokovic made light work Monday of his first-round match, a 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Hubert Hurkacz, ranked No. 44, from Poland.

The consolation?

Once the sting of defeat has gone, all three will have a story to tell.

“In a couple weeks, years, of course,” Hanfmann said. “Yeah, I mean, to play him and, you know, now I know how it feels, kind of. You know, to have a guy like him, he has such a unique game on clay.”

Tennis star Kyrgios to fight charge on mental health grounds

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CANBERRA, Australia – Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios will apply to have an assault charge dismissed on mental health grounds, his lawyer told an Australian court on Tuesday.

Lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith appeared on behalf of Kyrgios in a court in the tennis star’s hometown of Canberra and asked for an adjournment so forensic mental health reports could be prepared.

Magistrate Glenn Theakston adjourned the case until Feb. 3, when Kyrgios’ lawyers are expected to apply to have the charge dismissed under a section of the local crimes law.

The 27-year-old Australian tennis star will appear in court in person on that date for the first time since he was charged by police by summons in July.

The law gives magistrates the power to dismiss a charge if they are satisfied an accused person is mentally impaired, and dealing with an allegation in that way would benefit the community and the defendant.

The common assault charge, which has a potential maximum sentence of two years in prison, relates to an incident in January 2021 that was reported to local police last December.

The charge reportedly relates to an incident involving his former girlfriend.

Kukulies-Smith told the court his client’s mental health history since 2015 made the application appropriate, citing a number of public statements made by Kyrgios.

In February, 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 to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense last month 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.

Theakston questioned whether Kyrgios would need to appear in court for the February hearing, but Kukulies-Smith said his client wanted to attend.

Kyrgios was scheduled to play at the Japan Open later Tuesday against Tseng Chun-hsin of Taiwan.

Speaking in Tokyo before his matter returned to court, Kyrgios said it was “not difficult at all” to focus on tennis despite the pending charge.

“There’s only so much I can control and I’m taking all the steps and dealing with that off the court,” he told reporters. “I can only do what I can and I’m here in Tokyo and just trying to play some good tennis, continue that momentum and just try to do my job.”

Wimbledon champ Rybakova beats Keys in Ostrava opener

Agel Open Ostrava - Day One
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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakova came from a set down to defeat Madison Keys 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round of the Agel Open on Monday.

Rybakova had lost to Keys this year at the French Open and Cincinnati.

In other first-round matches in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava, Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia defeated Zhang Shuai of China 6-3, 6-3, and local hope Petra Kvitova overcame American Bernanda Pera 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

Fresh from her second title of the year in Seoul last month, Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia knocked out former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.