Wimbledon: Big 3 rule men; more champions in women’s tennis

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WIMBLEDON, England — As the start of Wimbledon approaches, two recent trends capture the completely disparate states of men’s and women’s tennis at the moment.

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have combined to win the past 10 Grand Slam tournaments, while nine women collected trophies in that span – including a half-dozen first-time major winners.

And consider this: There hasn’t been a first-time men’s champ at any Slam tournament since Marin Cilic at the 2014 U.S. Open.

“If you start looking at the stats,” said Kevin Anderson, the runner-up to Djokovic at Wimbledon last year, “it’s really unbelievable.”

At the All England Club, where play begins Monday, the superiority of that select group of men is particularly pronounced. One needs to go all the way back to 2002 to find a men’s champion outside of the quartet of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray, who will be playing only doubles this time as he works his way back from hip surgery.

Since Federer claimed his initial Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003, he has won the grass-court tournament a men’s-record eight times. Djokovic owns four trophies at Wimbledon; Nadal has two. They rank 1-3 in overall majors for men, with Federer atop the list at 20, Nadal next at 18 and Djokovic third at 15.

“We were happy to win one. Now, if you win one, you’re a loser,” said Pat Cash, the 1987 champion at Wimbledon and twice the runner-up at the Australian Open.

“It’s absolutely mind-boggling to see the standard of tennis that these guys are playing at this age. And the motivation. That’s the thing: the motivation. Once I won a Grand Slam, I was (thinking): `That’s enough. I’ll go hang out with my family.’ They’re motivated to keep going.”

Federer turns 38 in August, Nadal is 33 and Djokovic 32.

For quite a while now, the questions have been: How long will the Big Three continue to rule the sport?

And: Which younger player will make a move and grab a Grand Slam title?

“You’re looking at, to me, the three greatest players that have ever lived, playing at the same time,” said John McEnroe, an eight-time major champion who is now an ESPN commentator. “They’re extremely hungry, which is an amazing quality at that age. They’ve psyched out opponents, I believe. And they’re better.”

That same dynamic was in play for years in women’s tennis, but with just one player dominating: Serena Williams. She accumulated title after title, only occasionally facing much resistance while raising her count to 23 singles majors, more than anyone in the Open era, which dates to 1968.

That left her one short of equaling Margaret Court’s total of 24, accomplished against both amateurs and professionals.

Williams took a break from the tour after winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant and, not coincidentally, that was the start of the current anyone-can-win stretch, in which Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko each won her first major championship.

It’s not just about who is taking home the trophies. Take a look at the most recent major, the French Open.

Nadal, who won there for the 12th time, Federer and Djokovic were all in the men’s semifinals. The women’s final four, meanwhile, featured a pair of unseeded semifinalists for the first time in Paris since the introduction of 32 seeds in 2001; the champion, Barty, hadn’t even been to the fourth round at any Slam until last year’s U.S. Open.

Barty’s subsequent rise to No. 1 in the ranking highlighted another way in which men’s and women’s tennis have been different: She was the 17th player to sit atop the WTA since 2005; only four men – Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray – have led the ATP in those years.

Despite a career record of 2-3 at Wimbledon, Barty is the bookmakers’ favorite. Djokovic, Federer and Nadal are, not surprisingly, the top choices among men.

Truth is, with the way things are, it would not be all that shocking to see just about anyone in the women’s draw hold the trophy at the end of the fortnight.

Any man outside of the Big Three would cause quite a stir.

“It would be highly surprising if it’s not one of those three guys at this stage,” McEnroe said. “I think a lot of us want to be surprised and see who could step up.”

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”