Federer figures Nadal, Djokovic will pass him

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Roger Federer, for one, figures questions about whether Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic – or both? – will surpass his men’s record for most Grand Slam singles titles are moot.

That’s because he’s sure it’s going to happen. And he’s OK with that. Ending up in third place, Federer insists, would be just fine.

“I think the way it’s going, obviously, Rafa and Novak will win more,” Federer said matter-of-factly during a recent interview with The Associated Press in the city he uses as his preseason training base, “because they’re that good. And the season they had (in 2019), again, shows that there is more to come for them.”

He didn’t say this with a wistful sigh or a disappointed glance at the floor or a trace of regret. That’s just the way he sees things at the moment. Entering the Australian Open, scheduled to begin Monday in Melbourne (Sunday EST), Federer leads the list with 20 majors, followed by Nadal with 19, then Djokovic with 16.

So as soon as the end of this tournament, Nadal could pull even with Federer for the first time. Whether or not it truly matters who comes out on top when all is said and done, everyone is going to be paying attention to how it shakes out.

Including Federer, who surpassed Pete Sampras’ old standard of 14 a decade ago.

Don’t mistake an honest outlook for disinterest.

“I guess you do care, to some extent, just because it’s normal,” Federer said, then mentioned how much it meant to him that Sampras was sitting in the Centre Court stands for No. 15.

“I looked up to him so much that I felt, also, uncomfortable maybe, sometimes, breaking his records. It’s not something I ever wanted to do. It just happened to be like this. But of course I knew it was a big, big-time moment in our sport. And I think those are the moments you will remember,” Federer said. “Now, at the end, if somebody else would pass you, I mean, I guess it’s OK, because that’s what sports is all about. It’s a lot about numbers. It’s a lot about records. But I had my moment and I always said everything that comes after 15 was, anyway, a bonus. And especially after the knee injury (in 2016), everything that came after that was a bonus. I would have taken one more Slam, and I was able to get three more — and three amazing ones.”

Nadal, currently No. 1 in the ATP rankings, and Djokovic, who is No. 2 ahead of Federer, each took home two major trophies last season.

Djokovic won the Australian Open (beating Nadal in the final) and Wimbledon (beating Federer in the final after saving two championship points).

Nadal won at Roland Garros (beating Federer in the semifinals) and the U.S. Open (facing neither of the other two).

“I always say the same: I would love to be the one who wins more,” Nadal said, “but I am not thinking (about it) and I’m not going to practice every day … for it.”

After his seventh championship in Australia a year ago, Djokovic said: “I do want to definitely focus myself on continuing to improve my game and maintaining the overall well-being that I have – mental, physical, emotional – so I would be able to compete at such a high level for the years to come, and have a shot at eventually getting closer to Roger’s record.”

Federer’s most recent Grand Slam triumph arrived at Melbourne Park in 2018.

He is 38, an age at which no one has won a Slam title in the professional era; he doesn’t feel compelled to quit anytime soon. Still, time is certainly on the side of Nadal, 33, and Djokovic, 32.

“I honestly think it’s going to be quite exciting to see how much longer can they go. How much more can they win? They might have some more incredible years ahead of them. That’s my assumption,” Federer said. “It’s a bit of a golden time for tennis right now, no doubt.”

Also of particular interest, of course, is when a new face will emerge from the crop of 20-somethings who have been rising in the rankings. There hasn’t been a first-time male champ at a major since 2014.

Ask Federer to name names, and he offers several, calling them “that whole group of guys.”

Among them, he said: Felix Auger-Aliassime. Denis Shapovalov. Stefanos Tsitsipas, who upset Federer at the Australian Open last year. Alexander Zverev. Daniil Medvedev. Karen Khachanov.

“It’s an elite group of 10 now, which is nice. It’s not just maybe one or two that we thought were pretty good,” Federer said. “So I think it’s changed a little bit in the last, sort of, 18 months. It’s just really, really hard to predict who’s going to win.”

Here’s something Federer is certain of, though: One day, someone will come along and accumulate majors the way no one ever had until he, Nadal and Djokovic rewrote the record book.

“It’s going to happen, inevitably,” Federer said, shaking his head. “And it’s almost not going to be that hard, maybe, anymore, later on, for some reason, I just feel like, because the players will have seen what we did. And they didn’t see just one guy doing it, once every 30 years. They saw like three guys doing it, in the shortest period of time, right after ‘Pistol’ (Sampras). So I just think players are going to believe more. I think maybe the surfaces in some ways also allow you, maybe, if you’re on a hot streak, just to run through more years of domination, like what Novak, Rafa and me, we’ve all done.”

Impossible to know who, though. Or when.

After all, Federer never saw the magnitude of his own success – or those of his rivals – coming.

“I didn’t predict I was going to have this many majors. I was hoping to maybe have one, to be quite honest, at the very beginning of my career. When I played Novak, I thought, ‘Yeah, he’s good. He might win a major.’ You know? ‘Rafa, he’s probably going to win the French. Maybe once. Or a few times.’ But you don’t go 12 times there. Or, you know, streaks of not having lost matches on hard or clay for, I don’t know, nine months. It’s just stuff that eventually builds,” he said. “So, hard to tell, but there’s a … group of guys that I see now probably winning at least, like, four or five majors — which then can lead to 15 or more, of course.”

Gilbert Klier Junior hit with 12-month doping ban

Landon Bost/Naples Daily News/USA TODAY Network-Florida /USA TODAY NETWORK
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LONDON — Brazilian Gilbert Klier Junior, a bronze medalist at the 2018 Youth Olympics, has been banned for 12 months in a doping case, the International Tennis Integrity Agency said.

The ITIA said it had accepted that Klier Junior had not deliberately doped and that the banned substance SARM S-22 had entered his body through a contaminated supplement. However, it said he bore some responsibility, especially “following other high profile cases involving Brazilian tennis players and other sports people.”

The 22-year-old Klier Junior has a career high ranking of 354th and won bronze in the singles event at the 2018 Youth Olympics.

The ban was backdated to start from last June, when Klier Junior was first suspended from competition while the case was resolved.

Croatia advances in Davis Cup as Coric beats Thiem

DENIS LOVROVIC/AFP via Getty Images
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Borna Coric beat 2020 U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem 7-6 (3), 6-2 to send Croatia into the group stage of the Davis Cup.

Coric helped the Croatians win their second Davis Cup title in 2018, but he was sidelined when they lost in the 2021 final while missing a year of action with a right shoulder injury.

He returned to the tour last March, winning a Masters 1000 title in August in Cincinnati, Ohio, and rejoined the Croatians when they reached the Davis Cup semifinals last year.

His victory over Thiem, who has also dealt with injuries in recent years, gave Croatia a 3-1 victory in Rijeka. The Austrians had taken the tie against the No. 1 team in the Davis Cup rankings to a fourth match when Alexander Erler and Lucas Miedler beat Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic 6-3, 7-6 (11) in the doubles match earlier Sunday.

Chile, Finland, the Netherlands, South Korea and the Czech Republic also completed victories Sunday to secure their places in the next round, which will be played in September.

On Saturday, the U.S. completed a sweep of Uzbekistan, while Serbia, France, Britain, Switzerland and Sweden also finished off victories. Those 12 countries will play in the group stage, 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.

In Sunday’s other matches:

– Finland 3, Argentina 1: On indoor hard courts in Espoo, Finland, Harri Heliovaara and Emil Ruusuvuori edged Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, before Ruusuvuori secured the winning point and a personal 3-0 weekend by beating Facundo Bagnis 7-5, 6-1.

– Netherlands 4, Slovakia 0: On indoor hard courts in Groningen, Matwe Middelkoop and Wesley Koolhof sent the hosts through with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Alex Molcan and Lukas Klein. Middelkoop then beat Jozef Kovalik 6-4, 6-4.

– South Korea 3, Belgium 2: On indoor hard courts in Seoul, the hosts rallied from a 2-0 deficit after the first day. Min-Kyu Song and Ji Sung Nam kept them alive with a 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) victory over Joran Vliegen and Sander Gille. Soonwoo Kwon then beat David Goffin 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 before Seong Chan Hong completed the comeback with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Zizou Bergs.

– Czech Republic 3, Portugal 1: On an indoor clay court in Maia, Portugal, Jiri Lehecka wrapped up the victory by beating Joao Sousa 6-4, 6-1.

– Chile 3, Kazakhstan 1: On an outdoor clay court in La Serena, Chile, Cristian Garin beat Alexander Bublik 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 after the hosts had taken the lead with a victory by the doubles team of Alejandro Tabilo and Tomas Barrios Vera.