Auger-Aliassime joins Shapovalov in quarterfinals

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MELBOURNE, Australia – Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov are enjoying quite a run in the Australian sun.

For the first time, two Canadian men have reached the Australian Open quarterfinals.

Auger-Aliassime wore down 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic 2-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2, 7-6 (4) to join Shapovalov in the last eight.

“I lost three times to Marin. He’s going to come out with his best level and make me earn my win and I’m happy to get through, particularly the way I did it,” the 21-year-old, No. 9-seeded Auger-Aliassime said. “The sun here in Australia hits you pretty hard (but) I feel good.”

The Canadians tuned up for the Australian Open by winning the ATP Cup in Sydney earlier this month, the pair winning their singles matches to defeat Spain in final.

The 22-year-old Shapovalov will play 20-time major winner Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals on Tuesday in the top half of the men’s bracket. Auger-Aliassime will play U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev on Wednesday.


Tennis great Martina Navratilova and French player Nicolas Mahut have joined the criticism of Australian Open organizers following a crackdown on activists wearing T-shirts and unfurling banners at the tournament to support Chinese player Peng Shuai.

Mahut said the order for spectators to remove the banners and T-shirts came as Melbourne Park carries signage for 1573, a Chinese distillery.

“What’s going on!?” What lack of courage! What if you did not have Chinese sponsors (hash)1573. beyond disappointed” Mahut posted on social media.

The Chinese government has been accused of “disappearing” tennis player Peng Shuai after she made a sexual assault allegation late last year against a close ally of President Xi Jinping.

The WTA, which runs the women’s tennis tour, has responded by saying it won’t play any tournaments in China this year.

Navratilova, a three-time Australian Open singles champion, added her voice to those condemning the censorship when she tweeted: “That’s just pathetic. The (at)wta stands pretty much alone on this!!!”

Mahut, who was seeded seventh in the Australian Open men’s doubles competition with compatriot Fabrice Martin, and Navratilova were outraged by footage screened on Sunday of security and police requesting a fan remove a shirt which featured an image of Peng on the front and “Where is Peng Shuai?” on the back.

Tennis Australia responded initially by stating that such attire breached its rule on “political messaging.”

In a further response Monday to the social media backlash, Tennis Australia said it understood “people have strongly held personal and political views on a range of issues.”

“Peng Shuai’s safety is our primary concern. We continue to work with the WTA and the global tennis community to do everything we can to ensure her well-being,” the statement said. “Our work is ongoing and through the appropriate channels.

“To ensure that the Australian Open remains a welcoming, safe and inclusive event for everyone, we have a longstanding policy of not allowing banners, signs or clothing that are commercial or political.”

After advancing to the quarterfinals, veteran French player Alize Cornet said “I think that everybody should, like, be able to manifest their support to Peng Shuai.” Asked about the issue at a daily briefing in Beijing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China was “always opposed to the politicization of sports.”

“Such actions are unpopular and will never succeed,” Zhao said.


Iran has its first female winner in a Grand Slam tournament with Meshkatolzahra Safi’s advance in the Australian Open girls singles event.

Safi emphasized the message to “don’t give up on your dreams” after beating local qualifier Anja Nayar to set up a second-round match against eighth-seed Sofia Costoulas of Belgium.

Inspired by watching Rafael Nadal on television, Safi is determined to forge a path for others to follow in Iran where soccer is the major sporting passion.

Safi started playing through the ITF program Junior Tennis Initiative and won six of seven finals during 12 tournaments last year.

“I really had tough times. Playing professional tennis in my country is really hard. I had a really tough time playing tournaments, I couldn’t get visas, I didn’t have sponsors a lot of times. I didn’t have a chance to get a lot of points because I couldn’t play tournaments,” she said.

“In my country, if you ask which sport you like, they say football. I was watching (Nadal) with my mother, we were curious, is there any tennis in Iran? We can just try.”

Safi wears the traditional head covering and long pants which is difficult with the searing temperatures on Melbourne Park’s hard courts.

“I like the sun, but not this much. I’m used to this hijab and this covering. I’ve been playing with this since I was nine. Today was really, really difficult . but I’m used to it (the hijab) and it doesn’t bother me,” she said.

The 17-year-old Safi, who’s ranked 74 in juniors, has a goal to play all four Grand Slam junior events this year. The next step is to get a visa for the French Open to continue to boost her ranking for the main singles draws.

“I just really want to say don’t give up on your dreams. When I start my journey, everyone in Iran was saying this is impossible, you cannot do that. I just kept pushing. Believe in your dreams,” she said.

Djokovic enters French Open with chance to top absent Nadal with record 23rd Slam title

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PARIS — For quite some time, Novak Djokovic made his long-term goal clear: He wanted to focus on accumulating Grand Slam titles in order to surpass the totals of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

With the French Open set to start without either Nadal (who is injured) or Federer (who is retired) for the first time since 1998, Djokovic finally gets the chance to lead the career standings alone with a men’s-record 23. If he winds up with the championship two weeks from now, Djokovic would break a tie with Nadal and have three more trophies than Federer finished with.

“It’s no secret that one of the main reasons I play today and compete in professional tennis is to try to break more records and make more history in tennis,” Djokovic said. “That’s extremely motivating and inspiring for me.”

His current collection of 22 majors – two at Roland Garros, in 2016 and 2021; three at the U.S. Open; seven at Wimbledon and 10 at the Australian Open, including this January – means he owns 16 more than the other 127 men in the bracket in Paris combined. Stan Wawrinka won three, while Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem have one apiece.

“Grand Slams are a different tournament, a different sport, in a way, because you’re playing best-of-five (sets), you are playing in the most important tournaments in the world,” said Djokovic, a 36-year-old from Serbia, “and the experience is on my side.”

It’s why when other players are asked who enters as the favorite in Nadal’s absence, they often mention two names: Alcaraz, who is ranked No. 1 and is 20-2 with a tour-high three titles on red clay in 2023, and Djokovic, who is just 5-3 this season on the surface used at the French Open.

Why point to Djokovic?

“Because Novak has won so many times,” said Casper Ruud, the runner-up to Nadal at Roland Garros and to Alcaraz at the U.S. Open last year. “This year’s clay season has been maybe not what he expected, but I’m sure he has good confidence in myself.”

Djokovic, for his part, pronounced the 20-year-old Alcaraz as “the biggest favorite,” citing “the last few months, and the kind of shape and the form that he’s having – and that I’m having.”

Djokovic is ranked No. 3 and could meet Alcaraz only in the semifinals.

The player with a chance to become the only man in tennis history with at least three titles from each major also mentioned several other contenders, including Ruud, Daniil Medvedev, Holger Rune, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Jannik Sinner.

Djokovic was in something of a contemplative mood on the eve of the event, explaining how much harder things are on his body at this age and that he views each Slam tournament he competes in nowadays “like a present” (leaving aside any discussion of majors he missed because he didn’t get vaccinated against COVID-19).

His most heartfelt comments came when he was asked about Nadal, the 14-time champion in Paris who has been sidelined since January with a hip injury.

After beginning with a joke that made reference to Nadal’s 8-2 edge head-to-head at Roland Garros – “Honestly, I don’t miss him being in the draw, you know” – Djokovic turned more serious.

He reflected on their intertwined paths and said he got emotional when hearing Nadal say 2024 probably will be his final year on tour.

“He’s my biggest rival. When he announced that he’s going to have his last season of his career, I felt part of me is leaving with him, too, if you know what I mean,” Djokovic said.

“I feel that he was one of the most, I would say, impactful people that I have ever had in my career, the growth of my career, and me as a player. Definitely a great motivational factor for me to keep playing and keep competing and keep pushing each other,” Djokovic continued. “Who’s going to achieve more? Who’s going to do better? It made me wonder. It made me think about my career and how long I’m going to play.”

And then he paused and smiled before delivering this line, perhaps for clarity’s sake, perhaps for the laughs he knew it would bring: “I’m not going to make any announcement today.”

Post-Serena, women’s tennis heads to French Open led by Big 3 of Swiatek, Sabalenka, Rybakina

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PARIS — All of those questions about who would step to the fore once Serena Williams walked away from the tennis tour – joining more recent No. 1 Ash Barty in retirement – seem to be getting answered with three names: Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina.

As the start of the French Open approaches, defending champion Swiatek is ranked No. 1, Sabalenka is No. 2 and Rybakina is No. 4. More to the point, perhaps, with a major trophy up for grabs on the red clay of Roland Garros: This group divvied up the past four Grand Slam titles, the prizes that help define greatness in their sport.

They are showing signs of forming a sort of “Big Three,” and while they’re not yet close, of course, to the level of dominance seen across decades from the so-called “Big Three” of the men’s game – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic each won more than 20 Slam championships – Swiatek, Sabalenka and Rybakina are beginning to be seen by some as setting up shop atop the WTA.

“They’ve kind of separated themselves a little bit from the rest of the pack,” said Jessica Pegula, a 29-year-old American who is ranked No. 3 and is a five-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, losing to Swiatek at that stage last year at the French Open and U.S. Open. “It just comes with the confidence of having a lot of big results and breaking through.”

Barbora Krejcikova, the 2021 French Open champion, put it simply: “They are the best three players that we have right now.”

Swiatek, a 21-year-old from Poland, is the reigning champion at Roland Garros and the U.S. Open; Sabalenka, a 25-year-old from Belarus, won the Australian Open this January by beating Rybakina in the final; Rybakina, a 23-year-old from Kazakhstan, won Wimbledon last July.

There’s more: At the two key U.S. hard-court tournaments this spring, Rybakina defeated Sabalenka in the final at Indian Wells, California, then was the runner-up in Miami. When the circuit moved to European clay, Swiatek got past Sabalenka in the final at Stuttgart, Germany, a result that was reversed when they met for the trophy again two weeks later in Madrid.

And at the last big clay tune-up for Roland Garros, Rybakina took the title in Rome after advancing when Swiatek stopped early in the third set of their quarterfinal with a right thigh injury (“Luckily, nothing serious happened,” Swiatek said).

“It’s good for tennis to see the top players consistently doing well. I think it’s pushing everybody to a next level and pushing everybody to do better and to play better. That’s how I was pushed by Iga last season,” Sabalenka said, referring to the way Swiatek compiled a 37-match winning streak that included six titles. “I think that’s something really important and good to see.”

These could be some riveting rivalries, in part because of the contrast in styles and personalities on display.

Swiatek and Rybakina are more reserved publicly. Sabalenka is never shy about letting her thoughts be known.

Swiatek is a master tactician who covers every inch of the court with defense that is as good as it gets. Sabalenka and Rybakina bring as much power as anyone around, starting with intimidating serves.

Rybakina is first on tour in aces this season with 278, a total more than 50 higher than any other woman. Sabalenka is third with 204. Swiatek rates second on tour (among women who have played at least five matches) by winning 48.6% of her return games in 2023.

“It’s nice to have somebody constantly kind of watching you. We played so many matches against each other that tactically we know (each other’s) game pretty well,” Swiatek said. “But we also have to kind of come up with some different solutions sometimes, which is pretty exciting, because I never had that yet in my career.”

And then, thinking about the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic matchups, she continued: “I think this is what the Big Three had to do, for sure, when they played like, I don’t know, 30 matches against each other or even more. So I’m happy to learn some new stuff. And also, for sure, we are all working really hard to kind of play better and better. It is an extra motivation, for sure.”

After defeating Swiatek 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the Madrid final three weeks ago, Sabalenka expressed a sentiment that surely is shared by the other two members of this elite trio.

“Hopefully,” Sabalenka said, “we can keep doing what we are doing this season.”