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TENNIS

Nadal clinches record seventh French Open win

Rafael Nadal clinched a record seventh French Open title on Monday, defeating world number one Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 and shattering the Serb's dream of Grand Slam history.

In a fractious final pushed into a third week for only the second time because of Sunday’s rain, the Spanish world number two, playing in his 16th Grand Slam final, also took his Paris record to a staggering 52 wins against just one loss.

Victory, which was achieved on a Djokovic double fault, allowed him to break the tie for six French Opens he shared with Björn Borg.

It was the 26-year-old’s 11th Grand Slam title, taking him one behind Roy Emerson, three off Pete Sampras and five away from the record of 16 held by Roger Federer.

For five-time major winner Djokovic, the Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open champion, it was the end of his dream of emulating Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) by holding all the Grand Slams at once.

He was left to regret his unforced error count of 53 which undermined his challenge.

“For me it’s a real honour, this tournament is the most special and for me to have this trophy is unforgettable – it’s probably one of the greatest moments in my career,” said Nadal, who needed just 49 minutes on Monday to complete victory.

Djokovic, who had won the pair’s epic Australian Open final this year, admitted that Nadal had been the better player.

“Rafa was better. He is a great player but I hope to come back next year and do better,” said the Serb, playing in his first Roland Garros final.

After Sunday’s suspension, the players, meeting in a fourth successive Grand Slam final, resumed with Nadal leading 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 1-2, but with Djokovic in the ascendancy and serving for a 3-1 lead in the fourth set.

But a forehand error from Djokovic, with the court at his mercy, gave Nadal a break point and the Spaniard seized it when the Serb had been left flat-footed by a net cord which allowed his opponent to push through a winner.

The set remained tight as would be expected with the pair meeting for a 33rd time.

Nadal moved to 5-4 as the umbrellas went up all around Philippe Chatrier Court and the players sat courtside to wait out a passing, heavy shower and complained to tournament referee Stefan Fransen about the slippery conditions.

Djokovic finally buckled when a monster forehand from Nadal set up championship point which he converted when the top seed tamely served up a fourth double fault.

The celebrations were ecstatic as Nadal fell to his knees and consoled Djokovic before the champion climbed into the player’s box to embrace his family.

On Sunday, Djokovic had looked down and out at one stage, even picking up a warning for destroying his courtside chair box with his racquet.

After slipping two sets down, he was also a break behind at 0-2 in the third before he reeled off eight games in succession to take the third set – the first lost by Nadal in this year’s event – and lead 2-0 in the fourth.

The first game of the fourth set had featured a gruelling 44-shot rally.

But Nadal had raged at tournament referee Stefan Fransen for having to keep playing as the court became increasingly treacherous.

As he stormed, Djokovic, who had been two sets to love down to Andreas Seppi in the fourth round, and saved four match points in his quarter-final victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, seized his chance to get back into the match.

The last time a French Open men’s final failed to be completed on the last Sunday was 1973 when it was played on the Tuesday with Ilie Nastase beating Niki Pilic.

Monday finishes have become common at the US Open in New York with the last four finals taking place on the extra day while the 2001 Wimbledon final was also completed on a Monday.

Roland Garros will eventually avoid late finishes as a main court with a retractable roof is to be built in 2017.

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TENNIS

Williams slams Sharapova book ahead of French Open clash

Serena Williams turned up the heat on Saturday ahead of her French Open clash with bitter rival Maria Sharapova, saying the claims about her in the Russian's book were "hearsay" and not "necessarily true".

Williams slams Sharapova book ahead of French Open clash
Serena Williams of the US holds a ball as she prepares to serve to Germany's Julia Goerges on day seven of the French Open. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP
Sharapova, who Williams has beaten 18 times in a row, claimed in her recent memoir 'Unstoppable' that Serena “hated” her for hearing her cry after the 2004 Wimbledon final.
   
The fourth-round match at Roland Garros on Monday will be the first time the two have faced off since the American's win in the 2016 Australian Open quarter-finals — Sharapova's last match before serving a 15-month doping ban.
   
“I think the book was 100 percent hearsay, at least all the stuff I read and the quotes that I read, which was a little bit disappointing,” said Williams after her 6-3, 6-4 third-round win over Julia Goerges.
   
“I have cried in the locker room many times after a loss, and that's what I have seen a lot of people do. I think it's normal. It's a Wimbledon final, you know. So it's just, like, I think it would be more shocking if I wasn't in tears…
   
“The book was a lot about me. I was surprised about that, to be honest. You know, I was, like, 'oh, okay. I didn't expect to be reading a book about me, that wasn't necessarily true'.”
   
The 23-time Grand Slam champion, who holds a 19-2 record over Sharapova, is playing her first major tournament since winning the 2017 Australian Open, after giving birth to her daughter Olympia.
   
Williams's only two losses to fellow former world number one Sharapova came 14 years ago — in the 2004 Wimbledon final and at the WTA Tour Championships — before even the birth of Twitter and YouTube.
   
But both are on the road back towards the top of the sport after their recent absences.
   
Williams had played only four matches since taking time off due to pregnancy before arriving at Roland Garros.
   
Sharapova is seeded for the first time at a Grand Slam since her suspension for using meldonium and is playing her first French Open since 2015 after being refused a wildcard by tournament organisers last year.
   
But the 36-year-old thinks the Russian should be the favourite on Monday as she lacks playing time, while Sharapova produced her best tennis since returning to the court in dismantling former world number one Karolina 
Pliskova 6-2, 6-1.
   
“Quite frankly, she's probably a favourite in this match, for sure,” added Serena. “She's been playing for over a year now. I just started. So I'm just really trying to get my bearings and trying to feel out where I am and see where I can go.”
 
'Numbers don't lie'
 
The rivalry between the two has been a bitter one since the Russian's shock victory over Williams as a 17-year-old at Wimbledon, but she admitted that the “numbers don't lie”.
   
Sharapova has lost their last seven meetings in straight sets and has managed to take only three sets in those 18 straight losses.
 
“Any time you play against Serena you know what you're up against,” said the 31-year-old. “You know the challenge that is upon you. You know, despite the record that I have against her, I always look forward to coming out on the court and competing against the best player.
   
“I think there is a lot of things in her game that she's done much better than I have… Numbers don't lie.”
   
But for all the bad blood between the two over the years — often involving claims and counter-claims over their private lives — Sharapova added in her book that reconciliation may come once the on-court battles are over.
   
“Serena and I should be friends; we have the same passion. But we are not. I think, to some extent, we have driven each other. Maybe that's what it takes,” she wrote.
   
“Only when you have that intense antagonism can you find the strength to finish her off. Who knows? Some day, when all this is in our past, maybe we'll become friends.”
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