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TENNIS

Nadal defies protest to win eighth French Open

Rafael Nadal defied David Ferrer as well as a worrying security breach to become the first man to capture the same Grand Slam title eight times with victory in the French Open final.

Nadal defies protest to win eighth French Open
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Nadal claimed his 12th major with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 win over his Spanish compatriot who was playing in his first Grand Slam final at the age of 31 and at the 42nd time of asking.

It also gave Nadal his 59th win out of 60 matches played in Paris.

However, the 27-year-old's push to victory suffered a heart-stopping moment when a protestor, naked from the waist up, leapt from the stands on Court Philippe Chatrier, carrying a flare and protesting France's controversial same sex marriage law.

The protestor, who was wrestled away by security staff, came within just a few feet of the Spaniard as he prepared to serve at 5-1 in the second set.

A burly security official immediately came to Nadal's aid in front of the VIP box where Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt and Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio were watching.

The drama, however, didn't alter the outcome as Nadal claimed his seventh title of 2013 after returning to the tour in February following a seven-month injury lay-off.

"Thanks to everyone in my family and team. Without their support, especially when I was out of action, this would have been impossible," said Nadal.

"Thanks also to everyone who sent me messages on Twitter and Facebook. They all gave me positive energy for today."

Ferrer vowed to keep fighting to break the Grand Slam stranglehold of Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

"I enjoyed the two weeks here. I congratulate Rafa, he's the best," said Ferrer.

"But I will try my best to have another chance to play in a final and win a Grand Slam. This tournament is very special to me."

Ferrer had raced through the first game to love, but it was the champion who broke first for 2-1 when his compatriot unleashed a wild forehand.

Ferrer, showing all the attributes which gave the nickname of 'bloodhound', was level in the next game at 2-2 and with both sluggers evenly matched, it was going to take something out of the top drawer to settle the opening set.

Nadal produced it right on cue, flashing a superbly controlled, sliding backhand on the move, from 10 metres behind the baseline, past the advancing Ferrer.

Nadal backed it up in the ninth game when a double fault from Ferrer handed him a set point which translated into the a first-set advantage when the veteran dumped a weak backhand into the net.

Ferrer hadn't dropped a set in the tournament and had spent six hours fewer on court getting to his maiden final.

But he was in serious trouble and he knew it, suddenly confronted by Nadal's record of 145 wins against just three losses when he had won the first set of a Grand Slam match.

Their personal history was also stacked against him with just four wins against 19 defeats coming into Sunday's final.

Sixteen of those losses were on clay and Ferrer's only victory on the surface was way back in 2004 in the pair's first meeting when Nadal was still a raw 16-year-old.

In no time at all, and with light drizzle falling, the champion was 3-0 ahead in the second set as a love-service game backed up a break which had been secured with a pair of sharp forehands.

Ferrer halted Nadal's six-game streak for 3-1 but was unable to convert four break points of his own in the fifth game, a marathon duel which included a 29-shot rally.

Nadal was 5-1 up and preparing to serve for the second set when a spectator, naked from the waist up, leapt from the stands carrying a flare just feet from where Nadal was standing.

The intruder, with the words 'Childrens rights' written across his chest, was wrestled away from the court.

The final had already been held up by protesters high up in the stands holding up placards demonstrating against France's same sex marriage law.

Nadal was broken but it made little difference to the outcome.

He hit back for 5-3 on Ferrer's fifth double fault and wrote his name into history when he unleashed another crosscourt winner.

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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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