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FRENCH OPEN

RAFAEL NADAL

‘Brutal’ Nadal clinches ninth French open title

Rafael Nadal on Sunday clinched his ninth French Open and 14th career Grand Slam with a four-set victory over Novak Djokokic, a triumph he believes is payback for his injury-hit Australian Open defeat earlier this year.

'Brutal' Nadal clinches ninth French open title
The victory means Rafael Nadal has now won 14 Grand Slam titles, only three behind Roger Federer. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

The 28-year-old Spaniard clinched his fifth French Open title in a row in Paris with a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 victory over old rival Novak Djokovic in the pair's 42nd meeting.

The world number one, whose Roland Garros record stands at 66 wins against just one defeat, also now has 14 majors, the same as Pete Sampras and just three behind the all-time record of Roger Federer.

But one of his first thoughts on Sunday was his 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 defeat to Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open final in Melbourne in January where he needed extensive treatment on his injured back.

"It's an amazing, emotional moment for me. I lost the Australian Open final this year when I had a problem with my back. Today tennis has given me back what happened in Australia," said Nadal.

The Spaniard was quick to praise Djokovic who was chasing a seventh major and a first Roland Garros title which would have made him only the eighth man to complete a career Grand Slam.

His win ended a four-match losing streak to Djokovic and gave him a sixth win in six meetings against the Serb in the French capital.

"Every moment was crucial, all the points were so hard," said Nadal.

"Playing against Novak is always a big challenge, I have lost to him the last four times. Every chance I have to beat him it's because I have had to play to my limit. I feel sorry for Novak. He deserves to win this tournament one day and I am sure he will."

Sunday's 3hr 31min duel ended on a sour note when Djokovic double-faulted on match point, shaken by a shout from the crowd.

But the Serb refused to lambast the fan.

The Philippe Chatrier court crowd, sensitive to the disappointing ending to the final, accorded Djokovic a moving and lengthy ovation which had the 27-year-old on the verge of tears as he received his runners-up trophy from Swedish legend Bjorn Borg.

"The support of the crowd was big for him and me," said the world number two who has now lost seven of his 13 Grand Slam finals.

"There's always a lot of tension. You can't find excuses in the crowd. It's part of sport. Life goes on."

Djokovic, who appeared to vomit early in the fourth set, admitted that Nadal was probably the fresher player as the final progressed in brutal 30-degree heat.

"I was struggling in the third set but I felt better in the fourth," he said.

"But overall I wasn't at the level I was at when I beat him in Rome last month. At this level, it takes it out of you. Rafa was the better player in the crucial moments."

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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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