Thursday, June 21, 2018
Sports

Nadal, Ferrer to meet in French Open final

PARIS — It was a mere semifinal, and it was even relegated to the first slot on the Friday schedule, which meant the French love affair with leisurely lunches guaranteed there would be plenty of empty seats when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic walked onto the red clay to renew the best rivalry in tennis.

But long before they had finished chasing down each other's bold strokes in the afternoon sunlight, it was clear this match was anything but an undercard.

The rematch of last year's French Open final required 4 hours and 37 minutes, and Nadal, a seven-time French Open champion, prevailed, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 9-7, over Djokovic, the world's No. 1-ranked player.

"You need to love the game," Nadal said. "You (need to) appreciate what you are doing in every moment. I learned during all my career to enjoy suffering, and these kind of matches are very special. You don't have the chance to play these kind of matches every day. So when these kind of matches happen, you suffer, but I really enjoy these moments."

The grueling victory earned, truly earned, the top seed a chance to retain his title Sunday against fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, the fourth seed, who defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France 6-1, 7-6 (3-7), 6-2.

This is the first Grand Slam final for Ferrer, 31, who has long dwelled and excelled deep in Nadal's shadow at home and abroad.

Tsonga's nationality — and the big French TV audience that went along with it — explains why his match with Ferrer was scheduled second, the slot typically reserved for the main event.

But there was nothing minor in key about the operatic duel between Nadal and Djokovic, supreme athletes who symbolize this golden age of tennis with their ability to transition from defense to offense and back to defense in the matter of a few heartbeats.

Nadal, 27, is 58-1 in his long career at Roland Garros. That loss came against Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009.

After holding off Nadal at the end of the fourth set and leading by a service break and 4-3 in the fifth, Djokovic appeared poised to give Soderling company and himself a chance to win the only Grand Slam singles title he lacks.

But Nadal is one of the game's great competitors and problem solvers. Looking slightly fresher down the stretch, he broke Djokovic's serve in the long, eventful eighth game of the final set to get back to 4-4, then kept his cool and belief until breaking Djokovic's serve at love to win the match.

"It's been an unbelievable match to be a part of, but all I can feel now is disappointment. That's it," Djokovic said. "I congratulate my opponent, because he showed the courage in the right moments and went for his shots. … I congratulate him because that's why he's a champion. That's why he's been ruling Roland Garros for many years, and for me it's another year."

Nadal recently missed seven months of action with left knee trouble and other health problems, returning to the circuit in February. Toni Nadal, Rafael's uncle and longtime coach, said he would never have imagined then that his nephew could be back in the French Open final.

Asked about Rafael's knee problems, Toni said his return was a miracle, broke down in tears, halted the interview and retreated down the stairs leading to the main player locker room at Roland Garros. He said Rafael had also teared up when they met after the match.

Comments
Rick Stroud weighs in on report about possible Jameis Winston suspension

Rick Stroud weighs in on report about possible Jameis Winston suspension

Tampa Bay Times beat reporter Rick Stroud isn't buying an ESPN radio report that any suspension levied against Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston by the NFL would stem from Winston's failure to report an alleged incident between him and a female Ub...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
Missed time a good mental reset for Rays’ Matt Duffy

Missed time a good mental reset for Rays’ Matt Duffy

ST. PETERSBURG — Missing all of 2017 might have been the absolute worst thing for Matt Duffy.Frustratingly idled as he eventually recovered and rehabbed from ongoing left heel issues, he couldn't play the game he loved, couldn't show the Rays o...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-North Suncoast girls basketball team

Tampa Bay Times’ all-North Suncoast girls basketball team

North Suncoast Player of the Year: India Lewis, Sr., FivayFirst teamG Jayde Doucette, Sr., River RidgeG Reagan Huden, Sr., SpringsteadF Andrea Wallace, Sr., SunlakeG/F Ices Utegg, So., River RidgeF/C Seytia Hill, Jr., Weeki WacheeSecond teamG Lyndsey...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: When will we know about possible Jameis Winston suspension?

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: When will we know about possible Jameis Winston suspension?

Rick Stroud talks about when we will know about a possible Jameis Winston suspension and why DeSean Jackson hasn't been more productive with the Bucs on today's podcast.Plus, who might the Rays trade next? Will the Lightning make any b...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Rays journal: 7 pitches, 3 straight homers prove too much in loss to Astros

Rays journal: 7 pitches, 3 straight homers prove too much in loss to Astros

HOUSTON — The Rays were engaged in a third straight tight, go-either-way battle with the defending champ Astros on Wednesday.Until they were not.A brutal seven-pitch sequence by starter Nathan Eovaldi changed everything, as he gave up three con...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Hillsborough County girls basketball team

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Hillsborough County girls basketball team

Player of the Year: Kaliah Henderson, Jr., RobinsonFirst teamG Brylee Bartram, Jr., Seffner ChristianG Jacquelyn LeVay, Sr., AlonsoF/G Tarriyonna Gary, So., Carrollwood DayF Tiasia McMillan, So., Carrollwood DayC Kendal Cheesman, Fr., PlantSecond tea...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rays see the results of keeping a good, young core group together

Rays see the results of keeping a good, young core group together

HOUSTON — The Rays saw a lot on the weeklong trip that ended with Wednesday's game against that Astros, beyond the street hustlers prowling in Times Square and the urban cowboys and girls parading through H-town.There was an impressive debuting...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox Sr. was watching the NFL draft 24 years ago when the phone rang. Buffalo coach Marv Levy was on the other line."Marv said they were taking me," said Knox Sr., a standout receiver at FSU.Soon after, Knox Sr. saw his name scroll across ESPN'...
Published: 06/20/18
Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Lightning’s Victor Hedman wins NHL’s Norris Trophy

Victor Hedman, a relentless part of the Lightning's push to the Eastern Conference final last season, was honored Wednesday night with the Norris Trophy, given to the NHL's top defenseman."To the Lightning organization, Mr. Jeff Vinik, Steve Yzerman ...
Published: 06/20/18
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Astros game

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Wednesday’s Rays-Astros game

RHP Nathan Eovaldi said before his rough start Wednesday against the Astros that he was pitching better than his numbers showed. Well … In four starts since his six no-hit innings debut, he's 0-3 with a 6.17 ERA, allowing eight homers, four Wed...
Published: 06/20/18