PARIS — Novak Djokovic seemed well on his way to yet another ho-hum victory, yet another French Open final, yet another matchup against rival Rafael Nadal. And then, suddenly, what had been a gallop became a grind.
Slightly more than two hours into his semifinal against Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday night, Djokovic was serving for the match, one point from ending things in straight sets. Just. One. Point. But a down-the-line backhand veered a tad wide, Djokovic rolled his eyes and, eventually, he was stuck in a serious situation, somehow pushed to five sets.
As is usually the case, though, he was up to the task when it mattered the most. Djokovic got back in gear down the stretch to hold off the much younger, much less accomplished Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1 to reach his fifth title match at Roland Garros.
“I stayed calm on the surface,” Djokovic said, “but deep down, it was a totally different matter.”
Standing in the way of No. 1 Djokovic, a 33-year-old from Serbia, on Sunday at Court Philippe Chatier — he is pursuing a second trophy there and 18th from all Grand Slam tournaments — will be, as it’s been so often, No. 2 Nadal, a 34-year-old from Spain.
It will be their 56th meeting, the most between two men in the professional era (Djokovic leads 29-26), 16th at a major (Nadal leads 9-6) and eighth at the French Open (Nadal leads 6-1).
“It’s his house,” Djokovic said.
In addition to closing in on an unfathomable 13th French Open championship with a 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (0) win over 12th-seeded Diego Schwartzman, Nadal now gets a chance to tie Roger Federer for the men’s record of 20 Slam titles.
Nadal said it’s fine for others to discuss about such matters, but his focus remains squarely on the task at hand.
“I’m playing the most important tournament of the year — that’s what motivates me,” he insisted.
While Nadal dealt with the slightest tension late in his third set Friday, everything became more interesting at that juncture for Djokovic against Tsitsipas, a 22-year-old from Greece in his second major semifinal.
Djokovic served for the win at 5-4, holding that match point at 40-30. He would require another 1 hour, 45 minutes to finish the job.
That one misstep left the door a bit ajar, and Tsitsipas barged through. He got his first break all match when Djokovic sent a forehand long, making it 5-all. Tsitsipas broke again to steal that set when Djokovic netted a forehand, then got things to a fifth.
What changed? Tsitsipas began pushing forward more, taking the action to Djokovic, whose misses began to increase with less time to properly calibrate.
Also notable: the massive swing in success on break points.
Djokovic started by converting 4 of 5, then went through a stretch where he was 1 for 13.
Tsitsipas, in contrast, began 0 for 10, then went 4 for 5.
After the fourth set, Djokovic changed socks and shoes, and Tsitsipas got a medical visit for a check of his left leg.
“I believe my body was not ready,” Tsitsipas acknowledged afterward. “Physically, I wasn’t really there.”
Djokovic is now 32-10 in five-setters, and 216-1 when taking a two-set lead in Grand Slam matches (the lone loss came at the 2010 French Open against Jurgen Melzer).
Tsitsipas? Only 2-4 in five-setters.
Maybe it made sense, then, that Djokovic, so reliant on drop shots all match and all tournament, used a perfect one to break for a 2-1 lead in the fifth. That became 4-1 when Tsitsipas double-faulted.
“I feel, I can say, happy — and, at the same time, sad,” Tsitsipas said.
Djokovic is now 37-1 in 2020, the only setback coming via a disqualification at the U.S. Open last month.
“For sure, he has reached almost perfection, Novak, in his game style, the way he plays,” Tsitsipas said, “which is unbelievable to see, honestly.”
Nadal improved to 99-2 at the French Open — go ahead, read that again — including a combined 25-0 in semifinals and finals, as he seeks a fourth consecutive title in Paris.
He has won all 15 sets he’s played over the past two weeks, making a mockery of the supposed explanations for why this year, so different for so many reasons, might be different for Nadal in the City of Lights.
The shift in dates from May-June to September-October because of the pandemic, bringing cooler weather. New, slightly heavier, tennis balls. Nadal’s decision to skip the U.S. Open, leaving him with only three matches since tennis resumed in August.
Then there was this: Schwartzman upset Nadal in straight sets on clay at the Italian Open last month.
The late-afternoon sun at Court Philippe Chatrier created awkward shadows over much of the court and blinding brightness at one end, prompting Schwartzman to flip around his backward baseball hat so the brim could shield his eyes.
Only 1,000 spectators are being allowed on the grounds daily, owing to the rising COVID-19 cases in France, and the sparse crowd on hand was cheering for Schwartzman late in the third, when he kept that set close.
By the end, fans were chanting, “Ra-fa! Ra-fa!” as they have so many times in the past.
“You can’t pretend to be in a final of Roland Garros without suffering. That’s what happened there,” Nadal said about the tight third set. “But I found a way, no?”
So, too, did Djokovic.
AP Tennis Writer Fendrich reported from Washington; AP Sports Writer Pugmire reported from Paris.
More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Wilson runs wild before injury, 49ers crush Pats – TSN
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Jimmy Garoppolo was once considered to be the man in waiting to take over at quarterback in New England for Tom Brady.
Now he’s the guy who helped hand the Patriots their worst home loss under Bill Belichick.
Jeff Wilson Jr. rushed for a career-high three touchdowns and 112 yards before leaving with an ankle injury and the San Francisco 49ers crushed New England 33-6 on Sunday.
Garoppolo finished 20 of 25 for 277 yards with two interceptions in his first game against his former team. San Francisco (4-3) has followed back-to-back losses with consecutive wins and is 3-0 on the road.
“It was an exciting night. Lot of emotions. Couldn’t imagine it going any better than this,” Garoppolo said.
The Patriots’ 27-point loss was their largest at home under Belichick. They had gone 286 games without a three-game losing streak, the longest span between three-game slides in NFL history. New England fell to 2-4 for the first since Belichick’s first season in 2000, when the Patriots went 5-11.
New England was outgained 467-241 in total yards.
“We were clearly out-coached, outplayed. Just out-everything,” Belichick said. “We’re still a long way from where we need to be. That’s obvious.”
San Francisco’s Brandon Aiyuk had six catches for 115 yards and Deebo Samuel had five catches for 65 yards before leaving the game with a hamstring injury.
“When we got them down, we got to keep them down, don’t want to give them any chance to breathe. I thought we did that tonight,” Garoppolo said. “Started from the first snap and carried its way throughout the whole game.”
Cam Newton struggled for the Patriots, completing 9 of 15 passes for 98 yards and three interceptions before being replaced by Jarrett Stidham in the fourth quarter. Stidham was 6 of 10 for 64 yards and an interception.
Belichick said his plan is to keep Newton as the starter.
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said.
Newton was out of sync from the outset, making poor reads and poorer throws. Garoppolo, meanwhile, was successful in spreading out New England’s defence with a steady diet of passes behind the line of scrimmage and jet sweeps to get the ball into the hands of Wilson, Samuel and tight end George Kittle.
San Francisco dominated the first half, taking a 23-3 lead, holding the ball for 22:30 and racking up a 301-59 advantage in total yards. The Patriots managed four first downs to the 49ers’ 18.
The Niners took just over five minutes and nine plays to march 75 yards and take a 7-0 lead on 3-yard run by Wilson. It was the first time the Patriots have allowed a touchdown on an opponent’s opening drive at home since Week 4 of 2016 against Buffalo.
Following a Patriots punt, San Francisco was pinned inside its 15. Long completions by Garoppolo helped erase some early penalty losses before he missed high on a pass for Kittle and was intercepted by Devin McCourty.
San Francisco’s defence limited the damage, yielding a 40-yard field goal by Nick Folk.
That wasn’t the case for the Patriots later in the second quarter.
Trailing 10-3, Newton made a bad play worse when he tried to dump off the ball on the run to receiver Jakobi Meyers. It was picked off by linebacker Fred Warner. Five plays later, the 49ers capitalized on a 4-yard touchdown run by Kyle Juszczyk.
The lead grew to 23-3 with just under a minute to go before halftime on a 16-yard run by Wilson.
“D just played impressive the whole day. I thought special teams and offence did, too. It was an extremely physical game,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “It was fun to watch.”
49ers: WR Richie James left with an ankle injury. … Wilson had just crossed into the end zone following his third TD when his leg twisted as he was tackled. He stayed down on the field before walking off under his own power. Shanahan said the tentative diagnosis is a high ankle sprain. “Not sounding great right now,” he said.
Patriots: WR N’Keal Harry left with a head injury and did not return. … LG Joe Thuney departed with an ankle injury. … RT Justin Herron also left with an ankle injury.
With an 11-yard pass to Jakobi Meyers in the third quarter, Newton became the 48th NFL quarterback to reach the 30,000-yard plateau.
He also became the first NFL player to pass for 30,000 yards and rush for 5,000 yards in his career.
The 49ers head to Seattle next Sunday. The Patriots visit Buffalo.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
AP source: NFL fines Titans $350,000 for COVID-19 outbreak – Sportsnet.ca
NASHVILLE — The NFL has fined the Tennessee Titans $350,000 for violating protocols leading to the league’s first COVID-19 outbreak during the season, a person familiar with the discipline told The Associated Press.
The Titans had 24 people, including 13 players, test positive for COVID-19 between Sept. 24 and Oct. 11. The outbreak led the NFL to postpone two Tennessee games and the rescheduling of a game against Pittsburgh from Oct. 4 to Sunday and the second against Buffalo from Oct. 11 to Oct. 13.
The NFL and its players association sent officials, including infectious disease experts, to Nashville where they reviewed video and interviewed players, coaches and other personnel.
But the NFL found the Titans failed to wear masks at all times and were “insufficiently clear” to players about not meeting or working out once the facility closed. That kept the loss of draft picks or a forfeit out of the possible punishments.
That led to the fine, according to the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because neither the NFL nor the Titans have commented on league discipline connected with the outbreak.
Dodgers one win from World Series title after beating Rays in Game 5 – Sportsnet.ca
ARLINGTON, Texas — Clayton Kershaw’s glittering career lacked two of the most satisfying accomplishments: a win deep in the World Series and a championship ring.
He took the mound Sunday night with the Los Angeles Dodgers shaken, and Kershaw steadied his team with a gritty performance, plus one particular delivery home that will long be remembered.
Now with one more victory, the Dodgers would claim their first title since 1988.
Kershaw beat the Tampa Bay Rays for the second time in six days, escaping a fourth-inning jam with a quick reaction throw to cut down a runner trying for a rare steal of home, and the Dodgers held on for a 4-2 win and a 3-2 Series lead.
Mookie Betts and Corey Seager sparked a two-run first inning, and Joc Pederson and Max Muncy homered off long-ball prone Tyler Glasnow, whose 100 mph heat got burned.
His scraggly dark brown hair dangling with sweat, Kershaw was cruising when Dodgers manager Dave Roberts removed the 32-year-old left-hander in favour of Dustin May after getting two outs on two pitches in the sixth inning.
The mostly pro-Dodgers fans in the pandemic-reduced crowd of 11,437 booed when Roberts walked to the mound, well aware of what happened with the bullpen the previous night, when closer Kenley Jansen wasted a ninth-inning lead in a stunning 8-7 loss.
Those boos quickly turned to cheers as the LA rooters saluted Kershaw, a three-time NL Cy Young Award winner, as he walked to the dugout. Kershaw improved to 13-12 in post-season play, including 4-1 this year.
May, Victor Gonzalez and Blake Treinen combined for two-hit scoreless relief. May got five outs, Gonzlaez stranded a pair of runners in the eighth by retiring Randy Arozarena and Brandon Lowe on flyouts, and Treinen got three outs to become the fourth Dodgers pitcher with a post-season save.
Manuel Margot singled leading off the ninth, but Austin Meadows struck out, Joey Wendle flied out and Willy Adames struck out.
Thirty of the previous 46 teams to win Game 5 for a 3-2 lead have won the title, but just six of the last 14. Teams that wasted 3-2 leads include last year’s Houston Astros.
Los Angeles did not have an obvious candidate to start Game 6 on Tuesday, when Game 2 winner Blake Snell starts for Tampa Bay,
Walker Buehler, the 26-year-old right-hander who has supplanted Kershaw at the Dodgers’ ace, is waiting in the wings for a a Game 7 like a Hollywood understudy ready for a leading role.
With a 175-76 regular-season record, five ERA titles and an MVP, Kershaw ranks alongside Dodgers greats Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser. He won World Series openers in 2017 and again this year, but he faltered in Game 5 in both 2017 and 2018 and has never won a title.
He shut down the Rays on two runs and five hits with six strikeouts and two walks. He’s 2-0 with a 2.31 ERA in 15 2/3 innings over two starts in this Series with 14 strikeouts and three walks. Kershaw also set a career post-season record with 207 strikeouts, two more than Justin Verlander’s previous mark.
Provided a 3-0 lead, Kershaw allowed Tampa Bay to pull within a run in the third when Kevin Kiermaier singled, Yandy Diaz tripled on a ball down the right-field line that skipped past Betts and Arozarena’s single. The 25-year-old Cuban rookie asked for the ball after his record 27th post-season hit, one more than San Francisco’s Pablo Sandoval in 2014.
Kershaw escaped a first-and-third, no-outs jam in the fourth after Margot walked leading off, stole second and continued to third when the ball got away from second baseman Chris Taylor for his second big error in two games. Hunter Renfroe also walked, but Wendle popped out and Adames struck out.
With Kiermaier at the plate, Margot bolted for home as Kershaw raised both hands over his head in his instantly recognizable stretch position. While many pitchers might have panicked and perhaps balked, Kershaw coolly and quickly stepped off the rubber and calmly threw to catcher Austin Barnes.
Barnes grabbed the ball and got his mitt down on the Margot’s outstretched hand while the runner’s helmet tumbled off and cut his own lip.
Margot went on his own, manager Kevin Cash said, and became the first runner caught stealing home in the Series since Minnesota’s Shane Mack in Game 4 in 2001.
Globe Life Field’s roof was closed on the cool, rainy night, as it was for Game 3, and the visiting Dodgers broke on top within 10 pitches against Glasnow, a lanky 6-foot-8 right-hander who appeared to be overthrowing.
Glasnow allowed four runs and six hits in five innings, leaving him 0-2 with a 9.64 ERA in the Series. The two home runs raised his total to a record nine in a single post-season.
Betts doubled on a 99 mph fastball leading off and scored two pitches later when Seager pulled a curveball into right field for a single and his 19th post-season RBI. This Series joined 1932 as the only years with runs in four straight top of the first innings.
Seager advanced on a wild pitch, Muncy drew his 20th walk of the post-season and after a two-out wild pitch, Cody Bellinger hit a grounder that was stopped with no play by Lowe, the second baseman positioned on the right field grass. Seager scored the Dodgers’ 58th run with two outs this post-season and became the first player to cross the plate in each of the first five Series games since the Yankees’ Derek Jeter in 2000.
Glasnow needed 34 pitches to get three outs, his most in the first inning since Sept. 5, 2018. He tied a Series record with two wild pitches in the inning and set the mark with three in the game.
Pederson hit a 428-foot opposite-field drive to left on a fastball at the letters for a 3-0 lead in the second.
Glasnow retired eight straight before Muncy homered in the fifth to make it 4-2. He became the record ninth Dodgers player to homer in the post-season, one more than the 1989 Oakland Athletics of Bash Brothers fame.
Dodgers: Bellinger was back in centre field, a day after switching to designated hitter because of lower back stiffness.
Snell, the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner, allowing two runs and two hits in 4 2/3 innings in Game 2 with nine strikeouts and four walks.
Wilson runs wild before injury, 49ers crush Pats – TSN
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