Medvedev wins his first clay-court title while Rybakina perseveres for her own victory

Sports

Daniil Medvedev has an enviable list of achievements during his career — a major title (in the Big Three era, no less), three other Grand Slam final appearances and 16 weeks last year ranked No. 1 in the world. But most of his success has been on the hardcourt, leaving many to wonder if he is a specialist on the surface.

Entering the Italian Open this year he had 32 career titles, and the only one that wasn’t on hardcourt was on grass at Mallorca in 2021. So, despite his No. 3-seeding in Rome, he was hardly a favorite at the clay event — he had never advanced past the second round in his prior attempts.

But that all changed Sunday, when the 27-year-old won the Italian Open title with a 7-5, 7-5 victory over Holger Rune in the final. Medvedev surprised many people, including himself, with the result.

“This one is special because I didn’t think it was going to be able to happen,” Medvedev said after the match. “I still kind of don’t believe — not that I won it, but I played so well this week. I don’t believe it.”

He did not respond to a reporter’s proposal, however, about “Clay-Vedev” as a new nickname.

Medvedev dropped just one set throughout his run to the trophy and notched several lopsided wins, including over two-time French Open semifinalist Alexander Zverev in the round of 16 and 2021 French Open finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semifinals. While the result over Tsitsipas was impressive, it was his epic recall and revenge dance after the match that truly lit up the internet:

With the win, Medvedev moved up to No. 2 in this week’s rankings, and will be on the opposite side of the draw at the French Open from No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, who took over the top spot from now-No. 3 Novak Djokovic.

What else happened this week in tennis? Well, quite a lot:


Rybakina’s continued rise

While the women’s draw was — yet again — plagued by accusations of unfair treatment, including a baffling 11 p.m. start time for the final on Saturday due to rain, Elena Rybakina remained unfazed and won her biggest title on clay in her career. The 23-year-old earned the trophy after Anhelina Kalinina was forced to withdraw in the second set with a leg injury.

Kalinina’s midmatch retirement was indicative of Rybakina’s run at the tournament: She was the third of Rybakina’s six opponents to be unable to finish their match due to injury. But despite that coincidence, which Rybakina later called “really strange,” Rybakina was dominant when she was able to play. She recorded a 2-6, 7-6 (3), 2-2 win over world No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the quarterfinals, before Swiatek exited with a thigh injury, and a blistering 6-2, 6-4 victory against 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the semifinals.

Following a disorganized and controversial trophy ceremony (yes, again), which Rennae Stubbs called “the worst trophy presentation I have ever seen in my life,” Rybakina seemed optimistic about her chances in Paris. “Hopefully I can go far at [the] French Open,” she said. “I have good memories playing there. Now I got more matches on clay, so it’s a bit easier and [I have] a bit more confidence definitely. Yeah, for me, as I always say, [it’s] important to be healthy, be ready physically, then hopefully I can go far there.”

Rybakina, who was awarded no points for her Wimbledon title last summer, is now at a career-high ranking of No. 4. Alongside Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka, it seems a new Big Three might be emerging in tennis. Combined, the trio have won the last four major titles and three of the five 1000-level titles this year. Sabalenka defeated Swiatek for the title at the Madrid Open, the other 1000-level clay tournament, last month.

For the past several years, or at least since Serena Williams went out on maternity leave in 2017, the WTA has struggled with consistency at the top but now it seems there are at least three players who can contend for titles, week after week and on any surface. And now, with uncertainty regarding Swiatek’s injury, Sabalenka has a chance to overtake Swiatek for the No. 1 ranking following the French Open.


End of an era

After weeks of speculation and a near-obsessive watch of his social media accounts, 14-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal confirmed he would not be playing in the upcoming major due to his lingering hip injury sustained in January at the Australian Open. It will mark his first absence from the event since 2004 — and will also be the first staging of the French Open in 25(!) years that doesn’t have him or Roger Federer in the draw.

Despite his record-setting number of titles and the fact there is a larger-than-life statue of him on the grounds, Nadal sounded matter-of-fact about his absence in a news conference with reporters at his academy in Mallorca, Spain, on Thursday.

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Rafael Nadal out of French Open, notes next year could be last

Rafael Nadal announces that he is not playing in the French Open because of a hip injury and notes what his future could hold.

“Tournaments stay forever; players play and leave,” Nadal said. “So Roland Garros will always be Roland Garros, with or without me, without a doubt. The tournament is going to keep being the best event in the world of clay, and there will be a new Roland Garros champion — and it is not going to be me. And that is life.”

The 36-year-old, who will fall out of the top 100 for the first time since 2003, also revealed he believes the 2024 season will be his last on tour. It’s hard to imagine a professional tennis landscape without Nadal, or Federer or Williams, but it seems that will soon be our reality.

Nadal said he was unsure exactly when he would be able to return to competition, although he guessed it would be several months, and he seemed determined to end his legendary career on his terms.

“I don’t like the word but I feel strong enough to say it: I don’t think I deserve to end like this,” Nadal said. “I’ve worked hard enough throughout my career for my end not to be in a press conference.”


More trouble for Halep

It’s been a rough stretch for two-time major champion Simona Halep. In October it was revealed she had failed a drug test at the US Open, and now, after months of declaring her innocence, the former world No. 1 has been accused of a second doping offense for irregularities in her athlete biological passport.

The International Tennis Integrity Agency said the latest charge “was based on an assessment” of Halep’s biological passport profile by a panel of experts. Halep immediately took to social media on Friday to dispute the latest allegation and called the experience “the worst nightmare I have ever gone through in my life.”

“Not only has my name been soiled in the worst possible way, but I am facing a constant determination from the ITIA for a reason that I cannot understand, to prove my guilt while I haven’t EVER even thought of taking any illicit substance,” Halep wrote.

Halep claimed the new charge was a result of “a contamination” and she concluded by expressing her hope for an opportunity to prove her innocence.

Halep’s former coach Darren Cahill and her current coach Patrick Mouratoglou both expressed their support for her shortly after the news was announced. Cahill said his belief in her is “unwavering” and Mouratoglou said there is “no way she would have ever done anything that would have been illegal.”

A hearing was reportedly scheduled for the end of the month, but Halep said the ITIA requested a delay. In a post on Monday, Halep claimed it was the third time the organization had done so.

“The ITIA publicly states one thing while privately doing another,” Halep wrote. “I have repeatedly asked for my hearing and the ITIA has repeatedly sought to delay it.”

The ITIA responded to Halep’s claims on Tuesday morning and confirmed the hearing had been postponed.

“We have proposed that both charges are heard together to avoid multiple hearings. To do this, we wish to provide all parties (including the independent tribunal) sufficient time to consider the significant materials associated with the latest charge.”


May Madness

The NCAA crowned both its men’s and women’s team national champions over the weekend in Orlando, Florida. The Virginia men’s squad defeated Ohio State for its second consecutive title and sixth overall, and the North Carolina women’s program earned its first-ever NCAA team title with a victory over ACC rival North Carolina State.

The Tar Heels’ reaction after sophomore Carson Tanguilig clinched the victory said it all:

The NCAA singles and doubles tournament is currently underway for individual titles, and there’s more than just an incredible trophy and a future entry for LinkedIn on the line. If they represent the United States, the champions from those draws are granted a wild card to the US Open.


This week’s events:

French Open qualifying

ATP:
Gonet Geneva Open, Geneva, Switzerland (250)
Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon, Lyon, France (250)

WTA:
Internationaux de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France (250)
Grand Prix Son Altesse Royale La Princesse Lalla Meryem, Rabat, Morocco (250)

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