Chasing historical past


Melbourne, February 7

Forget about aces or double-faults, winners or unforced errors. The statistic that has come to mean the most in tennis these days is “Grand Slam titles won.” Which is why so much attention will be paid to Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams at the Australian Open. Play begins at Melbourne Park tomorrow, with Williams and Djokovic among those on the schedule and Nadal’s first-round match set for Day 2. Each match for each member of that trio is a possible step on the way to some history.

“People love records, don’t they?” said Chris Evert, an 18-time Major champion. “I, for one, think that too much is made of Grand Slam wins.”

This is Nadal’s first chance to grab sole possession of the men’s mark for most Grand Slam singles titles. He pulled even with Roger Federer at 20 by winning the French Open in October, beating Djokovic in a lopsided final. Federer, who is still sidelined after two knee operations, will miss the tournament. Nadal has had stiffness in his back over the last two weeks, which kept him out of the ATP Cup and hampered his practice. “The muscle is still tight, so it is difficult to play with freedom of movements,” he said. “Let’s hope the situation keeps improving.”

A second Australian Open trophy would also allow Nadal to become the first man in the Open era to win each Grand Slam tournament at least twice. He has 13 championships at Roland Garros, four at the US Open, two at Wimbledon.

‘On my mind’

Williams already has 23 Slam singles titles, the most by anyone in the Open era. Only one player owns more: Margaret Court, with 24.

“It’s definitely on my shoulders and on my mind,” Williams said about 24.

Williams made a point of explaining she finds other ways to define her value. “My life is way more than a trophy. There’s way more to me than a championship,” said Williams, who turns 40 in September and last won a Major title at the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant.

She lost in the third round in Australia a year ago, then was hampered by an Achilles issue during a semifinal loss at the US Open. That same problem forced her to withdraw from the French Open before the second round.

For Djokovic, in addition to trying to break his own record for most men’s titles at the Australian Open by getting No. 9, and trying to ensure he will eclipse Federer for most weeks at No. 1 in the ATP rankings, there is the matter of closing the Grand Slam gap. Adding another Major would give him 18 — two behind Federer and Nadal. — AP

PRIZE MONEY

Total prize pot
A$71 million ($54.26m)

Singles winners
A$2.75 million

50% attendance

This year’s Australian Open will be allowed to admit up to 30,000 fans a day, around 50% of usual capacity, amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Defending champs

Men’s: Novak Djokovic
Women’s: Sofia Kenin

MOST TITLES

Men’s singles
8: Novak Djokovic

Women’s singles
7: Margaret Court, Serena Williams

YOUNGEST CHAMPION

Men’s singles
Ken Rosewall (1953): 18 years, two months

Women’s singles
Martina Hingis (1997): 16 years, three months

OLDEST CHAMPION

Men’s singles
Ken Rosewall (1972): 37 years, two months

Women’s singles
Thelma Coyne Long (1954): 35 years, 8 months



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