Trying to regain his best form after a slow start to the season, Novak Djokovic looked sharp in his opening match at the Madrid Open on Tuesday, defeating Gael Monfils 6-3, 6-2 to advance to the third round.
“I would probably rate it as the best performance of the year. I felt very good on the court,” the top-ranked Djokovic said after saving all five break points he faced and converting the three he had against the 21st-ranked Frenchman.
It was his 18th straight win over Monfils. The match was interrupted at 2-2 in the first set as rain forced the roof on center court to be closed.
“Just generally very, very good performance,” he said. “I’m very pleased, considering, you know, that up to today I was not playing my best tennis in the few tournaments that I played this year and still kind of finding my rhythm, finding my groove.”
Djokovic arrived in Madrid with a 5-3 record in the three tournaments he played. He had needed three sets in each of his last three victories this season, all in Serbia before losing the final there to Andrey Rublev.
Djokovic, a three-time winner in Madrid, next faces Andy Murray, a two-time champion in Madrid who continued his latest comeback with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 win over Denis Shapovalov.
RETIREMENT: Two-time Grand Slam finalist Kevin Anderson announced his retirement from professional tennis at age 35.
The 6-foot-8 South African was the runner-up to Rafael Nadal at the U.S. Open in 2017 – No. 32 at the time, Anderson was the lowest-ranked finalist in tournament history – and to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon in 2018.
Anderson won seven ATP Tour singles titles, most recently at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island, last July. All of his trophies came on the speedier surfaces of grass or hard courts, which helped add oomph to his booming serves.
“Tennis carried me far beyond my roots in Johannesburg, South Africa, and truly gave me the world,” Anderson wrote on Twitter in posts about what he called a “difficult decision to retire.”
“I’ve experienced so many different challenges and emotions; this sport can be exhilarating and at the same time lonely,” he said.
Anderson played college tennis at Illinois, where he won the 2006 NCAA men’s doubles championship and was an All-American for three seasons. In 2007, he helped Illinois to a runner-up finish as a team.
After turning pro that year, Anderson claimed his first tour-level title at home in Johannesburg in 2011.
Anderson reached a career-high ranking of No. 5 in 2018, after his run to the title match at the All England Club.
That included a 13-11 fifth-set victory over 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in the quarterfinals after facing a match point, and a 26-24 fifth-set victory over John Isner in the semifinals, before the loss to 20-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic.
That match against Isner served as the tipping point for the sport’s four major tournaments to discuss adding tiebreakers for the final set – and all four announced this year they now will play tiebreakers at 6-all in the deciding set (third for women, fifth for men) from now on.
Anderson, who will turn 36 on May 18, is 1-5 in 2022 and is ranked 107th this week. Elbow injuries limited him to 15 matches in 2019.
He has not competed since a three-set loss in his opening main-draw match at the Miami Open against Juan Manuel Cerundolo in March.
Anderson has been an advocate for reducing plastic use on the tennis tours and his charitable efforts earned him the 2019 Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award.
DOPING: A deal for Drug Free Sport International to police medication in horse racing was announced, two months before the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority takes effect.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency had been set to become the regulator for anti-doping and medication control for thoroughbred racing. But in late December, the deal stalled.
Drug Free Sport International has overseen testing and enforcement with the NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAA, both men’s and women’s pro golf tours and NASCAR.
The Kansas City-based company will set up the Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit, to be led by a five-member advisory council chaired by Jonathan Taylor, a London-based partner at the international law firm Bird & Bird.
He previously served as chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s compliance review committee. He also has years of experience as outside legal counsel to the British Horseracing Authority and International Equestrian Federation.
The other members of the advisory council are Dr. Larry Bowers, former chief scientific officer at USADA; Dr. Larry Bramlage, an equine orthopedic surgeon in Kentucky; Sonja Keating, general counsel of the U.S. Equestrian Federation; and Gunter Younger, director of intelligence and investigations at WADA.
HISA takes effect July 1. It will be implemented in stages, with the racetrack safety program starting immediately. The anti-doping and medication rules aren’t expected to begin until Jan. 1, 2023, leaving the 38 states where horse racing occurs in charge for now.
The sport’s lack of uniform rules across the U.S. came into focus after Medina Spirit tested positive for a banned substance following the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Visiting Liverpool rallied after an early scare to defeat Villarreal 3-2 and advance to its third final in five seasons.
Villarreal looked on its way to another stunning upset after opening a two-goal lead in the first half to offset its 2-0 first-leg loss in England, but it couldn’t keep up and Liverpool came from behind to advance 5-2 on aggregate.
After Boulaye Dia and Francis Coquelin put Villarreal ahead by the 41st minute, Fabinho, substitute Luis Diaz and Sadio Mane scored in the second half to propel Liverpool into the final for the first time since winning its sixth European title in 2019.
Liverpool will play the May 28 final in Paris against either Premier League rival Manchester City or 13-time European champion Real Madrid. They will meet on Wednesday in Madrid with City defending a 4-3 win from the first leg in England.