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It’s Nadal vs. Djokovic in the French Open, but One Round Early

PARIS — Roland Garros came alive Wednesday in so many ways.

As the French government eased coronavirus-related restrictions, allowing some 5,000 fans to fill Philippe Chatrier Court with rousing chants and sharp Panama hats, it seemed fitting that this would be the day that set up a match that has been anticipated for nearly two weeks.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will meet in a French Open semifinal on Friday. Both won gutty matches on Wednesday that were filled with tension, noise and surges of momentum in every direction.

Their semifinal match will be the latest showdown in an epic rivalry and the second time in less than a month that they will face each other on red clay, Nadal’s favorite surface. Djokovic, however, gave him all he could manage in their recent three-set clay-court match in the final of Italian Open, which Nadal won for the 10th time.

“It is going to be a special match with a lot of crowd, just like it was today,” said Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, who battled valiantly against Nadal on Wednesday only to fall in four sets. “Everyone wants to see that.”

They also wanted to see the end of Djokovic’s quarterfinal match with Matteo Berrettini of Italy. But an 11 p.m. curfew intervened. On a changeover at 10:54 local time, with Djokovic leading by a set and up by 3-2 in the fourth, the players headed for the locker room as security workers cleared the crowd, which was about five times larger than on any previous day and had spent the better part of an hour helping to lift Berrettini from a two-set hole.

Virtually the same series of events had unfolded during a Djokovic match at the Australian Open in February. Just as then, there was howling and plenty of dawdling to the exits on Wednesday. But after about 15 minutes, the players returned to an empty stadium to complete the business of the night.

Djokovic then finished off the ninth-seeded Berrettini, 6-3, 6-2, 6-7(5) 7-5, like a man desperate to save every ounce of energy for his next match.

“Very difficult conditions,” a spent Djokovic said when it was over.

Now comes the hardest part. Djokovic holds the edge against Nadal, 29-28, though Nadal is far superior on clay, with a 19-7 record that currently looks even more imposing. It’s heating up in Paris, baking the clay and making the ball fly just the way Nadal likes.

“We know each other well,” Nadal said after beating the 10th-seeded Schwartzman, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0. “Everybody knows that in these kind of matches anything can happen.”

Djokovic said playing Nadal at the French Open was unlike anything else in the sport.

“It’s the biggest challenge you can have playing against Nadal on this court,” he said. “Each time we face each other, there is that extra tension and expectation. The vibes are different walking on the court with him.”

And yet, because of how players are seeded at Grand Slam tournaments, strictly by the current ranking, the matchup comes in the semifinal, one round before pretty much anyone with knowledge of the sport believed that Nadal, the reigning champion, the No. 3 seed and a 13-time winner of this event, should play Djokovic, the world No. 1.

But Nadal skipped the 2020 United States Open because of concerns about the pandemic, lost in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and played a limited schedule after that tournament, allowing Daniil Medvedev to grab the second spot in the world rankings.

“That’s a big difference,” Nadal said Wednesday of meeting Djokovic in a semifinal instead of the final. “The winner of that match needs to keep going, and there remains a lot of work to do to try to achieve the final goal here.”

Nadal had to put in plenty of work Wednesday to secure his semifinal spot. For a little while, with an intense, late afternoon sun making the conditions deceptively taxing, Schwartzman had Nadal on the ropes.

A beguiling player who has gotten the most out of a body that is just barely over five-and-a-half feet tall, Schwartzman is a defender of the first order. What he lacks in leverage and power, he makes up for by having more tricks and spins in his strings than nearly any other player on the tour. His topspin lob, which somehow always seems to land within inches of the baseline, is as good as it gets.

He has done one of the hardest things in the sport. He beat Nadal on red clay at the Italian Open last year. He is an extremely popular player in the locker room, a figure of fascination among peers who are generally at least a half-foot taller than he is and who know firsthand how difficult he can be to play, especially on clay. Schwartzman is fearless, and he came to fight Wednesday.

Down a set, he battled to stay in the match, and had a Roland Garros crowd — which treats Nadal as a beloved adopted son — chanting his name. He didn’t disappoint, unleashing his powerful forehand, breaking Nadal three times in the first two sets and shaking his confidence. By the end of the second set, Nadal was sending weak backhands to the middle of the court for Schwartzman to tee off on and repeatedly failing to put away overheads that he usually bounces off the court.

Ultimately, though, no part of Schwartzman’s game is better than Nadal’s, with the possible exception of that topspin lob.

Down by 3-4 in the third set, Nadal suddenly seemed to remember where he was and what he has accomplished here. He reeled off wins in the next nine games, finishing the match in a manageable 2 hours 45 minutes. In the final set, he won 25 of 30 points.

“At the end, he’s Rafa and he’s always finding the way,” Schwartzman said.

After Nadal was done, it was Djokovic’s turn to hold up his end of the deal.

At first, Djokovic was far more clinical than he had been in his fourth-round match against another Italian, Lorenzo Musetti, who took the first two sets off Djokovic.

With arguably the best return the game has ever seen, Djokovic broke Berrettini’s usually troublesome serve early in the first two sets and gave Berrettini few chances to break his.

Djokovic has lost after being up two sets to none just once in his career. But with no room for error, Berrettini found the groove on his serve and had Djokovic lunging just to get the rim of his racket on the ball. Under pressure, Djokovic fumbled away a chance to serve out the third-set tiebreaker. Then, with the stadium empty and his anger boiling over, Djokovic outfought Berrettini to barely prevail in the fourth, screaming like a cave man when Berrettini’s final shot hit the middle of the net.

Djokovic has seen versions of this movie before. In October, he entered the French Open final against Nadal with as good a chance as ever against a player who had never lost the ultimate match at Roland Garros. He appeared in form, and the shift of the tournament to the fall because of the pandemic meant cool playing conditions that deadened the balls, preventing them from jumping into Nadal’s preferred strike zone.

Yet Nadal blitzed Djokovic, 6-0, 6-2, 7-5.

Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion and Djokovic’s coach, said that loss had staggered Djokovic, especially after his disqualification from the United States Open in September, when he inadvertently swatted a ball into a line judge’s throat.

The win gave Nadal his 20th Grand Slam title, tying him with Roger Federer for the most in the history of the men’s game. Djokovic pulled to within two of them in February, when he won his ninth Australian Open championship.

Now he and Nadal are meeting with only a berth in Sunday’s final on the line, even if it may not really feel that way. Neither of the two other semifinalists, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev, has won a Grand Slam title.

At least, the great matchup should be completed with plenty of time before curfew. The Panama hats will be out in force.

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Long Overlooked, Wyomia Tyus Is Seen as a Pioneer of Protests

To stay loose for the women’s 100-meter sprint at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Wyomia Tyus danced the “Tighten Up” before settling into her starting blocks. The dance song was an early funk classic by Archie Bell and the Drells, a Houston band that proclaimed with jaunty assurance, “We don’t only sing, but we dance just as good as we want.”

Tyus stepped with similar confidence into the blocks. And 11.08 seconds later, she ran into history. She set a world record and became the first man or woman to win 100-meter titles in consecutive Olympics, ratifying the gold medal she won unexpectedly as a 19-year-old at the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo.

Tyus’s brief dance was preserved on video and became part of Olympic lore. But, she acknowledged, perhaps no one noticed the protest against racism symbolized by the shorts she wore as a Black woman from Jim Crow Georgia. The shorts were dark blue — as close to black as Tyus had available and distinct from the official white shorts that her two American teammates wore in the race.

“It made the statement that I needed,” Tyus, now 75, said in a pair of expansive telephone interviews, calling it “my contribution to the protest for human rights.”

Antiracism protests by the quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and all the athletes who have denounced the murder of George Floyd, had an iconic precedent in the indelible glove-fisted salute by the sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Mexico City Olympics.

But female athletes of color also have long advocated social justice, often to be overlooked. Only recently has Tyus finally begun to be recognized for her activism as well as her sprinting.

The stories of Tyus and other unnoticed or forgotten Black female athletes help provide an evolving understanding of sporting activism. Smith and Carlos, as powerful and unforgettable as their protest was, are “not where the story begins or ends; it’s more expansive than that,” said Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor of history and African American studies at Penn State who is writing a book to be called “Can’t Eat a Medal: The Lives and Labors of Black Women Athletes in the Age of Jim Crow.”

Tyus does not remember the moment she decided to wear the dark shorts. She did not tell anyone of her intention, she said, or speak to reporters about her gesture afterward, believing that few seemed interested in what a woman, especially a Black woman, had to say in that era. “I wasn’t doing it for the press,” she said. “I was doing it for what I believed in, that it was time for a change.”

As the Mexico City Olympics continued, Tyus publicly criticized the expulsion of Smith and Carlos from the Games. She wore the dark blue shorts again in anchoring the American women to a world record in the 4×100-meter relay, then joined a teammate in briefly clenching her fist on the medal podium in support of Smith and Carlos. She also emphasized to reporters that the members of the relay team were dedicating their gold medals to their ousted countrymen.

Several years ago, Tyus donated her shorts to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. Yet they remain cataloged online simply as an article of athletic clothing, not an emblem of protest: Wilson track shorts, royal blue, elastic waistband and leg openings, wash in lukewarm water, use mild soap, do not bleach.

Not until Tyus co-wrote her memoir, “Tigerbelle,” in 2018, did other athletes, reporters and the public begin to understand her activism. Davis, of Penn State, places Tyus at a pivotal point where Black female athletes began decrying gender-based discrimination as well as racial injustice.

Tyus became a vital force in the formation in 1974 of the Women’s Sports Foundation, which is dedicated to enabling opportunities for girls and women. (“Without Black athletes, we would have been nothing,” said Donna de Varona, the foundation’s first president.) Her activism also was a forerunner to the Black Lives Matter protests by players in the W.N.B.A. and to the advocacy of the American hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who bowed her head and raised her fist after winning her competition at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I feel there is a direct connection between us,” Berry said of Tyus. “It’s unfortunate we don’t hear these stories. So often, women are overlooked. We bear the biggest burdens.”

Tyus grew up in Griffin, Ga., south of Atlanta, in the era of separate drinking fountains and separate schools for Blacks and whites. She rode an hour on a bus to her school when she could have walked to the nearby white school. The Ku Klux Klan, Tyus wrote in her memoir, was “a regular participant in local parades.”

The family lived on a dairy farm. Her father, Willie, was a tenant worker. Her mother, Marie, worked at a dry cleaner. She and her three older brothers slept in dresser drawers when they were infants. The family’s farmhouse didn’t have indoor plumbing. Drinking water was carried from a well and sometimes scooped from a hollowed-out gourd. Still, the house felt like a safe haven, Tyus recalled, with plentiful bedrooms and fireplaces, vast porches, a huge kitchen and wide-open spaces outside to roam the surrounding fields and woods.

White girls were not permitted by their parents to play with her and her brothers, Tyus said. But white boys did, and were allowed, as long as they did not use the N-word. “You do not let them call you by any names but your name,” she said that her father told her and her brothers.

On Sundays, she walked through the woods with her father. In ways that were sometimes direct but often so subtle that she would not fully understand until later, Willie Tyus used nature to speak of change and freedom. “Things are not always going to be this way,” she remembered her father saying. “Ask questions. Stand up for what you believe in. You’re going to do things in this world.”

Then, on Aug. 29, 1959, her 14th birthday, the family house caught fire and her world collapsed. The family lost everything, Tyus said, including her father’s spirit and determination. He died a year later. “The fire killed him,” she wrote. “You could see it.”

Tyus said she closed in on herself, becoming a recluse, giving mostly one-word answers when she spoke.

She began to distract herself, and then express herself, with sports, first basketball, then track. She was recruited to Tennessee State, in Nashville, to run for the university’s renowned women’s track team, the Tigerbelles. The coach was Ed Temple, who sent 40 sprinters to the Olympics from the 1950s to the 1980s. They won 13 gold medals, including three by Wilma Rudolph at the 1960 Rome Games.

At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Tyus was 19 and intending to compete more for experience than for victory. Temple told her that 1968 would be her year. But she upset her friend and Tennessee State teammate Edith McGuire to win the 100, before McGuire prevailed in the 200. Another awakening occurred off the track.

There were no back-of-the-bus humiliations for Black athletes in Tokyo. No separate bathrooms. The athletes’ village seemed a kaleidoscope of different colors, nationalities, languages. World War II was not yet two decades past and Black people and other Westerners were still viewed as “kind of strange” in Tokyo, Tyus recalled. But she and McGuire marveled at how they were treated with friendly respect by the Japanese when they went shopping.

“To go to a different place and find out everybody was using the same fountains, the same bathrooms, that people are somewhat nice to you, that was eye-opening,” McGuire said.

When they returned home, Tyus and McGuire said, they were given a parade in Atlanta, but only through Black neighborhoods.

By October 1968, when the Mexico City Olympics arrived, Tyus had graduated from Tennessee State with a degree in recreation. She had become a citizen of the world through sport, having traveled to the Soviet Union and Africa. At home, social unrest was aflame over civil rights and Vietnam. In 1967, she attended a speech on campus by the charismatic civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael, who espoused Black power and, Tyus wrote, “reminded us that we were human beings, that we were no longer slaves and that we had to be more active.”

Six months before the Olympics began, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, down the interstate from Nashville. Days before the opening ceremony, dozens of Mexican students were killed in a Mexico City plaza by government snipers.

The Olympic Project for Human Rights, or O.P.H.R., organized by the sociologist Harry Edwards, advocated boycotting the Games. But Tyus said that she and other Black female athletes were barely consulted. It was assumed by the men, she said, that “if we say we’re going to do it, the women will follow.”

Edwards said he did not contact female athletes because nearly all of them were affiliated with historically Black colleges and universities, which did not support the project. But, he added in a text message, regardless of whether Tyus supported the O.P.H.R., Olympic protests and Smith and Carlos, “she is still one of the greatest athletes of her day.” He added, “And that’s enough, and should be recognized as such.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then Lew Alcindor, declined to participate in the Mexico City Olympics, but a widespread boycott did not occur. Each athlete was left to make his or her own choice about protesting. Smith and Carlos wore black gloves. Some Americans wore black socks and berets and supportive buttons. Tyus decided to wear her dark blue shorts for the 100 meters.

Her gesture was apparently not noticed or acknowledged in mainstream news accounts at the time. The New York Times’s report from Oct. 15, 1968, focused on Al Oerter, the American discus thrower who became the first athlete to win a gold medal in the same individual event in four consecutive Olympics. Tyus was quoted only as saying that these would be her final Games and that “I’d like to retire as a winner.”

The next day, Tyus returned to the Olympic Stadium to watch Smith and Carlos run the 200 meters. When she saw them wearing black socks without shoes and raising their gloved fists on the victory stand, the moment felt “mind blowing,” she said at a 2018 symposium at Penn State. She heard rumbling discontent in the stadium during the anthem and told herself, “My gosh, I hope nothing serious happens here.”

Two days later, after eating breakfast in the athletes’ village, Tyus and some track teammates were informed by an Associated Press reporter that Smith and Carlos had been barred from the Olympics. “I think it is awful,” Tyus was quoted as saying. “They did not hurt anybody. As long as they don’t touch somebody and hurt them, I don’t see how they can be punished.”

For the 4×100-meter relay, Tyus again wore her dark blue shorts. So did her three teammates, but one of them, Mildrette Netter, said recently that she was unaware of any protest. At a postrace news conference, Tyus was quoted in a Reuters article as saying, “We dedicate our relay win to John Carlos and Tommie Smith.”

On the victory stand, Tyus and a teammate briefly raised their fists in support of Smith and Carlos, as seen in photographs discovered by Davis in the archives of the International Olympic Committee. Tyus identified the teammate as Barbara Ferrell, who did not respond to requests for comment.

The podium gesture was a quick show of solidarity with Smith and Carlos, Tyus said. Members of the U.S. men’s 4×400-relay team also raised their fists. The dark blue shorts made a more important statement, Tyus said, because “the shorts were at the forefront of my whole being to bring attention to human rights, whether anybody picked that up or not.”

More than 50 years later, in Tyus’s native Georgia, whether the basketball players knew her name or not, members of the Atlanta Dream W.N.B.A. team revolted against a team owner, Senator Kelly Loeffler, after she criticized the Black Lives Matter movement. In February, Loeffler, who lost her bid for re-election, sold her interest in the team. This is what Tyus had long advocated: Speak up and speak out.

“If you speak out, you do see change,” she said. “Staying silent doesn’t work.”

Susan C. Beachy and Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.

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In Pandev They Trust

Goran Pandev’s face is everywhere in Strumica, a sleepy city tucked away in the corner of North Macedonia, not far from the borders with Greece and Bulgaria. It is on the banners around the field at the local stadium. It is painted on the walls of the changing rooms. It beams out from the television screens of dozens of cafes, which faithfully broadcast every game played by the striker’s Italian club team, Genoa.

Strumica has produced presidents and prime ministers, but it is Pandev it holds closest to its heart. He has repaid that affection. Plenty of the players who leave North Macedonia for fame and fortune in western Europe’s most glamorous soccer leagues invest in businesses at home. Eljif Elmas, a midfielder for Napoli, often returns to the family pastry shop in the capital, Skopje. Boban Nikolov, who plays for Lecce, helped his father open a transport company in the city of Stip.

Pandev’s only rival for the title of the country’s greatest-ever player, Darko Pancev, runs a cafe in Skopje named after the jersey he wore during his career: Café 9.

“Here, it is common for former footballers to open a cafe or restaurant and sit there all day,” said Mario Sotirovski, the soccer editor of the newspaper Vecer. “Pandev is different.”

For more than a decade, he has funded an eponymous soccer academy here, training 300 young hopefuls at its spectacular, Italian-inflected campus in the city, as well as 1,000 more across the country. “He is an idol for all the kids,” said Jugoslav Trenchovski, Akademija Pandev’s director.

The facilities available at the academy — there are plans to open a sports center by the end of this year that will include a hotel, a spa and a museum — make it an outlier in North Macedonia. Other than the million-dollar national training center, largely financed by FIFA, that opened its doors in 2018, the country’s soccer infrastructure is largely threadbare. Most stadiums only have one grandstand. Capacities rarely exceed 4,000.

Pandev’s greater impact may not be in concrete and steel, though, but in something far less tangible. In November last year, the striker — at 37, he is older than the country he represents — scored the goal in a qualifying game against Georgia that assured North Macedonia a place in this summer’s European Championship. It was, he said at the time, “a great victory for our people.”

In North Macedonia, the significance of qualifying for its first major tournament extended far beyond sport. “From now on, the whole world will know where our country is,” said Muamed Sejdini, the president of the Football Federation of Macedonia. “When I talk to people from abroad, I will no longer have to explain that we border with Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Greece.”

But it is more than a matter of national pride. In 2019, after two decades of dispute with the last of those neighbors and a contested referendum, the country changed its name: from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to North Macedonia. By placating Greece, the country hoped to remove the first, and most daunting, obstacle in its path to joining the European Union.

Now, two years later, there is a belief that its case can only be strengthened by playing in the Euros. “These players have raised the bar a lot,” said Sase Gjoles, the lead singer for the band Vis Risovi. “There is no going back. It is a message for the new generation.” Gjoles has written a song to support the team during the tournament. Its chorus runs: “Let’s go to Europe, the place where we belong.”

That sense of unity is important. Around a quarter of North Macedonia’s population is ethnically Albanian, separated from the Macedonian majority by its language and its predominantly Muslim faith. “None of us supports Macedonia,” said Arijan Murtezani, a graduate student. “It’s our country and we respect it, but we also love and honor our national heritage, which is Albanian.”

Murtezani is a member of the Ballistët, an ultras group that supports Shkëndija, a team in the largely Albanian city of Tetovo. Shkëndija — spark in Albanian — plays in red and black, the colors of the Albanian flag, and was banned in the latter years of Communist rule amid concerns its popularity might stoke nationalistic fervor.

Many of the teams in Macedonian soccer are defined by their ethnic ties, and violence between ultra groups can run along those lines. In June 2018, a Vardar Skopje fan was killed in broad daylight at a bus stop; two fans of Shkupi, a team from an ethnic Albanian neighborhood in the capital, ended up in prison.

Sejdini, the soccer federation’s president, said he hoped that the team’s European Championship campaign will help unite the country under one flag. There is an initiative among ultra groups to form a united front to support the national team, under the name Falanga — the phalanx. The words refers to the military formation invented by Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, two millenniums ago.

The team, certainly, reflects North Macedonia’s complex, interwoven fabric. Some of its stars are ethnically Albanian — Ezgjan Alioski and Enis Bardhi — and some, like Nikolov, are Macedonian. Elmas, a winger for the Italian team Napoli, is of Turkish descent. The hope is that they can help to forge an identity for the country, one that is not only projected externally, to Europe, but internally, too.

Still, it was fitting that, when North Macedonia took the field in a major tournament for the first time in its brief history, its first goal — in a 3-1 defeat to Austria on Sunday — came from a familiar face; the most familiar face of all, the one that hangs on banners and is painted on walls and beams out from televisions across Strumica. Goran Pandev has spent a decade trying to change soccer in his country. With one strike, he might have changed his country through soccer.

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Emergency Measures Eased in Tokyo as Olympics Loom

The government in Japan said on Thursday that it would relax emergency measures in Tokyo and other areas as the country’s latest coronavirus outbreak recedes, and with the Olympic Games scheduled to begin in just over five weeks.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga made the announcement at a meeting of the government’s coronavirus task force, saying that new infections had declined over the past month and that the strain on the nation’s hospitals had eased.

On Sunday, the state of emergency will be lifted in nine prefectures, but some restrictions will remain in place in Tokyo and in six other areas until at least July 11, the government said. Emergency measures in Okinawa will remain in effect for three more weeks, officials said.

The announcement comes as new daily cases reported in Japan have fallen by 48 percent over the past two weeks, to an average of 1,625 a day, according to a New York Times database. More than 684,000 vaccine doses were administered on Wednesday, twice as many as a month ago, based on government data.

Still, Japan’s vaccination drive remains one of the slowest among richer nations: About 26 million vaccine doses have been administered, with 15 percent of the population having received at least one shot, Times data shows.

Tokyo has been under a state of emergency since late April, the third since the start of the pandemic. Under the rules that go into effect on Monday, alcohol sales will be allowed to resume, but only until 7 p.m., while dining establishments will still be asked to close by 8 p.m.

The chief medical adviser to Japan’s government, Shigeru Omi, said that officials must remain vigilant and “take strong measures without hesitation” if cases begin to rise again.

With the Games set to begin in Tokyo on July 23 — and officials reportedly considering allowing up to 10,000 domestic spectators at some events — experts warn that infections could resurge. But John Coates, a vice president of the International Olympic Committee who is currently visiting Japan and under quarantine, said at a news conference last month that the Games could go on even if another state of emergency were declared.

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