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Novak Djokovic embraces pantomime villain act with blockbuster Alcaraz showdown looming - Inspiredlovers
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Novak Djokovic embraces pantomime villain act with blockbuster Alcaraz showdown looming

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Novak Djokovic embraces pantomime villain act with blockbuster Alcaraz showdown looming

Novak Djokovic baited the Roland Garros crowd again on Sunday, as he eased into the last 16. But this time, by contrast with his ill-tempered showing in the previous round, he did it with a sense of humor.

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Djokovic was briefly booed by the fans during the first set of his comfortable 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over Peru’s Juan Pablo Varillas. The barracking came as he was beaten by a flashing backhand winner and he responded by holding out his arms towards his support team in a gesture of exasperation.

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But the mood of these notoriously mercurial Parisian spectators would turn on a sixpence, with the jeers suddenly becoming cheers.

Just two points later, Djokovic pulled off one of the feats of escapology that he is famous for, chipping back a series of Varillas attacks until his opponent yielded. Now he held his hand up to his ear, before waving at the crowd as if to say – Delia Smith-style – “Let’s be ‘avin you!

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To be clear, he was very much in pantomime-villain mode and wore a broad grin rather than the glare we had seen on Friday.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Djokovic played down his previous criticisms of the local spectators, and described the crowd – which chanted his name during his on-court interview – as “great”.

“I didn’t say [on Friday] that the crowd is disrespectful, that’s not true,” explained Djokovic, whose complaints after his previous win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina had instead been aimed at certain individuals “who love to boo every single thing you do”.

Novak Djokovic embraces pantomime villain act

“[Today] I thought they were great, especially in the end. They gave me a very nice chanting and support. As a player, you always want to receive that love from the crowd.”

Varillas is a total newbie at this level, having only played in the main draws of two previous slams and losing in the first round both times. As such, he was a much more comfortable opponent for Djokovic than Davidovich Fokina, which probably explains the difference in Djokovic’s demeanor.

On Friday, Djokovic had roared aggressively at the fans on seizing the key second set – a response he later justified because “99 percent of the time I will stay quiet [but] sometimes I will oppose that because I feel when somebody is disrespectful, he or she deserves to have an answer.”

This time, Djokovic needed only 1hr 57min to overcome Varillas, maintaining his perfect record of dropping no sets in the tournament. His reward was a 17th visit to the French Open quarter-finals, which – amazingly – is one more than the “King of Clay” Rafael Nadal has managed.

This result also left Djokovic tantalizingly close to a first best-of-five-set meeting with Carlos Alcaraz, the man he has been exchanging the world No1 ranking with for the past nine months.

This would be a big moment for the sport because the two biggest beasts of the men’s tour (at least, since Nadal began his injury-related decline) have never actually faced each other during that time. Indeed, they have only ever shared a match court on one occasion. That came in Madrid 14 months ago and delivered a close and thrilling victory for Alcaraz.

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As it happens, Alcaraz won through on Sunday by the same scoreline as Djokovic – the only difference being that he was facing an opponent with a real pedigree on this surface. Lorenzo Musetti, the 17th seed from Italy, might have despatched British No1 Cameron Norrie in ruthless style on Friday, but he was completely outclassed by Alcaraz in 2hr 8min.

Now both these heavy hitters need to come through their quarter-finals to set up that dream match on Friday. All the evidence suggests that it will decide the eventual champion, as the early exits of Daniil Medvedev and Jannik Sinner have left the bottom half of this draw looking short on clout.

Djokovic was asked on Sunday whether he ever looks beyond his next opponent – in this case, the burly Russian Karen Khachanov – to a match further down the line. “You always follow the top guys in your half or whatever,” he replied. “Of course, you’re looking, you’re analyzing everyone’s game.”

So far, statistics suggest that Djokovic and Alcaraz stand well clear of the pack. After four rounds, they are respectively winning 46 and 54 percent of their opponent’s service games – both of which are outrageously high figures for the men’s tour.

The only other man lighting up the leaderboards after week one is an unexpected name: Chile’s Nicolas Jarry, who is due to play last year’s runner-up Casper Ruud on Monday. Having played three rounds, the 6ft 6in Jarry has dropped serve only three times – an intriguing anomaly at an event where most male players are broken at least once per set.

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Dissatisfied Max Verstappen speaks of a ‘bad day’ and is disappointed with Lewis Hamilton

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Dissatisfied Max Verstappen speaks of a ‘bad day’ and is disappointed with Lewis Hamilton

Max Verstappen did not get further than the seventh fastest time during the second training for the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix, after setting the fifth fastest time in the first session in Imola. Charles Leclerc was again the fastest.

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Verstappen stated at the start of the second, Friday session that his RB20 already felt a lot better than in the first training. Yet he rode ‘only’ the seventh fastest time.

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Two last attempts to set a fast time on the soft tire came to nothing. After Verstappen had already been affected by traffic during attempt one, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton then got in his way. Verstappen was clearly not happy with that and made this known in words and gestures. Hamilton immediately apologized and said to his engineer over the on-board radio that he would have liked to have received a warning that Verstappen was approaching him. Leclerc and Verstappen’s teammate Pérez also had a fight later in the session following a similar incident.

Verstappen: ‘So it happened again’
“That is not the first time that this has happened,” Verstappen said at the time with Hamilton. “You always try to remain calm, but it happened again. At the same time, I don’t want to talk about it too much because that wasn’t our problem today. We didn’t have the speed and we have to solve that. It was difficult to find the right balance, I didn’t feel comfortable in the car and it was very easy to ‘lose’ the car. Today was just bad. There are really things we need to improve to be competitive tomorrow.”

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Ferrari driver Leclerc lapped in 1.15.906, making him just under two-tenths of a second faster than Oscar Piastri (McLaren). Behind this followed the surprising Yuki Tsunoda, Hamilton, George Russell, Carlos Sainz and only then Pérez. Verstappen was half a second slower than Leclerc in that fastest lap, Pérez added an extra tenth.

Racing simulation also did not go entirely according to Max Verstappen’s plan
In the final phase, the drivers all focused on the long run with a view to Sunday’s race. That race simulation also did not go entirely according to plan for Verstappen, who shot straight again. Although the lap times of almost all drivers fluctuated back and forth during those long runs.

“The long run was also very bad,” Verstappen was clear. “Do I have confidence that things will get better tomorrow? It can hardly be worse than today. It seems that others have taken a step forward and for us it was not a good day.”

Verstappen also searching during the opening session in Imola
Verstappen was also dissatisfied during the first free practice, earlier in the day. He expressed his dissatisfaction over the on-board radio. The three-time world champion did not get further than fifth place in the opening session.

Apart from the Racing Bulls, all teams brought quite a few updates to Imola, which were extensively tested during the first session of the weekend.

Although Verstappen drove the fastest times in the first and third sectors, he lost a lot of time in the middle part. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) was ultimately fastest for the Italian public: 1.16.990.

Sergio Perez and Verstappen more than two tenths slower than Leclerc
Mercedes driver George Russell conceded a tenth to Leclerc’s time at the beginning of the afternoon, followed shortly afterwards by his teammate Carlos Sainz. Red Bull drivers Sergio Pérez and Verstappen were more than two-tenths slower than Leclerc.

With about six minutes left on the clock, Verstappen was making an improvement, but he shot straight ahead. That happened again in the final minute, without serious consequences. He was therefore unable to complete an ideal lap at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari. Red Bull has also introduced a major update in Imola, just like Ferrari and Mercedes. McLaren already did that two weeks ago in Miami. The winner there, Lando Norris, rode the eighth fastest time during the first training.

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“It’s Getting Hotter”: Chase Elliott Refuses to See Eye to Eye With Dale Jr and His Suggestion

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“It’s Getting Hotter”: Chase Elliott Refuses to See Eye to Eye With Dale Jr

It’s no secret that Chase Elliott is one of the most dominant active drivers on short tracks. Throughout his career, the #9 Hendrick Motorsports driver has brought in more than a handful of top fives and even wins at tracks like Martinsville. That being said, NASCAR and Goodyear’s short-track tire package dilemma has seen that notion change. With the rise to rumors of a short track losing a date in favor of a venue like Mexico, Dale Earnhardt Jr shared the prospect that NASCAR is making way for more intermediate racing.

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However, not every stakeholder believes this is the right direction to head in. Despite Chase Elliott’s drawbacks at short tracks lately, the HMS driver believes that the answer to NASCAR’s dilemma isn’t moving away from the problem.

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Instead of increasing the focus on intermediate tracks, Elliott believes the sport shouldn’t over-saturate type of racetrack.

Alongside Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr has been one of the strongest advocates for short-track racing. But with the new packages failing to make good on their promises, Junior interpreted recent rumors of Richmond losing a day as NASCAR altogether shifting away from the format slowly. But Chase Elliott believes this gives rise to an alarming pattern.

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The HMS driver believes that choosing to exploit the quality of certain tracks may end up backfiring in the long run. He shared with media ahead of the All-Star Race, “The races at the mile-and-a-half stuff has been really good. But I don’t think that’s always a reason to get more of them. I always feel like less is more. The Bristol Night race is the perfect example of less is more because you go there once a year, it’s super exciting, everybody loves a Bristol Night race, and it’s because it only happens one time a year, it makes it special.”

Adding to his argument, Elliott also highlighted how road-course racing seemed to lose its charm as of late. Compared to when there were only two events on the calendar, the frequent visits to road courses had diluted its exclusivity. Elliott shared, “I just think that that the more you do that and you lean in one direction and add more more more, you can easily make things that are exciting stale really quickly. So I think we just need to be careful not to do that.”

Going over better solutions, Elliott felt that making the Next-Gen car more suited to tackle the short-track dilemma would benefit the sport more. Not only would the calendar retain diversity in the type of tracks, but it would also allow each weekend to have its unique charm. The HMS driver concluded, “I would rather see a better product on the short-track stuff than take them away. I don’t think they’re taking them away, but I would hate to see a movement away from that, just because it’s an important part of our sport.”

It’s safe to say Chase Elliott is eager to protect short tracks from taking a hit on the Cup Series calendar. Speaking of which, the #9 HMS could prove his point further with his return to another glorious short track, this time in a late-model car.

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NASCAR War and Fame: Dale Earnhardt Jr Exposes the Consequences of Denny Hamlin

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NASCAR War and Fame: Dale Earnhardt Jr Exposes the Consequences of Denny Hamlin

When Denny Hamlin created 23XI, he already had his plate full. Facing a 36-race Cup schedule and curating a weekly podcast was bound to take a toll on him. But Hamlin had a simple answer for the media when they were curious about why he does it all. He said, “It’s what I love to do.”

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And even while managing three avenues: running a business, driving, and talking about motorsport, Hamlin fetches Cup wins every other weekend nowadays. The hectic life that he chooses to live as NASCAR’s foremost speaker is one not many can persevere and maintain. Dale Earnhardt Jr, another podcast owner like Hamlin, sheds light on this as he dissects Hamlin’s busy schedule.

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Denny Hamlin’s upbringing was imbued with discipline and hard work. His parents went all-out to support his racing career, as they incurred debt and sold their classic cars so that he could get in a race car. But Dennis Lou, Hamlin’s father, was adamant about a work ethic. “I’m not going out there and working on your race car for you. If you want to do it, you go out there, you learn it — and then when you wreck it, you have to figure out how to get it back to the racetrack.”

That work ethic reflects on all the hectic projects that Hamlin diligently sees through. In a recent interview with Rubbin is Racing, Dale Earnhardt Jr emphasized as much while hailing his podcast rival. “Denny is up for it…Denny’s got a personality and he’s in it…racing, and this is his life…He has his hand in every cookie jar, right. He’s a driver, he’s a car owner, he’s in the podcasting…Certainly, his takes on his show get a ton of attention. He flexes that muscle on all those fronts.”

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Hamlin may be sturdy enough to handle all these duties, but other veteran drivers are unwilling to go through that stress. Dale Earnhardt Jr shed light on this aspect: “So that can be really exhausting. And I think some drivers are like, ‘You know, I don’t feel like doing all that. I’m busy enough, I’m content.’”

Balancing racing life with family life and juggling podcast sessions and ownership duties requires you to have a steady mindset. And Denny Hamlin’s unique opinion of his life helps him. “I live in chaos. My life is chaos, and I thrive under chaos… The more (crap) that is stirred up around me, the more I come at it.”

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