Rafael Nadal fended off Kei Nishikori to reach the quarter-finals of the Barcelona Open along with the in-form Stefanos Tsitsipas on Thursday.

Top seed Nadal secured an opening-set bagel in just 30 minutes, but Nishikori hit back to force a decider before the 20-time grand slam champion prevailed 6-0 2-6 6-2.

Nishikori hit only three winners as he was blown away in the first set, but broke twice in the second to ensure Nadal was taken to three sets in back-to-back matches for the first time in this tournament – having overcome Ilya Ivashka in the second round.

The world number three saved three break points from 0-40 down in the final set and Nishikori saw another two come and go, with a more clinical Nadal breaking twice to advance.

Nadal will now face unseeded Brit Cameron Norrie, who also won the first set 6-0 and was 5-3 down to David Goffin in the second when the Belgian retired due to a leg injury.

Newly-crowned Monte Carlo Masters champion Tsitsipas defeated Alex de Minaur 7-5 6-3, stretching his straight-sets winning streak to seven matches.

Next up for the second seed is a meeting with Felix Auger-Aliassime, who beat fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov 6-2 6-3, while Jannik Sinner beat Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6 (11-9) 6-2.

Andrey Rublev, Diego Schwartzman and Pablo Carreno Busta also made it through.

Two seeds fell in the Serbia Open, with Federico Delbonis taking out Dusan Lajovic 6-3 2-6 6-4 and Taro Daniel defeating John Millman 3-6 6-2 6-3.

Gianluca Mager moved into the quarter-finals at the expense of Alexei Popyrin and Aslan Karatsev battled past Aljaz Bedene 6-3 4-6 7-6 (7-5) in Belgrade.

Novak Djokovic thought he was "pretty flawless" in his first match of the Serbia Open, but Rafael Nadal was given a scare in his clash with qualifier Ilya Ivashka at the Barcelona Open.

World number one Djokovic suffered a shock third-round exit to Dan Evans at the Monte Carlo Masters last week but ruthlessly dispatched Kwon Soon-woo 6-1 6-3 in his home city of Belgrade.

Djokovic broke his opponent five times to set up a meeting with eighth seed and fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic, who battled past qualifier Arthur Rinderknech in three sets, in the quarter-finals.

"I thought it was a pretty flawless performance," Djokovic said. "I moved well, I was mixing up the pace quite well, making him play. I served well in the important moments, [and] overall I just felt great."

On playing in front of his family and friends, the two-time Serbia Open champion added: "It gives you an extra push, an extra motivation, energy to really give your best and leave it all out on the court.

"I think also that made me feel comfortable and confident on the court and I played really good. I'm really pleased with the quality of tennis."

Second seed Matteo Berrettini defeated fellow Italian Marco Cecchinato 6-4 6-3 and will face either Filip Krajinovic or Nikola Milojevic in the last eight of the clay-court tournament.

Over in Barcelona, Nadal – an 11-time champion at the event – was out to make a statement after a rare defeat on the dirt to Andrey Rublev in Monte Carlo.

But the 'King of Clay' needed two hours and 20 minutes to fight back against the unheralded Ivashka 3-6 6-2 6-4 to reach the round of 16, where he will face Kei Nishikori. Nadal is now 62-4 at a tournament where he once won 41 straight matches.

Second seed and Monte Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas hammered Jaume Munar 6-0 6-2, while third seed Rublev - runner-up to the Greek on Sunday - joined Pablo Carreno Busta (6) and Alex De Minaur (14) in making it through.

Evans was unable to follow up his run in Monte Carlo with the 16th seed beaten by Corentin Moutet in a lengthy three-setter, while Fabio Fognini (9) was defaulted for unsportsmanlike conduct after verbally abusing a line official when trailing 6-4 4-4 to Spanish qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles.

Rafael Nadal was dumped out of the Monte Carlo Masters as Andrey Rublev completed a superb 6-2 4-6 6-2 victory in their quarter-final clash.

Nadal went into the meeting with a 73-5 record at the event but Russian Rublev was in inspired form to stun his Spanish opponent.

The 11-time champion looked set to complete a trademark comeback after taking a 74-minute second set, yet Rublev held firm in the decider to claim a memorable victory after two hours and 33 minutes on court.

"I cannot imagine being in the situation of Rafa, knowing that you are the best player on clay and you have that pressure every time," Rublev said, according to the ATP Tour website.

"I think for him it must be incredibly tough every time. I am in shock [with] the way he is playing under this pressure and that is why he is a legend."

Rublev will face Casper Ruud in Saturday's semi-final after he overcame defending champion Fabio Fognini 6-4 6-3.

Dan Evans followed up his superb victory over Novak Djokovic on Thursday with a slender win over David Goffin to reach his first Masters 1000 semi-final.

World number 33 Evans, who had come into the tournament having lost his previous 10 matches on clay, overcame Goffin 5-7 6-3 6-4 in two hours and 42 minutes.

"I am proud of how I came back today, especially with what happened in the first set," he said after the match.

"I felt my concentration wasn't great and I am really happy with coming through. Yesterday would not have been worth it with a bad performance today."

Evans will face Stefanos Tsitsipas, who progressed when opponent Alejandro Davidovich Fokina retired injured in their quarter-final.

Spaniard Davidovich Fokina did not return for the second set after earlier receiving treatment during the first, which Tsitsipas won 7-5.

Novak Djokovic admitted he played an "awful" match against Dan Evans at the Monte Carlo Masters as Rafael Nadal advanced with ease to the quarter-finals.

World number one Djokovic, playing in his first tournament since winning a ninth Australian Open in February, suffered his first defeat of 2021 on Thursday.

Evans, who had never before reached the last eight of a Masters 1000 tournament, won 6-4 7-5 with a performance that belied his relative lack of success on clay.

The 30-year-old Briton will now meet David Goffin, who surprised fifth seed Alexander Zverev 6-4 7-6 (9-7).

"To be honest, this has been probably one of the worst matches and performances from my side I can recall in the last years," said Djokovic. "I don't want to take anything away from his win, but from my side, I just felt awful on the court overall. Just nothing worked. It's one of those days."

Saying he felt "completely the opposite" to Wednesday's win over Jannik Sinner, Djokovic added: "Just was obviously very, very windy, tough to play in these kinds of conditions against a guy like Evans who makes you move. He's very unpredictable with his shots. He dismantled my game."

Eleven-time Monte Carlo champion Nadal had no such problems in his match as he dismissed Grigor Dimitrov 6-1 6-1 in 55 minutes.

Nadal, who boasts a 14-1 career record against the Bulgarian, did not face a break point in either set against his off-colour opponent.

Dimitrov started the match with three double faults in his opening service game and was 4-0 down in each set.

"[I am] sorry for him. He played a bad match. That is the truth," said Spaniard Nadal. "He made a lot of mistakes. I was there. I was doing the right thing, but it is true that today was more his fault than my good tennis."

Nadal will face Andrey Rublev after the Russian battled past Roberto Bautista-Agut 7-6 (7-2) 5-7 6-3.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Cristian Garin 6-3 6-4, will face Alejandro Davidovich Fokina next, while Fabio Fognini's straight-sets win over Filip Krajinovic set up a meeting with Casper Ruud.

Rafael Nadal's bid to win a 12th Monte Carlo Masters title got off to an emphatic start as the Spaniard swept Federico Delbonis aside after Novak Djokovic had also booked his passage to the third round.

Nadal, 34, has won the competition more times than anyone else in its history and looked in good shape as he returned to the court for the first time since losing to Stefano Tsitsipas in the Australian Open quarter-finals on February 17.

He needed just 81 minutes to get past the Argentinian qualifier 6-1 6-2 as he improved his record in the tournament to 72-5, breaking Delbonis' serve five times and only dropping his own once.

He is not getting carried away, however, with Grigor Dimitrov likely to provide a sterner test in the next round after beating Jeremy Chardy 7-6 (7-3) 6-4.

"It was solid match, I think. Of course, a very positive result. He's a good player on clay. [It was a] positive start for me," Nadal said in his post-match interview.

"I think I just really played a solid match. Nothing unbelievable, but nothing wrong. Just a solid match, a positive start. I think I did what I had to do."

On Dimitrov, Nadal added: "We've had some great matches. In Melbourne, of course... we played another great match in Beijing, another one in Shanghai. He's a good friend, a good guy, and a great player. It's going to be a tough test in my second round.

"It's going to be his third. I need to be ready for it. I hope to be ready for it. I am just excited to play a tough match very early in the tournament."

A little earlier in the day, world number one Djokovic was in a similarly unforgiving mood as he overcame the potentially tricky obstacle of Jannik Sinner, the Serbian and two-time Monte Carlo champion winning 6-4 6-2.

Like Nadal, Djokovic was back in action for the first time since the Australian Open – which he won – and appeared fresh as he gave the promising young Italian something of a lesson in game management, reaching 10 matches unbeaten at the start of a season for the sixth time.

"It feels great [to be back and] also playing in Monaco, where I reside," Djokovic said. "I have used this club as a training base for almost 15 years, so it feels like playing at home."

Despite the rather commanding nature of his win, Djokovic was keen to pay tribute to the 19-year-old Sinner, adding: "It was a very good encounter. I thought it was a great first match [and] a big challenge for me. Jannik is in form. He played the final [in] Miami and has been playing well. I just hung in there today and managed to find the right shots and the right game at the right time.

"He has got a lot of talent and he has proven that he is the future of our sport. Actually, he is already the present of our sport. He played a final [in an] ATP Masters 1000 [tournament] already. He is making big strides in professional tennis."

Dan Evans awaits Djokovic after an impressive 6-4 6-1 win over Miami champion Hubert Hurkacz, while Alexander Zverez and Andrey Rublev – the fifth and sixth seeds – moved into the next round with respective straight-set victories over Lorenzo Sonego and Salvatore Caruso.

There were mixed fortunes for the other two top-10 seeds in action on Wednesday, as Pablo Carreno-Busta defeated Karen Khachanov 6-2 6-3, but Diego Schwartzman was sent packing by Casper Ruud, the Norwegian winning 6-3 6-3.

Novak Djokovic will tackle teenage rising star Jannik Sinner for the first time in a tantalising clash of tennis generations on Wednesday at the Monte Carlo Masters.

World number one Djokovic is returning to action this week, having taken time away from the tour since banking an 18th grand slam title by winning the Australian Open in February.

He received a first-round bye, but waiting for him in the last 32 is Sinner, who on Tuesday saw off 2017 Monte Carlo runner-up Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3 6-4, again illustrating the 19-year-old Italian's great potential.

World number 22 Sinner is the only teenager ranked inside the top 80 in the men's game and is coming off his first run to a Masters final, at the Miami Open.

The switch from hard courts to clay is one that Sinner is having to deal with, and seeing off a specialist on the surface in round one represents an impressive start, although facing two-time former champion Djokovic will be a step up.

"It's always good for me to see what I can do on clay," Sinner said, quoted on the ATP website. "Obviously, I am not in the best form on clay now for the first week.

"But I think today was a solid match from my side. It was not easy. He's not giving [away] one point, so you have to stay there the whole match. I think I played a good match from my side."

Greek fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the last 16 with a 6-3 6-4 win over Russian Aslan Karatsev, but there was disappointment at the same stage for Italian eighth seed Matteo Berrettini, beaten 7-5 6-3 by Spain's Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Those were the only second-round matches of the day.

Surprise Miami champion Hubert Hurkacz made a winning start, battling to a 6-3 3-6 6-3 first-round success against Italian qualifier Thomas Fabbiano to reach round two.

Roberto Bautista Agut, Grigor Dimitrov, Pablo Carreno Busta and Fabio Fognini each booked places in round two thanks to straight-sets wins.

Qualifier Federico Delbonis was a 7-5 6-1 victor over France's Adrian Mannarino, meaning the Argentinian faces the ultimate test in clay-court tennis next, a tussle with Rafael Nadal, the 11-time former champion in Monte Carlo.

Nadal has won all four of their previous matches, and their fifth encounter will immediately follow the Djokovic-Sinner match on Wednesday.

World number one Novak Djokovic has joined Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in deciding not to play at the Miami Open, which begins next week.

The Masters 1000 tournament has not been its usual big draw for the leading men this year, and Djokovic becomes the latest high-profile withdrawal.

The 33-year-old Serbian announced he would enjoy some family time rather than travel to the United States, citing the need for balance in his life as coronavirus restrictions affect globe-trotting sports stars.

Miami's total prize fund is said to have been cut from $16.7million in 2019, the last time it was held, to $6.68m this year.

That drastic reduction, reported by the Tennis Majors website, may or may not have been a partial factor in the withdrawals that have dented the top-tier quality in the men's side of the tournament.

The women's event looks like being a full-strength field, while new world number two Daniil Medvedev is set to be the men's top seed, providing he makes the trip.

Djokovic wrote on Twitter: "Dear fans, I'm very sorry to announce that this year I won't travel to Miami to compete.

"I decided to use this precious time at home to stay with my family. With all restrictions, I need to find balance in my time on tour and at home. I look forward to coming back next year!"

Nadal has been bothered by a back problem and cited it earlier this week as the reason for his withdrawal, as he looks to recover full fitness in time for the clay-court season and a crack at winning a 14th French Open title.

The Spaniard's great rival Federer, a fellow 20-time grand slam winner, has only just returned from a year away from the tour after knee surgery, and beat Dan Evans in his first match back at the Qatar Open before losing to Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Federer then elected not to play in Dubai and will not be in Miami, where he is the men's reigning champion, having taken the 2019 title. The 2020 tournament was cancelled because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from the Miami Open as he bids to recover full fitness in time for the European clay season.

The 20-time grand slam singles champion has not played since losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in February.

Nadal pulled out of the Rotterdam Open and turned down a wildcard for the Dubai Tennis Championships due to a persistent back problem.

The world number three, who has never won the title in Miami, wants to prioritise his recovery ahead of the beginning of the clay-court swing in April.

Writing on Twitter on Tuesday, he said: "Sad to announce that I won't be playing in Miami, a city that I love.

"I need to fully recover and get ready for the clay-court season in Europe. Special message to my fans in the US and in particular to the great Spanish-speaking community FL who always give me a great support!"

Nadal follows long-time rival Roger Federer in withdrawing from the tournament, the Swiss great choosing to focus on training after only returning to the Tour from a 14-month absence at the Qatar Open.

Federer is the reigning champion in Miami, having beaten 2018 winner John Isner in the final two years ago. The 2020 tournament was cancelled due to coronavirus concerns.

Rafael Nadal has turned down a wildcard invitation to compete in next week's Dubai Tennis Championships as he does not feel ready to return to action.

The world number two has been struggling with a lower back injury sustained prior to the Australian Open, which he exited in the quarter-finals at the hands of Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Nadal has not competed since, having subsequently pulled out of the ATP Cup and Rotterdam Open after being advised to give his back time to heal.

And the 20-time grand slam winner will delay his return for a little while longer after deciding to skip the upcoming ATP 500 event in Dubai.

"I would like to thank the @DDFTennis for the wild card invitation sent to me," Nadal posted on his Twitter page on Thursday. 

"We seriously thought about coming to play, but I don't think I am ready to play yet. Once again thanks to the tournament's kind invitation and best of luck with the tournament."

The Spaniard added in a later tweet: "And special thanks to Tournament Director Salah Talak since I am aware of his efforts to ensure a smooth arrival to play Dubai during this unprecedented Coronavirus pandemic and difficult times for all."

Nadal won his only Dubai Tennis Championships title in 2006 with victory over Roger Federer – the competition's record eight-time winner – in the final.

Federer is scheduled to take part in this year's tournament after making his long-awaiting return from a 14-month injury lay-off at the Qatar Open this week.

Novak Djokovic made history after breaking Roger Federer's record for most weeks as world number one on the ATP Tour.

Djokovic surpassed Federer after beginning his 311th week as the number one player in the men's rankings on Monday.

Serbian star Djokovic reclaimed the top ranking from fellow superstar Rafael Nadal in February 2020 and finished as year-ending number one for the sixth time – tying the mark set by Pete Sampras.

Djokovic, who first topped the men's rankings in July 2011, went on to celebrate a record-extending ninth Australian Open title at Melbourne Park in February.

With Federer turning 40 in August and Nadal a year older, the 33-year-old Djokovic has time on his side in pursuit of more history.

Djokovic has won 18 grand slams, two adrift of Federer – who is set to make his long-awaited ATP comeback in Qatar this week – and Nadal.

"I think it's an ultimate challenge to be honest, of course, winning a slam and being in history, the longest-ever number one," Djokovic said in Melbourne last month.

"You can have a great grand slam, a great tournament, a great couple of months, or even a great season but to do it over and over again, to be actually contender for historic number one, you need to play well and have a consistency from January to November, ever single year.

"I've been fortunate to do that and put myself in a position to make history in that regard. I'm very, very proud of that and privileged to be in that position.

"It's also a relief because it has been definitely my main goal, other than winning slams and now that I'll be managing to achieve it, I'll focus myself more on slams and adapt my calendar and schedule because when you're going for number one, you have to play all year and you have to play all the biggest tournaments.

"You can't allow someone else to earn more points than you. It's like a constant pressure, I think, and expectations that you have to deal with. It's definitely fulfilling to achieve that."

Federer now sits sixth in the rankings, having not played competitively since the 2020 Australian Open.

Nadal remains second, though he is set to be leapfrogged by Australian Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev in the next rankings release on March 15.

Russian Medvedev will be the first player, other than Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray, ranked in the top two since July 2005.

Daniil Medvedev will climb to number two in the ATP rankings later this month, with his small step signalling that big change is afoot in the men's game.

The leading two positions have been occupied by a combination of the 'Big Four' ever since Rafael Nadal climbed above Lleyton Hewitt to take second place on the ladder on July 25, 2005.

Nadal, Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have all had spells at number one in the years since then, and no other player has had a look-in on those leading two positions.

Within days, however, that is about to change, as the younger generation of players gains a first foothold in the top two.

The ATP, which runs the men's game, said on Saturday that 25-year-old Medvedev is certain to nudge up one place from his current position of world number three when the rankings, are published on March 15.

The Russian is currently on 9,735 points, 115 points behind Nadal, and he has a first-round bye at the Open 13 Marseille next week.

The ATP, tweeted: "With the release of next week's @atptour draws, @DaniilMedwed is confirmed to become World No. 2 in @FedEx ATP Rankings on 15 March. Medvedev will be the 1st player in the Top 2 since 25 July 2005 other than the Big 4 of @DjokerNole, @RafaelNadal, @rogerfederer and @andy_murray."

Medvedev, who won the ATP World Tour Finals title in November and reached the Australian Open final last month, missed an early chance this week to move ahead of Nadal when he lost in the first round of the Rotterdam Open.

Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from the Rotterdam Open after being advised to give his troublesome back problem time to heal.

The world number two was scheduled to represent Spain in next week's tournament at Rotterdam Ahoy but has been replaced by Reilly Opelka of the United States.

Twenty-time grand slam winner Nadal has been struggling with a lower back injury and was also forced to pull out of Spain's ATP Cup ties this month.

The 34-year-old was cleared to take part in the Australian Open, where he did not drop a set before losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals.

However, Nadal has still not fully recovered from the issue and will now miss another event.

Organisers of the ATP 500 tournament confirmed the news on Thursday and Nadal later took to Twitter to explain the decision.

"It is with great sadness that I have to forfeit from Rotterdam," he said. "As most of the fans know, I suffered some back problems in Australia that started in Adelaide and continued during Melbourne. 

"We found a temporary solution that allowed me to play without pain in the second week of the tournament. Once I got back to Spain I visited my doctor and together with my team they've advised not to play this upcoming week. 

"I was really looking forward to coming back to Rotterdam and The Netherlands since it's been a while I played there this was the perfect year for my calendar. 

"I hope to come back and play there soon. All the best to the tournament, always a top-class event."

World number three Daniil Medvedev will replace Nadal as the top seed in the Rotterdam tournament, which runs from March 1-7.

Roger Federer would have the perfect moment to bow out of tennis if he lands a ninth Wimbledon title this year, according to former SW19 hero Michael Stich.

Swiss great Federer has not played on tour for over a year after undergoing knee surgery twice, and Rafael Nadal has matched his tally of grand slam titles during that time.

By winning at the delayed French Open last year, Nadal joined Federer on a record 20 slam titles, with Novak Djokovic just two behind that pair after his Australian Open triumph last week.

At the age of 39, Federer is on the comeback trail and planning to play tournaments in Doha and Dubai in March, building up to Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics, key goals for what might prove to be his final season on tour.

"It is clear that at some point he will stop," Stich, the 1991 Wimbledon champion, told Stats Perform News.

"Many would have thought that already five years ago. We have no influence on that. I would wish for him to win Wimbledon and say after the final: 'You know what, I had a sick time, I'll stop.'

"There couldn't be anything better and that would give so much to the sport."

Stich believes it is "questionable" whether Federer will be capable of success on that scale, but he sees Wimbledon as his greatest opportunity.

"You should never write him off because he is a player who has a gifted set of skills that help him to still play tennis that good at his age," Stich said.

"He may have the problem that the younger generation no longer has this huge respect for him because he was out for a year. The mental side plays a big role there.

"But especially at Wimbledon he is certainly still a candidate for the title, because there he has this mental strength, because there he has the greatest joy.

"The nice thing is that everyone is looking forward to his comeback and wants to see what happens. He has nothing to lose. He doesn't have to prove anything to himself, he doesn't have to prove anything to the fans out there. He's really doing it because he thinks he can still win titles."

With Nadal and Djokovic winning the last two majors, the prospect of Dominic Thiem's US Open win last September triggering a sea change in the men's game has fallen away.

According to Stich, the likes of Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev cannot just wait for the old guard to make way and must instead find a way to disrupt their dominance.

"As a spectator and fan, I naturally wish that the passing of the torch would still happen during the active time of the 'Big Three'," Stich said.

"It's the big goal of all young players that they would like to beat a Roger Federer, a Novak Djokovic, and a Rafael Nadal in a grand slam final. An Andy Murray and a Juan Martin del Potro did it. The only two in what felt like 20 years, and Stan Wawrinka, who is not to be forgotten with three titles.

"It's up to the young generation now and they are no longer 19. They are all 22, 23, 26. Dominic Thiem achieved it at the US Open. One would of course wish that they actively shape this transition, but that is looking into the future."

Stich says he has "no idea when that will happen", but he believes there will be another great generation that emerges, just as tennis moved on from the golden era of Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, and latterly the days when Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi dominated.

"We have a generation in which three players shaped this period extremely," Stich said. "Now is a chance for the others to step into the spotlight. The next generation will follow in their footsteps. I'm not worried about that."

Robert Lewandowski heads a stellar list of nominees for the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year Award after a golden 12 months for Bayern Munich.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James, Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton and tennis great Rafael Nadal are also in contention. Joshua Cheptegei and Armand Duplantis complete the male nominees.

Poland striker Lewandowski enjoyed a memorable 2020 for the German giants, with his impeccable performances helping Bayern to a Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal and Champions League treble. 

Across the top-five European leagues, no player could match Lewandowski's 45 goals scored in all competitions from January 1 to December 31 with Cristiano Ronaldo his nearest rival on 41.

In that 12-month period, only Barcelona great Lionel Messi (115) and Juventus superstar Ronaldo (85) registered more shots on target than Lewandowski's 83, while a shot-conversion rate of 34.09 was the fifth highest among players to score at least 20.

Reflecting his all-round contribution, Lewandowski recorded 12 assists in the calendar year, with team-mate Thomas Muller leading the way on an impressive 21. 

Unsurprisingly, Lewandowski won a fifth Torjagerkanone (awarded to the Bundesliga's top scorer) overall and a third in a row thanks to 34 Bundesliga goals in 2019-20, higher than an expected goals rate of 26.9. His 15 goals in the Champions League were also a competition high.

 

In a stacked deck, James is included after a year that saw him win a fourth career NBA title and first with the Lakers, while he also claimed a fourth Finals MVP award.

Across six games in the Lakers' 4-2 triumph over the Miami Heat, James averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists, while he shot 59.1 per cent from the field and drained 41.7 per cent of three-point attempts.

Mercedes driver Hamilton won a seventh F1 drivers' title in 2020 to match the overall record of the legendary Michael Schumacher.

During another sensational season, the Briton reached 95 career race wins, which surpasses the previous benchmark of 91 set by Schumacher.

In a calendar year disrupted heavily by the coronavirus pandemic, Nadal still had personal reason to celebrate after winning a record-extending 13th French Open title.

His triumph at Roland Garros means he now stands alongside Roger Federer on 20 grand slams – the most achieved in the men's game.

Uganda's Cheptegei broke both 5,000 and 10,000 metres world records in 2020, while Duplantis of Sweden broke the indoor and outdoor pole vault record.

Tennis' global superstar Naomi Osaka is nominated for the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Award.

The Japanese was champion at the US Open in 2020, which took her career slam tally to three. She recently made that four by winning the first major of 2021 at the Australian Open.

Lyon captain Wendie Renard is in contention after helping her team to a fifth straight Women's Champions League title, while WNBA Finals MVP award winner Breanna Stewart is included after guiding the Seattle Storm to championship glory.

Cyclist Anna van der Breggen – who won both the road race and time trial at the World Championships – is up for the prize, as is skier Federica Brignone, the first Italian woman to win the overall World Cup.

Kenya's Brigid Kosgei completes the women's nominees after winning the rescheduled London Marathon by more than three minutes.

Bayern, the Lakers and Mercedes are all up for the World Team of the Year Award, as are Liverpool, who won a first English top-flight title in 30 years.

The Kansas City Chiefs make the list after winning a first Super Bowl since 1970, while Argentina's men's rugby team are nominated after earning a first ever win over three-time world champions New Zealand.

Patrick Mahomes' role in the Chiefs Super Bowl win earned him a nomination for the World Breakthrough of the Year Award, with Iga Swiatek up for the prize after winning the women's singles at the French Open aged 19, the youngest slam winner since 1990.

MotoGP world champion Joan Mir, Tour de France victor Tadej Pogacar, US Open male champion Dominic Thiem and prodigious Barcelona talent Ansu Fati complete that category.

Rafael Nadal insists he was not struggling with injury as he crashed out of the Australian Open but acknowledged a lack of match practice could have contributed to his quarter-final collapse against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The 20-time grand slam champion was dealing with a back issue at the start of the tournament, although he managed to advance to the last eight without dropping a set.

That impressive run appeared set to continue as Nadal won the opening two sets against fifth seed Tsitsipas, only for the match to turn on its head after a tie-break in the third

Tsitsipas emerged a 3-6 2-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 7-5 winner after just over four hours, becoming only the second player – after Fabio Fognini – to triumph from two sets down against Nadal at a major.

Post-match questions put to Nadal predictably centred on the potential impact of his back woe, but he insisted there was no physical pain on Wednesday.

However, reflecting on "just another story in my tennis career", the Spaniard repeatedly referred to the difficulty of preparing for a tournament amid such problems.

"I think I was in great condition before here," he said. "Then I've been a bit unfortunate for what happened for 20 days, and then I fight back to play, I think, decent tennis.

"Today wasn't enough. It was close, just that's tennis. That's all. That's the sport. One player wins; the other loses.

"Today I lost, so the only thing that I can do is try to be better next time, and today congratulate him."

Claiming the key was instead two costly mini-breaks in the breaker, Nadal added: "I am not complaining much.

"I think physically, it has been a very humid day out there. Physically I was not fantastic but not bad, you know? I was able to fight until the end, and that's it.

"The whole issue is I missed an easy smash at the beginning of the third, an easy forehand with 2-1 in the tie-break, and then another smash in that tie-break.

"That tie-break I made a couple of mistakes that I can't make to win the match. He played well then later. Well done."

Nadal was chasing a record-breaking 21st major championship, yet only one of those triumphs has come in Melbourne – back in 2009.

The 34-year-old has lost four finals, as well as regularly dealing with injury concerns at the first slam of the season.

But asked if he felt "cursed", he responded firmly: "No. No, no, no. That's sport. Sometimes things go well; other times things goes worse.

"Unfortunately for me, in this tournament, I had more injuries than in the others. Then matches that you lose like today against one of the best players of the world is something that happens.

"No, no, no. Not at all feeling unlucky for me and not at all complaining about my luck here in Australia.

"Everyone has what we deserve. Tennis isn't a sport that is fair. I have what I deserved in my career, and over here in Australia I had chances, but I was not able to convert it. That's all. I didn't deserve more."

Use of the word "unlucky" brought a similar response, as Nadal insisted he was not looking for excuses.

"We can find excuses or reasons or maybe this quarantine that we need to be more time in the room than usual, yes, maybe," he said. "But I am not the guy that is going to find excuses on that or going to complain about what happened, no.

"Just accept. I never considered myself an unlucky person at all. It doesn't matter the injuries that I had. I think I am very lucky person.

"The only thing that I can do is just keep going. I put myself in a position, even with the challenges that I faced, that I was in quarter-finals with two sets up, close to being in the semi-finals.

"So, it has been a chance lost, yes, but life continues. I hope to keep having chances. Well, I'm going to keep fighting for it."

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