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Djokovic gets a 2nd free pass at US Open when Youzhny quits

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NEW YORK —¬†Thanks to injuries to two opponents, Novak Djokovic did not exactly need to put in much work to reach the U.S. Open’s fourth round for the 10th consecutive year.

So it made sense that the defending champion and No. 1 seed would spend some extra time practicing in Arthur Ashe Stadium under the watchful eye of coach Boris Becker on Friday after spending a grand total of 31 minutes of match time on court over the second and third rounds.

“I don’t think I ever had this kind of situation in my career,” Djokovic said.

Yes, Djokovic got another free pass at Flushing Meadows, advancing this time when Mikhail Youzhny stopped because of a strained left hamstring while trailing 4-2 after a little more than a half-hour of play.

Youzhny received treatment from a trainer early on, getting his left leg wrapped, but briefly tried to continue. After holding serve in the sixth game, closing it with an overhead putaway up at the net, the Russian – a semifinalist in New York in 2006 and 2010, and a former top-10 player now ranked 61st – shook his head and told the chair umpire he couldn’t keep going.

“Obviously, I wish Mischa a speedy recovery,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview in Ashe. “He carried an injury into this match, that’s what he said.”

Djokovic did not play at all on Wednesday, when the man he was supposed to face in the second round, Jiri Vesely, withdrew from the tournament a couple of hours before that match because of inflammation in his left forearm.

“There’s plenty of things to work on. That’s the beauty of sport: Every day is different. The challenge is every day you feel different on the court. I work more or less on every aspect of my game,” Djokovic said.

“The first week of a Grand Slam, obviously, things are not 100 percent, so you are getting a way through the tournament. I didn’t get too much of match play,” Djokovic said. “I’ll try to get on the practice court once more.”

And that he did, changing out of his white collared match shirt into a gray T-shirt and getting in some training. As Becker stood nearby, tossing over tennis balls, Djokovic hit serve after serve. Then he hit return after return of serves from a practice partner.

A few hundred fans remained in the stands at Ashe, enjoying that rare chance for an up-close look at a man who has won 12 Grand Slam titles, including two at the U.S. Open and two this year. Plenty of cellphone photos were taken.

In Djokovic’s first-round victory way back on Monday, he experienced problems with his right arm. He was massaged by a trainer after only five games, then repeatedly shook that arm or flexed his elbow and grimaced following serves, even the ones that were far slower than he usually hits. He also dropped a set in an opening-round Grand Slam match for the first time since 2010.

Djokovic declined to discuss his health after that outing, and he hasn’t really gotten a chance to test the arm in match conditions since.

On Sunday, he will be scheduled to play either 20th-seeded John Isner of the U.S. or Kyle Edmund of Britain for a spot in the quarterfinals.

After looking nearly unbeatable while becoming the first man in nearly 50 years to win four Grand Slam trophies in a row, Djokovic has had less success of late. Since completing his career Grand Slam at the French Open in June, he lost in the third round at Wimbledon, won the Toronto Masters, was upset in the first round of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics by Juan Martin del Potro, then missed the Cincinnati Masters because of a sore left wrist.

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Raonic withdraws from Miami Open with hamstring injury

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Milos Raonic has pulled out of the Miami Open after aggravating a right hamstring injury that sidelined him for nearly a month.

The No. 3-seeded Raonic withdrew before Sunday’s match against American qualifier Jared Donaldson, who advanced to the fourth round.

Raonic said his injury became progressively worse after his opening match, his first since Feb. 25. He expects to be sidelined at least two weeks and perhaps longer.

The Canadian said he hasn’t made it through an entire tournament healthy since Wimbledon last July.

Nadal advances to start bid for first Key Biscayne

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Rafael Nadal’s first fist pump Friday followed his second point in the Miami Open, when he kissed a forehand off the sideline to win a long rally.

He accompanied the celebratory gesture with a skip in his step and then hit the accelerator, holding every service game to beat Dudi Sela 6-3, 6-4.

Thus began Nadal’s latest bid to win Key Biscayne.

“A lot of big motivation,” he said.

He’s playing the tournament for the 13th time and has never won it, although he was the runner-up in 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2014. At 0 for 12, it’s Nadal’s longest drought at any event, and perhaps the most glaring gap in the 14-time Grand Slam champion’s resume.

Does it bug him? He won’t admit to any frustration, but lets slip that he still remembers the exact score when he was two points from the title in the third set versus Novak Djokovic.

That was six years ago.

“Against Novak – 6-5, 15-30,” Nadal said. “It didn’t happen.”

The Spaniard has always enjoyed the atmosphere in Miami, where Latin fans give him enthusiastic support, and he likes the tournament’s hard courts. He’s simply overdue.

“I’m trying my best every year,” Nadal told the stadium crowd after dispatching Sela. “I’ve been very close four times. I will try to give myself another chance.”

Nadal is 15-4 this year and pleased with his play. He lost to Roger Federer in the Australian Open final, and again in the fourth round at Indian Wells last week.

Against Sela, Nadal served well, erased the only two break points he faced and overcame the occasional errant groundstroke on a windy afternoon.

“It was very difficult to find the right feelings,” Nadal said. “These kind of days, what you have to do is try to win. That’s what I did, and I’m happy with that.”

Making Nadal’s title bid easier will be the absence of six-time champion Djokovic and two-time champion Andy Murray, both out with elbow injuries.

But No. 3-seeded Milos Raonic is back. He won in his first match since Feb. 25, beating Viktor Troicki 6-3, 7-5. Raonic had been sidelined by a right leg injury.

“I’ve prepared the best I can for this tournament,” Raonic said. “I’m not necessarily in the best position right now, but fortunately it’s a long tournament. Doesn’t mean things can’t change and I can’t get better throughout this event.”

No. 2 Kei Nishikori beat Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-3. No. 7 Marin Cilic lost to Jeremy Chardy 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

In women’s play, Elena Vesnina made a quick exit only five days after winning the biggest title of her career. Seeded 13th, Vesnina lost her opening match to wild card Ajla Tomljanovic 3-6, 6-4, 7-5.

Vesnina beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Indian Wells final.

In a match that took two days because of rain, No. 6 Garbine Muguruza rallied past Christina McHale 0-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4. No. 3 Simona Halep beat Naomi Osaka 6-4, 2-6, 6-3. American qualifier Taylor Townsend eliminated No. 25 Robert Vinci 6-3, 6-2.