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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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Petra Kvitova to play at French Open

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PARIS — Only two months after picking up her racket for the first time following a knife attack at her home, Petra Kvitova will be playing at the French Open.

The two-time Wimbledon champion said Friday she will make her comeback at Roland Garros, although she still lacks power and strength.

“I knew this day would come,” said Kvitova, who was attacked by an intruder last year. “I’m really happy that really here, the dream comes true.”

Kvitova has missed all season while recovering from surgery on her racket-holding left hand. She sustained damage to the tendons in her left hand, along with injuries to all five fingers and two nerves, during the attack.

Doctors initially thought she would need more time before returning to tennis. But Kvitova’s recovery was faster than expected and she said last month that she was signing up for the French Open, which begins Sunday, in hopes of being able to compete.

“It wasn’t easy, but I’m happy that I work through this and I can play tennis and I can be in the draw,” she said.

Kvitova, who won the Wimbledon title in 2011 and 2014 and climbed as high as No. 2 in the WTA rankings, was not allowed to speak about the attack itself because a police investigation is still ongoing. However, she spoke about the anxiety associated with her dreadful experience.

“I didn’t sleep well the days after, but I wasn’t really staying alone,” she said. “From the beginning I was really feeling really weird when I went in the city or somewhere. I was always staring to the guys and looking if there are no strangers there. But with the time, it’s better.”

Kvitova also provided details on the intense rehabilitation process that preceded her “last-minute” decision to try her luck in Paris.

“I worked very hard behind the scenes,” she said. “From the beginning I had this hand in a splint for two months, and even then I was practicing every day, always putting the splint away and trying to make this scar softer. So from the second day after surgery I started to work with that, which was kind of easy, just passive work with the fingers. I couldn’t move them.”

Kvitova got rid of the splint after two weeks and started to move her fingers slightly. She said she can’t still move them completely.

Kvitova also consulted with a hand specialist in the French city of Grenoble every month and she started practicing with a racket at the end of March.

“I hit a few forehands with soft balls from the net, and it felt very, very weird,” she said. “I didn’t really have touch in the hand for holding the racket. I’m happy that I didn’t have to change any techniques or something. Everything seems OK. Of course the hand doesn’t have that power and the strength yet, but I’m working on it. Hopefully one day will be everything perfect.”

Kvitova will open her campaign on the red clay against 86th-ranked Julia Boserup. She is making her ninth appearance at Roland Garros, where she reached the semifinals in 2012.

“Not many people believe that I can play tennis again. So I’m happy that I can play,” Kvitova said. “I actually already won my biggest fight. I stayed in life and I have all my fingers.”

Nishikori saves three match points in Geneva Open QF win

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GENEVA — Kei Nishikori saved three straight match points in the deciding set before outlasting Kevin Anderson 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6) in the Geneva Open quarterfinals on Thursday.

The second-seeded Nishikori was serving at 4-5, 0-40 before rallying to beat the 62nd-ranked South African, who fired 14 aces without allowing any by his opponent.

Nishikori also trailed in the tiebreaker before creating a second match-point chance with a forehand crosscourt service return for a winner. He clinched with a forehand winner off a looping net-cord ball.

The No. 9-ranked Japanese player will face 33rd-ranked Mischa Zverev of Germany in the semifinals on Friday.

The Russian-born Zverev, who came through qualifying, beat fifth-seeded Steve Johnson of the United States 6-4, 7-5.