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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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Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping tournaments like Federer

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MONACO (AP) For now, Rafael Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping any major tournaments the way Roger Federer has been sitting out the French Open.

The veterans are back at the top of world tennis, with Nadal needing to win the Monte Carlo Masters this week to avoid losing his top ranking once again to Federer in their seemingly eternal battle for tennis supremacy.

For the second consecutive season, the 36-year-old Federer is skipping the entire clay-court season in order to be at his best on grass.

After coming back from injury to win the Australian Open last year, Federer skipped the clay-court season, won Wimbledon, and retained his Melbourne crown to extend his record tally to 20 majors.

The Swiss star is keeping his aging body fresher by playing a bit less – avoiding Nadal on clay at Roland Garros or elsewhere – and it is working for him.

But Nadal still thinks he can play a full schedule.

“There (are) tournaments that I can’t imagine missing on purpose, because (they are) tournaments that I love to play,” Nadal said on Wednesday. “I don’t see myself missing Monte Carlo on purpose. I don’t see myself missing Wimbledon on purpose, or the U.S. Open, or Australian, or Rome. These kind of events, I don’t see missing (them).”

The 31-year-old Spaniard recently returned from a right hip injury which forced him to retire during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

With his 32nd birthday coming up on June 3 – during the French Open – the 16-time Grand Slam champion accepts he may think differently when he gets closer to Federer’s age.

“Of course, when you get older, you need to adjust a little bit more the efforts and the calendar. But for me (it) is difficult to say I don’t play, for example, grass, or I don’t play hard (courts),” Nadal said. “(It) is not in my plan, but I can’t say `never’ because I cannot predict what’s going to be in the future.”

Nadal is chasing an 11th title at both Monte Carlo and Roland Garros, which begins on May 27.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Thiem reaches third round at Monte Carlo

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MONACO — Dominic Thiem saved a match point and beat Andrey Rublev of Russia 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

Rublev was serving for the match at 5-4, 40-30 but hit a forehand narrowly wide. Fifth-seeded Thiem broke him with backhand pass down the line and held for 6-5.

The Austrian was 15-40 up on Rublev’s serve and clinched victory on his first match point, when Rublev double-faulted with a weak serve into the net.

“I was 10 centimeters from being out of the tournament,” a relieved Thiem said. “But I’m happy that I played two hours and 40 (minutes).”

Thiem has reached the French Open semifinals for the past two years. He next meets 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic or Borna Coric of Croatia, who play their second-round match on Wednesday.

“I’m looking forward to watching Djokovic and Coric in front of the TV, and then playing the winner on Thursday,” Thiem said.

In the second round later Tuesday, fourth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria faced Pierre-Hugues Herbert and seventh-seeded Lucas Pouille played Mischa Zverev.

In remaining first-round play, there were wins for Gilles Simon of France, Marco Cecchinato of Italy and Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.