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Djokovic hums his way to victory in Shanghai quarterfinals

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SHANGHAI — Novak Djokovic certainly appears to be a different player on court these days: Smiling after shanking balls instead of screaming, humming songs instead of hurling rackets.

And that’s when he’s having an off day.

Djokovic was sluggish and error-prone early in his quarterfinal match against Mischa Zverev at the Shanghai Masters on Friday, but he maintained his composure and fought back to win 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3.

The top-ranked Serb has said in recent weeks that he’s trying to find more balance in his life and reduce some of the pressure he’s felt on court this season. Part of that entails staying calmer during matches, particularly when things aren’t going well.

In the first set against Zverev, things couldn’t have gone much worse. Djokovic piled up 18 unforced errors to only four for Zverev, a German qualifier ranked 110th, and connected on less than half of his first serves.

He started to find his game in the second set, but Zverev continued to press him with his serve-and-volley style, forcing more miscues.

“I wasn’t striking the ball very well,” Djokovic said. “I was quite flat with my feet, so he got me where he wanted to get me, and to stand still at the baseline.

“(Zverev) was fighting. He was focused. He gave his best, and he was a few points from winning.”

Despite his rash of unforced errors – he finished with 37, including six double-faults – Djokovic didn’t glower at his coaches in the stands or scream at himself. Not once.

Instead, he hummed a little song.

“It was toward the end of the match,” he said of his musical interlude. “Instead of the occasional tantrum that I used to have – I hope it’s behind me – I would switch that vibration and transform it in a tune.”

The song that soothed him? Djokovic couldn’t quite recall at this post-match news conference.

“I’m trying to remember. Which one was it?” he said. “It was a famous song, actually.”

Djokovic completed a career milestone by winning the French Open this year, but the following months only brought frustration, injuries and discouraging losses.

He was mentally exhausted and decided he needed a new mind-set, prioritizing happiness on court, not winning.

Djokovic even hinted this week it could bring about a coaching change in the new year. Asked Thursday about the status of his coach, Boris Becker, he said they planned to finish off the rest of the season together. As for next season, he added, “We still haven’t talked about it.”

Becker did not accompany Djokovic to Shanghai.

Djokovic next plays 15th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut in the semifinals. The Spaniard beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 6-4.

Second-seeded Andy Murray played with the same focus and sharpness he has displayed all week, easily defeating 11th-seeded David Goffin 6-2, 6-2.

“I had to stay strong there in the second, because physically, although it was a 6-2, 6-2 match, it wasn’t easy because a lot of the points were tough,” Murray said.

Murray hasn’t been broken in three matches so far in Shanghai, and hasn’t dropped a set in his last nine matches going back to mid-September. He’s going for back-to-back titles in China after winning the China Open last week.

2-time Wimbledon champ Kvitova wins return from knife attack

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PARIS —¬†Sweat-soaked and still wearing her match outfit, Petra Kvitova was looking for someone to hug as she wandered into the players’ lounge in the French Open’s main stadium shortly after leaving the court Sunday.

She found her father, Jiri, and her brother, also Jiri, who greeted her with warm embraces and joyous kisses on the cheek. Kvitova’s family members rarely attend her tournaments, but this was different – “special” was the word she, and others, kept using.

Less than six months after a knife attack at her home, two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova was back competing, winning the first match of her comeback 6-3, 6-2 at Roland Garros against 86th-ranked Julia Boserup of the United States.

“I’m happy with the game, of course,” Kvitova said, “but I mean, it wasn’t really about the game today.”

Indeed, just being there under a cloud-filled sky at Court Philippe Chatrier was a triumph of sorts for Kvitova, who needed surgery on her left hand – the one she uses to hold her racket – after being stabbed by an intruder in the Czech Republic in late December. She was undecided until late last week whether to even try to play in the French Open.

“For us, it’s amazing. It’s miracle. Not even me or Petra thought she could be ready to come back so soon,” said her coach, Jiri Novak. “The prognosis was, let’s just say, not optimistic.”

During her on-court interview, Kvitova addressed Novak, her family and others in her guest box, saying: “Thank you for everything you helped me through (in) this difficult time.”

Several members of her entourage wore black T-shirts with white capital letters on the front that read, “Courage. Belief. Pojd.” That last word, which is the Czech equivalent of “Come on!” and was spelled with a red heart instead of the “O,” is often yelled by Kvitova to celebrate particularly good shots.

“The belief and the mind, the heart, it’s really important,” Kvitova said afterward. “So that’s … what we try to show everyone. I hope that it will be kind of inspiration for other people, as well.”

There were plenty of opportunities for her to clench a fist and scream “Pojd!” on Sunday against Boserup, who was making her debut in the French Open’s main draw and facing a lefty for the first time.

“She’s one of the nicest girls, and we are all really happy to see her back. After what she went through, it’s incredible,” Boserup said. “So it’s a victory for her to be back on court. It was really special.”

Kvitova began things with a quick forehand winner on the opening point.

“Amazing,” she said. “I surprised myself.”

Kvitova wound up compiling the match’s first 10 winners and finished with a 31-9 edge in that category. She took 15 of the first 20 points en route to a 3-0 lead and never really faced a whole lot of resistance, other than when she saved three break points – the only ones she had to deal with in the match – while ahead 3-1.

When it was over, Kvitova dropped her racket near the baseline and removed her blue headband. As she walked to the net for a handshake, her eyes welled with tears.

“We are happy that she is healthy. The hand is good – and also the head,” her brother Jiri said. “Mentally, she is back.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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

Venus Williams eases into French Open’s second round after beating Qiang Wang

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In a record 20th appearance at the French Open, Venus Williams eased into the second round with a straight sets victory over Qiang Wang of China.

Williams, who is seeded 10th, saved two set points to win 6-4, 7-6 (3).

The 36-year-old American will play Kurumi Nara of Japan in the next round.