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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.

Mattek-Sands upsets Svitolina at Miami Open

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Bethanie Mattek-Sands picked up her first top-10 victory since 2015, upsetting ninth-seeded Elina Svitolina 7-5, 6-4 on Thursday to reach the Miami Open’s third round.

Mattek-Sands, who turned 32 on Thursday, is ranked only 158th in singles and needed a wild-card invitation to get into the hard-court tournament. She is ranked No. 1 in doubles.

Against Svitolina, Mattek-Sands saved 12 of the 15 break points she faced.

The woman with whom Mattek-Sands won the doubles championships at the past two Grand Slam tournaments, Lucie Safarova, eliminated 23rd-seeded Daria Gavrilova 6-2, 6-2 on Thursday. Safarova, the 2015 French Open runner-up, is ranked 36th, so was just outside the seedings at the hard-court tournament. She broke Gavrilova five times while losing serve only once herself.

In another surprise, Kirsten Flipkens beat No. 29 Ana Konjuh 7-6 (4), 6-7 (6), 6-2.

Also, second-seeded Karolina Pliskova, a finalist at last year’s U.S. Open, had no trouble beating 86th-ranked Madison Brengle 6-1, 6-3 in about an hour to get to the third round.

Other seeded winners included No. 4 Dominika Cibulkova, No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 12 Caroline Wozniacki, No. 17 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, No. 26 Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, No. 27 Yulia Putintseva and No. 30 Zhang Shuai.

In men’s action, now things will get a little more challenging for Frances Tiafoe.

Tiafoe, a 19-year-old from Maryland, set up a second-round meeting against 18-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer by beating Konstantin Kravchuk 7-5, 5-7, 6-1.

Tiafoe hit 12 aces and accumulated 14 break points, converting five, on the 32-year-old Kravchuk’s serve. This was Tiafoe’s third career match victory at a Grand Slam or Masters event. Kravchuk, meanwhile, dropped to 0-7 overall this season.

Tiafoe is ranked 101st, Kravchuk 103rd. The level of competition will rise against the fourth-seeded – and former No. 1-ranked – Federer.

In other men’s first-round action, Horacio Zeballos came back to beat Gastao Elias 6-7 (2), 6-2, 7-5 and earn a matchup against top-seeded Stan Wawrinka next. Wawrinka lost to Federer in the final at Indian Wells, California, on Sunday.

Elsewhere, Adrian Mannarino defeated qualifier Benjamin Becker 7-6 (6), 6-3 and will next face No. 32 Paolo Lorenzi, Borna Coric edged Marcel Granollers 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-3, and Tommy Robredo topped Nikoloz Basilashvili 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Safarova tops No. 23 Gavrilova at Miami Open; Pliskova wins

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Lucie Safarova eliminated 23rd-seeded Daria Gavrilova 6-2, 6-2 on Thursday to reach the third round of the Miami Open.

Safarova, the 2015 French Open runner-up, is ranked 36th, so was just outside the seedings at the hard-court tournament. She broke Gavrilova five times while losing serve only once herself.

In another early women’s match Thursday, second-seeded Karolina Pliskova, a finalist at last year’s U.S. Open, had no trouble beating 86th-ranked Madison Brengle 6-1, 6-3 in about an hour to get to the third round.

In men’s first-round action, Adrian Mannarino defeated qualifier Benjamin Becker 7-6 (6), 6-3 and will next face No. 32 Paolo Lorenzi,