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Djokovic upbeat despite yet another setback in Madrid

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MADRID (AP) Novak Djokovic remains optimistic despite yet another disappointing result in what has been a frustrating season.

Djokovic’s struggles continued with an overwhelming loss to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the Madrid Open on Saturday, a result that extended his streak of five consecutive tournaments without an appearance in a final.

Still, the second-ranked Djokovic left Spain with reason to feel good about his game.

“It was a positive week, a positive experience,” he said. “I take more positives than negatives into the next week in Rome. As I go along, I hope to continue getting better and getting stronger. I felt like I was playing well throughout the week.”

He blamed his elimination mostly on Nadal’s good form.

“I could have played better,” Djokovic said. “But, again, I just had an opponent that was too good. I have to move on. Semifinals is a good result. Hopefully I’ll have another good result in Rome.”

Rome will be Djokovic’s last tournament before he defends his title at the French Open.

“It was really good to play in the semifinals of a big event, and to play against one of the top rivals I have in my life,” Djokovic said. “I haven’t had that feeling in months, so it’s great to feel that.”

Djokovic hadn’t made it to a semifinal since he won in Doha in the beginning of the season. He reached the last four in Madrid after Kei Nishikori withdrew before the quarterfinals because of an injury.

Djokovic, who missed some playing time this season because of an elbow injury, has won only 14 matches this year. Last year he was 31-2 after winning the title in Madrid, which was his fifth of the season at the time.

The disappointing straight-set loss to Nadal was his fifth defeat this year. He had won seven straight matches against the fifth-ranked Spaniard before Saturday’s semifinal, dating back to the 2014 French Open final.

“I felt comfortable hitting the ball the last few days, physically ready, mentally sharp as well. I was trying my best,” Djokovic said. “But it’s just one of these days where your opponent is just playing better than you, and you have to be able to say, `congratulations,’ and move on. He did get the better of me in most of the stats, most of the shots. But, you know, I have lots of good things to take out of this week.”

Among Djokovic’s losses this season was a second-round defeat to Denis Istomin at the Australian Open. He lost to Nick Kyrgios in the quarterfinals in Acapulco and in the Round of 16 in Indian Wells. And in his first clay-court tournament of the year, in Monte Carlo, Djokovic was eliminated by David Goffin in the quarterfinals.

“This drop in level for Djokovic has to do with his fight to be No. 1 and to win as many matches as possible,” Nadal said. “Let’s respect his level right now because it’s true that perhaps it’s not as high as it used to be, but I’m telling you, it’s been a lot of years, and I know because I’ve been in his skin, being up there every single week, being No. 1 every single week, it’s nearly impossible.”

The Madrid Open was Djokovic’s first tournament since he parted ways with longtime coach Marian Vajda and two other team members to try to regain his “winning spark on the court.”

“I’m just going to go along, and in the next three, four weeks maximum, I’ll make my decisions around that, about the team,” Djokovic said.

Nadal, Muguruza win ITF player of the year awards

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LONDON — Rafael Nadal and Garbine Muguruza have won the International Tennis Federation’s player of the year awards.

At 31, Nadal becomes the oldest ITF men’s world champion after a season in which he won a 10th French Open and a third U.S. Open.

The Spaniard also became the oldest player to finish the year at No. 1 since the ATP rankings began in 1973.

Muguruza dropped only one set en route to her first Wimbledon title and finished the year at No. 2 behind Simona Halep.

“Becoming ITF world champion in such a competitive year is amazing for me,” said Muguruza, who is also Spanish. “(Nadal) is a great role model for all of us, so it is a great moment for tennis in Spain.”

Kuznetsova out of Australian Open after left wrist surgery

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova has withdrawn from next month’s Australian Open after having surgery on her left wrist.

Tennis Australia on Friday said No. 12-ranked Kuznetsova and China’s Sasai Zheng, with a right knee injury, were the only players ranked in the top 100 who are confirmed as not playing the Jan. 15-28 tournament at Melbourne Park.

Serena Williams, who was pregnant while winning the 2017 Australian Open title and gave birth to her first child in September, “is anticipated to return,” Tennis Australia said.

Williams could equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles with another win at Melbourne Park. Serena Williams’ ranking has dropped to No. 22 during her break from the tour.