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.

Top-ranked Swiatek, Kvitova reach quarters at Agel Open

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – Top-ranked Iga Swiatek advanced to the quarterfinals of the Agel Open after Ajla Tomljanovic retired with an injury during the second set of their second-round match on Wednesday.

The Polish U.S. Open champion was leading 7-5, 2-2 when her Australian opponent retired due to a left knee injury at the indoor hardcourt event in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava.

Swiatek, who also won the French Open in June, will next face American qualifier Catherine McNally or Karolina Muchova.

Home favorite and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova upset second-seeded Paula Badosa of Spain 7-6 (4), 6-4 to set up a quarterfinal against this year’s Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina, who rallied to eliminate Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-5.

Czech players also won the last two first-round matches on the schedule.

Muchova knocked out seventh-seeded Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil 6-4, 6-4 and Barbora Krejcikova ousted American Shelby Rogers 6-2, 6-2 for her sixth straight victory after she won the Tallinn Open on Sunday for her first WTA title of the year.

Djokovic near flawless to reach second round in Astana

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan – Novak Djokovic delivered a near-flawless performance to ease into the second round of the Astana Open with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Cristian Garin on Wednesday as he goes for a third straight tournament title.

Djokovic dropped just six points on his serve and won the last five games to seal the win in just 62 minutes.

Djokovic is coming off a victory in Tel Aviv last week and – aside from a match at the Laver Cup – the Wimbledon champion hasn’t lost since the French Open quarterfinals.

“From the start to the end, (it was) a great performance,” Djokovic said. “Playing in a new tournament, different conditions, the first match is never easy. Obviously you are looking to see how you are going to adapt, but I did it perfectly, really, played as well as I can.”

Djokovic will next play Botic van de Zandschulp.

Top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz lost in the opening round on Tuesday in his first match since winning the U.S. Open title to capture the No. 1 spot.

Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the quarterfinals by beating 19-year-old Luca Nardi of Italy 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3). Nardi was playing just his fifth tour-level main-draw match and impressed the third-seeded Greek, who didn’t earn a single break point.

“He’s a player that can play very well in the future,” Tsitsipas said. “There weren’t any holes. I believe today he was able to sustain that level from the beginning to end, and that was extremely impressive.”

Roberto Bautista Agut also reached the quarterfinals as he followed up his first-round upset of Felix Auger-Aliassime by beating Pavel Kotov 6-1, 7-6 (5).

Marin Cilic, who lost the Tel Aviv final to Djokovic, had to come from behind to beat Oscar Otte 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the first round to set up a round-of-16 match against Karen Khachanov.