Djokovic beats Murray to successfully defend Qatar title

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) Novak Djokovic successfully defended his Qatar Open title by beating top-seeded Andy Murray 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in the final on Saturday.

The dramatic match showcased the best of men’s tennis for 2 hours, 54 minutes. Djokovic needed four match points – three in the second set and one in the third – to prevail. He was also fortunate not to be defaulted for accidentally hitting a woman in the stands with a ball hit in anger.

“Best scenario I could ask for for beginning of the season,” Djokovic said.

“Playing all five matches in this tournament and then three hours against No. 1 of the world, (my) biggest rival, and winning in a thrilling marathon match is something that definitely can serve as a positive incentive for what’s coming up in Australia.

“It’s only the beginning of the season, so we had a little laugh at the net actually about it. We both felt like if every match we’re going to play against each other is going to be this way this season, we’re going to have a fun time.”

Murray’s loss ended his 28-match winning streak that dated to Sept. 18.

Djokovic had three match points in the 10th game of the second set, but couldn’t prevent Murray from making it 5-5 and eventually winning the second set.

Murray finally capitalized on his fourth break point – second in that 10th game – with an inside out forehand winner.

Despite going up 0-30, Murray wasn’t able to come up with the same magic when Djokovic served for the match a second time at 5-4 in the third set. Murray also failed to take advantage of a break point in the sixth game of the set.

“Physically, it was a good test to start the year,” Murray said. “My body feels all right just now, so that’s positive.

“Still think there are things I can do better. I wasn’t that clinical on break points this week, which maybe that comes with playing a few more matches.”

Djokovic’s frustration got the better of him twice, which caused umpire Carlos Bernardes to hand the Serb two warnings, including the loss of a point on the second warning.

The second warning resulted when Djokovic smashed his racket in frustration at 40-30 to end the 11th game of the second set prematurely.

The first warning came in the sixth game of the first set. Annoyed at losing a point, Djokovic angrily smacked a ball to the ground that accidentally flew into the stands and hit a woman. While that could have resulted in a default, Bernardes just issued Djokovic a warning.

“I definitely didn’t want to hit the ball at anybody,” Djokovic said. “Just happened. Fortunate not to get a bigger fine. I have to be more careful I guess. I accept that I made a mistake. It was not intentional at all.”

The top-ranked Murray has lost all 20 matches he’s played against Djokovic when he’s lost the first set.

Overall, Djokovic held a 25-11 career record over Murray.

“Playing against Andy, somehow it feels like playing the mirror image of (me) because we have very similar styles of game,” Djokovic said. “I can’t recall out of the 35-plus matches how many were kind of one-sided really. Most of the matches we play it’s always going down to the very last few points to decide the winner.”

Murray won their last encounter 6-3, 6-4 in the ATP Finals in November. That victory catapulted Murray ahead of Djokovic to the year-end No. 1 ranking for the first time.

Nick Bollettieri, coach to many tennis stars, dies at 91

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Nick Bollettieri, the Hall of Fame tennis coach who worked with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Andre Agassi and Monica Seles, and founded an academy that revolutionized the development of young athletes, died at 91.

Bollettieri died at home in Florida after a series of health issues, his manager, Steve Shulla, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

“When he became sick, he got so many wonderful messages from former students and players and coaches. Many came to visit him. He got videos from others,” Shulla said. “It was wonderful. He touched so many lives and he had a great send-off.”

Known for his gravelly voice, leathery skin and wraparound sunglasses – and a man who called himself the “Michelangelo of Tennis” despite never playing professionally – Bollettieri helped no fewer than 10 players who went on to be No. 1 in the world rankings. That group includes sisters Serena and Venus Williams, Jim Courier, Maria Sharapova, Agassi and Seles.

“Our dear friend, Nick Bollettieri, graduated from us last night. He gave so many a chance to live their dream,” Agassi wrote on Twitter. “He showed us all how life can be lived to the fullest. Thank you, Nick.”

Bollettieri remained active into his 80s, touring the world to drop in on the top tournaments and, in 2014, became only the fourth coach to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. That was the same year another one of his proteges, Kei Nishikori, reached the final of the U.S. Open.

Six of his pupils already are in the Hall of Fame, a number sure to grow once others are eligible.

“I forged my own path, which others found to be unorthodox and downright crazy,” Bollettieri said in his induction speech at the hall in Newport, Rhode Island. “Yes, I am crazy. But it takes crazy people to do things that other people say cannot be done.”

The Bollettieri Tennis Academy opened in 1978 in Bradenton, Florida, and was purchased by IMG in 1987.

The IMG Academy now spans more than 600 acres and offers programs in more than a half-dozen sports in addition to tennis.

Bollettieri was an educator who would brag he never read a book, never mind that he majored in philosophy in college and even gave law school a try, albeit for less than a year.

He also was an adept self-promoter – one who would publish a pair of autobiographies – no matter that detractors dismissed him as a hustler and huckster. The truth is, any criticism was no match for the astounding success of his pupils.

His teaching methods were widely copied and tennis academies dot the globe today.

“Our sport lost one of its most passionate coaches & advocates,” Hall of Fame member Billie Jean King wrote on Twitter. “Nick was always positive & was able to get the best out of everyone fortunate enough to work w/him.”

Bollettieri’s first student to reach No. 1 was Boris Becker in 1991. Then came others, such as Martina Hingis, Marcelo Rios and Jelena Jankovic.

Just as rewarding, Bollettieri said, were the successes of less accomplished players.

“The fuel that has sustained me to the summit is, without a doubt, my passion to help others become champions of life, not champions just on the tennis court,” he said. “Nothing makes me more happy than when I run into a past student or receive a kind note telling me how I changed their lives, that they are better parents, lawyers, doctors, CEOs and people because of the impact I made on their lives.”

Bollettieri’s devotion to his players came at a cost. For much of his career, he was on the road nine months out of every year, and he cited his travel schedule as one reason he was married eight times.

Survivors include his wife, Cindi, seven children and four grandchildren, according to Shulla, who said a celebration of Bollettieri’s life is planned for March.

Nicholas James Bollettieri was born July 31, 1931, in Pelham, New York. He earned a philosophy degree and played tennis at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, and was a paratrooper in the Army before enrolling in law school at the University of Miami.

For spending money, Bollettieri began teaching tennis for $1.50 an hour, according to the Hall of Fame. More than 60 years later, his fee was $900.

After a few months, he dropped out of law school to concentrate on coaching. At first, he conceded, knowledge of tennis technique wasn’t his forte.

“I didn’t know much about teaching the game,” he said. “The gift God gave me was the ability to read people.”

Bollettieri won praise for his motivational skills, yelling when he deemed it necessary. He had an eye for talent and was a visionary regarding boot-camp training for young athletes who lived together.

He bought a club in 1978, and students lived in his house. Two years later, he borrowed $1 million from a friend to build a first-of-its-kind complex in what had been a tomato field.

The site now has a boarding school, 55 tennis courts and facilities for seven other sports, including football, basketball and baseball.

Running a business wasn’t Bollettieri’s strong suit, and he sold the academy to IMG but continued to work there, stressing a tactical approach that transformed tennis. He urged players to take advantage of modern racket technology, emphasizing power over finesse.

The academy churned out big hitters who relied on their serve and forehand to overpower opponents. That approach worked for Agassi, Seles, Courier and many others.

“In my dreams,” Bollettieri confessed with a grin, “I say, `Nick, you’re darn good.”‘

Fernando Verdasco accepts 2-month doping ban

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LONDON – Former top-10 player Fernando Verdasco accepted a voluntary provisional doping suspension of two months after testing positive for a medication for ADHD, the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Verdasco, who turned 39 this month, said he was taking methylphenidate as medication prescribed by his doctor to treat ADHD but forgot to renew his therapeutic use exemption for the drug. The integrity agency said Verdasco has now been granted an exemption by the World Anti-Doping Agency moving forward.

He tested positive at an ATP Challenger tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in February.

The integrity agency said in a news release that it “accepts that the player did not intend to cheat, that his violation was inadvertent and unintentional, and that he bears no significant fault or negligence for it,” and so what could have been a two-year suspension was reduced to two months.

Verdasco will be eligible to compete on Jan. 8.

The Spaniard is a four-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, reaching that stage most recently in 2013 at Wimbledon, where he blew a two-set lead in a five-set loss to eventual champion Andy Murray.

Verdasco reached a career-best ranking of No. 7 in April 2009 and currently is No. 125.