Murray searching for focus, consistency at Wimbledon

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LONDON — Based on Andy Murray’s body language alone, reporters’ questions can produce an inordinate amount of consternation.

He’ll puff his cheeks, then let out a sigh. He’ll rub his forehead, then clutch his chin. When answers do arrive, some are preceded by a hesitant “Ummm.” Others begin with “No” or “I wouldn’t have thought so” – or both. “I don’t know” is a popular refrain.

Truth is, given all that is going on at the moment, the No. 1-seeded Murray could be forgiven for having a lot on his mind as he prepares to start his title defense at the All England Club on Monday.

There’s a second child on the way for Murray and his wife – happy news, of course, and on Sunday, he assured a reporter who asked about its potential effect on his tennis this fortnight, “It’s certainly not a distraction in the slightest.”

There’s his inconsistent season and the chance he could relinquish his spot atop the rankings to Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Stan Wawrinka two weeks from now.

There’s the matter of figuring out how to deal with his unorthodox opponent in the grass-court Grand Slam tournament’s opening Centre Court match. They’ve never played each other, but Murray is somewhat familiar with Alexander Bublik, who is from Russia but represents Kazakhstan, just turned 20 and says he finds watching tennis boring: They had an off-court encounter for an ATP promotional video this year.

And there’s also the sore left hip that led one British tabloid to ask readers – at psychic Uri Geller’s prompting – to rub that part of Murray’s body in a front-page photo to heal him.

“I’ve felt fairly calm the last few days, considering how I’ve been feeling,” Murray said.

The hip forced Murray to skip exhibition matches on grass and a few days of training. But he said it’s feeling much better.

“Obviously, this is an extremely important tournament, so you worry a little bit,” he said. “It’s a little bit stressful if you can’t practice for a few days. You really want to be preparing, training, as much as you can to get ready and make you feel better, especially when you hadn’t had any matches.”

He is 21-9 so far in 2017, and his lone title came with the benefit of facing only one player ranked in the top 25.

Still, here was Roger Federer’s assessment of Murray’s chances at a place where in 2013 he became the first British man in 77 years to grab the trophy: “If he’s anything close to 100 percent physically, I consider him one of the big favorites to win the tournament. It’s that simple.”

Murray did manage to reach the semifinals at the French Open, but since then he has played only one match – and lost.

“I can take some anti-inflammatories if my hip flares up,” he said. “Hopefully that’s not the case.”

Could be a lot of running required Monday, given the 134th-ranked Bublik’s penchant for sliced returns, drop shots, lobs and run-around forehands from midcourt.

“My game is unpredictable. I don’t even know what I’m going to do,” Bublik said. “When the ball is coming to me, I decide right before I hit. So I don’t have a plan.”

Murray is aware of all of that.

“Some more sort of shots that guys may play in exhibitions, he tries when he’s out there,” Murray said. “That’s what I’ve heard.”

Bublik acknowledges he’ll win more matches when he can “find a balance between making jokes and (being) a showoff.”

He lost in the final round of qualifying last week, but made it into the main draw thanks to another player’s withdrawal.

Bublik is known on tour for possessing, as Murray put it, “a big personality,” and that came through vividly during a session with a group of reporters at the All England Club.

Among other topics, Bublik discussed the “famous” Russian rappers he expects in his guest box on Monday; the tattoos on his right forearm (a map showing his hometown of St. Petersburg and a couple of quotations attributed to Eminem); and his disdain for following his own sport.

“Even Rafa and Fed, you watch, the guys are putting everything in the court. It’s not interesting,” Bublik said with a mischievous grin. “I mean, it’s interesting to see the highlights … but when they’re rallying for 45 shots, you’re sitting and you’re feeling, `OK, can I quit tennis, please?'”

Very little of Murray’s sort of hemming and hawing there.

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”