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.

U.S. sweeps Uzbekistan, advances to group stage in Davis Cup

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The United States swept its way into the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals, getting the winning point in a 4-0 victory over Uzbekistan from the doubles team of Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek.

They beat Sergey Fomin and Sanjar Fayziev 6-2, 6-4, after Tommy Paul and Mackenzie McDonald had won singles matches in Tashkent.

Ram is No. 3 in the ATP Tour doubles rankings and partnered with Joe Salisbury to win the last two U.S. Open men’s doubles titles. But the Americans opted not to use Ram last year in the final round, when they dropped the doubles match in a 2-1 defeat against Italy in the quarterfinals.

Krajicek was making his Davis Cup debut, having reached No. 9 in the doubles rankings late last year.

“They had five great days of preparation, and as anticipated they came out really sharp and got the early break in the first set. And after that it was like two freight trains, there was no stopping them,” interim captain David Nainkin said.

Denis Kudla then beat Amir Milushev 6-4, 6-4.

The winners of the 12 qualifiers being held this weekend advance to the Davis Cup Finals group stage in September, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

In other matches:

France 3, Hungary 2: On indoor hard courts in Tatabanya, Hungary, Ugo Humbert won it for the French with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Fabian Marozsan. Adrian Mannarino had forced the deciding match by beating Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (6), 6-2.

Serbia 4, Norway 0: On indoor hard courts in Oslo, the visitors, playing without top-ranked Novak Djokovic, put away the match when Filip Krajinovic and Nikola Cacic edged Viktor Durasovic and Herman Hoeyeraal 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Hamad Medjedovic then outlasted Durasovic 6-4, 6-7, 10-4.

Sweden 3, Bosnia 1: On indoor hard courts in Stockholm, Mikael Ymer sent the hosts through by beating Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.

Lesia Tsurenko to face Zhu Lin in Thailand Open final

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine reached her first final in four years after the top-seeded Bianca Andreescu retired with a shoulder injury during their semifinal match at the Thailand Open.

Tsurenko, in search of her fifth WTA title, was leading the 2019 U.S. Open champion 7-5, 4-0 when the Canadian stopped playing.

The former world No. 23 fought from 3-5 down to take the first set and reeled off eight straight games before Andreescu retired with a right shoulder problem.

“Bianca is such an amazing player. She is capable of hitting all kinds of shots and gave so much trouble today,” said the 33-year-old Tsurenko, now ranked 136th. “But I was just fighting and I told myself positive things that I can do it. Unfortunately, she had to retire.”

The Ukrainian last lifted a WTA trophy in Acapulco in 2018 and hasn’t been to a final since Brisbane in 2019.

She will face Zhu Lin of China in the final.

“She had some good wins in the Australian Open,” Tsurenko said. “She is one of the dangerous players in this tournament. She is going to give a good fight.”

In the all-Chinese semifinal earlier, Zhu benefited from a barrage of unforced errors from Wang Xinyu and prevailed 6-2, 6-4 for her first WTA final.

The world No. 54 player, who reached the last 16 at the Australian Open in January, relied on her solid baseline game to force errors.

“It was very windy, so I tried to be patient and keep my first serves in,” said the 29-year-old Zhu, who will team up with Wang in the doubles final against Hao-Ching Chan and Fang-Hsien Wu of Taiwan.