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Novak Djokovic tries to remain optimistic despite another setback

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MADRID – Novak Djokovic is trying his best to stay optimistic despite a disappointing start to his season.

Former No. 1-ranked Djokovic has struggled since returning from a layoff for a right elbow injury and is yet to reach the quarterfinals in the six tournaments he has played this year. His latest defeat was against Kyle Edmund in the second round of the Madrid Open on Wednesday.

“Obviously I’m disappointed from losing this match, but I can be happy with the progress of the level of tennis,” Djokovic said. “There are positives to take out from this. But obviously disappointing to go out early in the tournament.”

Djokovic lost in the third round in Monte Carlo a few weeks ago, following second-round exits at both Miami and Indian Wells. The No. 12-ranked Djokovic also failed to advance past the last 16 at the Australian Open, which was the last tournament he won three consecutive matches.

“It’s a process,” Djokovic said. “It’s something I have to accept, I have to embrace. In general I feel much better about everything that is happening on the court and around tennis in general … than maybe two months ago.”

In a bid to get back on track, Djokovic has reunited with coach Marian Vajda and trainer Gebhard Gritsch after stints working with former players Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek.

“If there is anybody that knows my game well, knows me as a person well, especially in the last decade, it’s these two guys,” Djokovic said following his first-round in Madrid. “I think it’s going to take a little bit of time for us to really get my game together the way we want to. Even though they know my game very well, it’s still a process.”

Djokovic has won 12 major titles but last year failed to reach a final at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since 2009. Until he withdrew from the 2017 U.S. Open, the Serbian star had played in 51 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments and reached the final 21 times.

Despite his 6-6 win-loss match record since return from the elbow injury, Djokovic tried to put his slump into perspective.

“I’ve played this sport so many years and had a bunch of success. I try to always remind myself and be grateful for that,” he said. “Nobody is forcing me to play this sport. I want to do it. That’s where I draw my strength. As long as I keep going, as long as I love the sport, I’ll keep going.”

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal was confident Djokovic would regain his best form.

“I think he’s going step-by-step to be able to recover and be at the category he deserves. I don’t have any doubt that he’s going to be back up at the highest level,” said Nadal, who himself has returned from lengthy injury layoffs to add to lift his career tally to 16 major titles. “What Novak did on this sport is amazing. He will continue doing a lot of great things in the future. I don’t have any doubt of that.”

The 30-year-old Djokovic admitted he may have tried to return to action too soon after the injury. He was off for six months but the elbow started hurting again when he began training to get ready for the preseason.

“I clenched my teeth and I kind of went through it, played Australia, but wasn’t really ready,” Djokovic said. “Then I had to do surgery. It takes time to overcome that surgery. It has obviously some consequences on your body that I never faced before, I never knew before, because I never had any surgery before.”

He said he doesn’t regret anything and wants to learn from the “new experiences” that he had to go through.

“I just think that’s life,” he said. “That was something that was supposed to happen for me, to teach me some lessons, to make me stronger, to allow me to grow, to evolve as a person, as a player. I’m grateful. That’s all I can say. There are worse things in life.”

 

Khachanov beats Mannarino to win Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW — Karen Khachanov breezed past Adrian Mannarino 6-2, 6-2 to win his third career ATP title at the Kremlin Cup on Sunday.

Khachanov’s powerful serve dictated the match, as it has done all tournament. He fired in six aces and wrapped up the win in 55 minutes.

The 22-year-old Russian was only broken once all week and faced a single break point against Mannarino, which he saved.

Khachanov has won all three of his tour finals to date, including a win in Marseille in February, while Mannarino has lost all six of the finals he has played.

Victory means Khachanov is guaranteed to enter the top 20 in the rankings for the first time, surpassing Daniil Medvedev as the top-ranked Russian.

Svitolina, Pliskova win opening matches at WTA Finals

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SINGAPORE — Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina secured opening round-robin match wins at the WTA Finals on Sunday.

Pliskova, who now leads the tour with 48 wins this season, defeated defending champion Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark 6-2, 6-4 in the second match.

Pliskova saved all 10 break points she faced in the match, including two when serving for the match in the final game. The Czech closed out the match on a third match point with an ace.

Earlier, Elina Svitolina of Ukraine ended a seven-match losing streak against Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic for a 6-3, 6-3 win.

The seventh-ranked Svitolina, making her second consecutive appearance in Singapore, only earned qualification to this year’s tournament last week when Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens failed to reach the Moscow semifinals. Later, Bertens made the final eight when No. 1-ranked Simona Halep withdrew with a herniated disk in her back.

“It’s very nice to be back in Singapore and I’m very, very happy with the match tonight,” Svitolina told the crowd. “I had to stay focused and be strong mentally. I had to play quickly and keep moving my feet so I need a massage now.

“You have to play your best level because everybody is very strong playing here.”

Svitolina, who now holds a 1-0 record in the White Group, had only beaten Kvitova once before in their first match at the 2014 Cincinnati tournament. Sunday’s victory was Svitolina’s first win against a top-10 opponent since May.

The Ukrainian player briefly left the post-match news conference but later returned.

“I’m just not feeling good,” said Svitolina after returning. A WTA spokesperson said Svitolina indicated she was feeling light-headed with slight nausea.

The fifth-ranked Kvitova, who won the year-end title in 2011, never looked settled and struggled with her serve throughout the 1 hour, 29 minutes match. Her first serve percentage was only 55, which made the task of beating Svitolina near impossible.

She double-faulted seven times in the match, including on set point in the first for Svitolina. Six of Kvitova’s seven double faults came in the first set.

“I think she really played very consistent,” Kvitova said. “Overall, yeah, it wasn’t the best start, but the good thing is that there is still a chance to play better and to improve, and maybe go somewhere forward.”

The Czech surrendered her serve in the opening game of the match but managed to recoup the break in the next game. But she was broken twice more in the first set to fall behind.

Svitolina set up the second set win by breaking Kvitova’s serve to go ahead 4-2.

Svitolina said her win was an answer to any suggestions she didn’t deserve to play here, having qualified so late for the draw.

“Winning this match definitely gives me lots of confidence,” Svitolina said. “This win … I want to take as one to go forward, and for all those people and haters that were saying that I don’t deserve to be here and I’m not good.”

Kvitova, who came into Singapore with a tour-leading five titles this season, and Wozniacki now stand at 0-1 in the White Group standings.

Wozniacki came into the late match with a 6-3 career record over Pliskova, including their last meeting in the round-robin portion of last year’s WTA Finals.

Wozniacki’s best effort in the match was saving two match points on her serve in the ninth game of the second set.