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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.”

 

Novak Djokovic moves step closer to first Cincinnati title

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MASON, Ohio — Novak Djokovic closed in on the one title that has eluded him, reaching the final of the Western & Southern Open on Saturday with a three-set victory over Marin Cilic.

His 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win moved him one victory away from the only ATP Masters 1000 title he’s never claimed. Djokovic is trying to become the first to win all nine events since the series started in 1990.

One big hurdle: a potential rematch with Roger Federer, who faced David Goffin in the other semifinal. Federer has won an unprecedented seven Cincinnati titles, beating Djokovic three times in championship matches.

“It’s been a roller-coaster week with matches and the interruptions with the rain and all that’s happened,” Djokovic said.

Djokovic completed his long recovery from elbow surgery by winning Wimbledon for the fourth time last month. He then set out to get his hard-court game in form for the U.S. Open.

Along the way, he dearly wants to get a title in Cincinnati, where he’s 0-5 in the finals.

Frustrated by his ragged play early in his semifinal win over Milos Raonic, Djokovic slammed his racket on the court, sending pieces of the frame into the air. The racket-busting became a turning point.

When he closed out the victory Saturday, he walked calmly to the net to congratulate Cilic and then raised both arms in triumph.

In the women’s bracket, Kiki Bertens advanced to her first Western & Southern Open final, wearing down No. 8 Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 for a chance at her second title of the season.

Bertens is an unexpected finalist, winning only one match during three previous appearances in Cincinnati. Her only title this season was at Charleston.

Known as more of a clay court player, Bertens has reached a hard-court final for the first time, spending more time getting accustomed to the different style of play.

“I think also I’m less stressed,” she said. “So before the match, I’m less nervous than I used to be. Before I was like, `Oh, I play on center court and a lot of people are watching.’ But now I’m just more relaxed.”

Top-ranked Simona Halep played later Saturday against Aryna Sabalenka, trying to reach the finals for the third time. Halep has never won a Cincinnati title, losing the final match last year to Garbine Muguruza.

A week of rain delays and double-duty days wore on players, many of whom wound up playing twice in a day. Kvitova faded in her second straight three-set match, ending her best showing in Cincinnati. She’d made five previous appearances in semifinals this season, winning each tournament.

“My legs were pretty heavy,” Kvitova said. “I just couldn’t really jump at all. It was very, very tiring, the second set, and I just think that I couldn’t really find energy in the third one. I was really trying, but nothing.”

Bertens tops Kvitova, advances to finals in Cincinnati

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MASON, Ohio – Kiki Bertens advanced to her first Western & Southern Open final on Saturday, wearing down No. 8 Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 for a chance at her second title of the season.

Bertens is an unexpected finalist, winning only one match during three previous appearances in Cincinnati. Her only title this season was at Charleston.

Top-ranked Simona Halep plays later, trying to reach the finals for the third time. She has never won a Cincinnati title.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic highlight the men’s semifinals, needing a win on Saturday to play each other for the title. Federer is trying for a record eighth Cincinnati title. Djokovic is trying to win the tournament for the first time.