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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.”

 

Bencic beats 2-time defending champ Svitolina in Dubai semi

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Unseeded Belinda Bencic stopped Elina Svitolina’s bid for a third consecutive title at the Dubai Championships by beating her 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3) in the semifinals Friday.

The 45th-ranked Bencic won her third match in a row against a top-10 opponent and will face yet another, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, in Saturday’s final at the hard-court tournament.

Kvitova advanced to her third final of 2019 by edging Hsieh Su-wei 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. The No. 2-seeded Kvitova picked up her tour-high 17th victory of 2019.

Bencic is seeking her third career title, Kvitova her 27th.

Against No. 6 seed Svitolina, Bencic trailed 5-3 in the third set. This was her latest in a string of comebacks. She saved six match points against eighth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka in the third round, then erased a set deficit to beat third-seeded Simona Halep in the quarterfinals.

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Bencic upsets Halep to reach Dubai semifinals

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Unseeded Belinda Bencic rallied to beat second-ranked Simona Halep 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 Thursday to reach the Dubai Championships semifinals.

Bencic, who saved six match points in the previous round against Aryna Sabalenka, failed to capitalize on an early break in the first set but Halep continued to struggle with her serve and was broken seven times in total. Bencic broke for a 5-4 lead in the second and then raced out to a 3-0 lead in the decider, having won six games in a row. Halep, who was playing her ninth match in 13 days after reaching the final in Qatar last week, got one break back but Bencic broke again for a 5-2 lead before converting her third match point.

Second-seeded Petra Kvitova had no such problems, winning the last eight games to oust Viktoria Kuzmova 6-4, 6-0 to book her spot in the last four. Kvitova, the 2013 Dubai champion, needed just 62 minutes to wrap up the win. She will next face Su-wei Hsieh of Taiwan, who came from 5-1 down in the final set to beat fourth-seeded Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 1-6, 7-5. It was the latest upset for Hsieh, who ousted Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber on Wednesday.

In the final quarterfinal, Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain was playing Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.

More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports