Novak Djokovic discusses lack of confidence after French Open win

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PARIS – Despite all of Novak Djokovic’s success over the years – the 12 major championships, the career Grand Slam, the time ranked No. 1 – he still finds himself searching for self-confidence these days.

That’s what an elbow injury and forced absence from the ATP tour can do to a player.

Djokovic was reflective and revealing Wednesday after moving into the third round at the French Open by virtue of a self-described up-and-down performance in a 7-6 (1), 6-4, 6-4 victory over 155th-ranked Jaume Antoni Munar Clar of Spain. Both of Djokovic’s matches so far have been against qualifiers; neither win was particularly impressive.

“At the moment, I’m not playing at the level I wish to, but at the same time, I understand that it is the process that obviously takes time,” said Djokovic, whose seeding of No. 20 is his lowest at a Slam in 12 years. “And I’m trying to not give up.”

At least he got through in straight sets, saving energy for whatever might come next at Roland Garros. Other leading men were forced to work a lot harder in matches they would have been expected to breeze through: No. 2-seeded Alexander Zverev, No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov and No. 19 Kei Nishikori all faced two-sets-to-one deficits and all emerged to win Wednesday.

Zverev was down by a set and a break early – and down a racket he’d obliterated by then, too – before collecting himself and coming back to beat 60th-ranked Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 2-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2. Dimitrov was two points from defeat against 21-year-old American Jared Donaldson but won 6-7 (2), 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 10-8 in a marathon that lasted 4 hours, 19 minutes and featured a couple of underhand serves by the cramping Donaldson. Nishikori got past Benoit Paire of France 6-3, 2-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

A reporter asked Zverev about what he told himself while trailing in order to turn his match around.

The 21-year-old German scoffed at the premise.

“I mean, you guys make it sound like we think about it, really. We don’t. We just try to play and win each point, each game. Being two sets to one down is like being a set (behind) in a three-set match. We’re not going to overthink it: `Oh, I’m two sets to one down. What am I going to do? How am I going to play the next point?”‘ he responded. “We try to play our best. We try to maybe change a few tactics and see how we can win the next point and the next game.”

The lengths, if not quality, of those matches were what amounted to on-court intrigue on Day 4 at the clay-court major, because there really was little in the way of stunning outcomes. The only top-16-seeded man or woman who lost was No. 12 Sam Querrey of the U.S., and he’s only once been as far as the third round in 12 appearances at Roland Garros.

Among the women, No. 1 Simona Halep shook off a slow start in a postponed first-round match to defeat Alison Riske of the U.S. 2-6, 6-1, 6-1, while second-round winners included reigning major champions Caroline Wozniacki and Sloane Stephens, along with No. 4 Elina Svitolina, No. 8 Petra Kvitova and No. 13 Madison Keys.

So perhaps the most meaningful moments around the grounds came inside the main interview room as Djokovic discussed his state of mind as he tries to regain his previous status in tennis.

He sat out the last half of 2017 because of a painful right elbow, tried to return in January, then decided to have an operation in February.

Djokovic arrived at Roland Garros with a 10-7 record this season. He was at .500 until showing signs of a resurgence by getting to the Italian Open semifinals on red clay before losing to 10-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal.

“Best practice that you can have is a match. I haven’t had too many matches, and I really never thought that I’m going to be challenged in that way, mentally – that I need matches in order to get confidence. But obviously I’m learning something new, and, yeah, that’s the case,” said Djokovic, who hasn’t won a Grand Slam title since claiming his fourth in a row at the 2016 French Open.

“At times, I do lose maybe a comfort level on the court and confidence, and that’s something that I’m still building gradually, obviously,” he continued. “The more matches I play, the better it is. The more I win, of course, the better it is. Hopefully that can keep going.”

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Tennis star Kyrgios to fight charge on mental health grounds

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CANBERRA, Australia – Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios will apply to have an assault charge dismissed on mental health grounds, his lawyer told an Australian court on Tuesday.

Lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith appeared on behalf of Kyrgios in a court in the tennis star’s hometown of Canberra and asked for an adjournment so forensic mental health reports could be prepared.

Magistrate Glenn Theakston adjourned the case until Feb. 3, when Kyrgios’ lawyers are expected to apply to have the charge dismissed under a section of the local crimes law.

The 27-year-old Australian tennis star will appear in court in person on that date for the first time since he was charged by police by summons in July.

The law gives magistrates the power to dismiss a charge if they are satisfied an accused person is mentally impaired, and dealing with an allegation in that way would benefit the community and the defendant.

The common assault charge, which has a potential maximum sentence of two years in prison, relates to an incident in January 2021 that was reported to local police last December.

The charge reportedly relates to an incident involving his former girlfriend.

Kukulies-Smith told the court his client’s mental health history since 2015 made the application appropriate, citing a number of public statements made by Kyrgios.

In February, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense last month to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

Theakston questioned whether Kyrgios would need to appear in court for the February hearing, but Kukulies-Smith said his client wanted to attend.

Kyrgios was scheduled to play at the Japan Open later Tuesday against Tseng Chun-hsin of Taiwan.

Speaking in Tokyo before his matter returned to court, Kyrgios said it was “not difficult at all” to focus on tennis despite the pending charge.

“There’s only so much I can control and I’m taking all the steps and dealing with that off the court,” he told reporters. “I can only do what I can and I’m here in Tokyo and just trying to play some good tennis, continue that momentum and just try to do my job.”

Wimbledon champ Rybakova beats Keys in Ostrava opener

Agel Open Ostrava - Day One
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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakova came from a set down to defeat Madison Keys 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round of the Agel Open on Monday.

Rybakova had lost to Keys this year at the French Open and Cincinnati.

In other first-round matches in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava, Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia defeated Zhang Shuai of China 6-3, 6-3, and local hope Petra Kvitova overcame American Bernanda Pera 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

Fresh from her second title of the year in Seoul last month, Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia knocked out former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.