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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.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

More AP tennis coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Federer, Zverev lead Team Europe to Laver Cup win

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CHICAGO — Alexander Zverev beat Kevin Anderson on Sunday night to give Team Europe a victory in the second Laver Cup.

Zverev won the final five points to defeat Anderson 6-7, 7-5, (10-7). His victory helped Team Europe beat Team World 13-8.

Roger Federer earlier put Team Europe ahead by saving three match points for a 6-7, 7-6, (10-7) victory over John Isner.

Isner staggered Federer with a body serve that caused the 20-time Grand Slam winner to stumble early in the match. But Federer regrouped and fought off two match points in the second-set tiebreaker before capturing the deciding 10-point tiebreaker used in the Laver Cup.

In the opening doubles match, Jack Sock and Isner saved two match points in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Federer and Zverev 4-6, 7-6, (11-9).

Team Europe won the first Laver Cup last year in Prague.

Muguruza wins in first round of Wuhan Open; Ostapenko loses

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WUHAN, China — Gabrine Muguruza got off to winning start at the Wuhan Open. Jelena Ostapenko didn’t.

Muguruza defeated Alison Van Uytvanck 6-4, 6-0 on Monday in the first round of the tournament, avenging a second-round loss to the Belgian at Wimbledon.

“I’m happy that I won this time. I remember the match from Wimbledon, like a very tough match for me,” said Muguruza, who had been the defending champion at the All England Club. “It’s always good to play again the same person that beat you, feeling good you did something much better than the previous match.”

Muguruza will next face Swiss qualifier Viktorija Golubic, who defeated Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

Ostapenko, who followed Muguruza as French Open champion in 2017, was beaten by Daria Gavrilova 6-2, 6-4.

Gavrilova, who won for only the second time in four appearances at the Wuhan Open, broke Ostapneko’s serve five times. She will next play Barbora Strycova, who defeated Alize Cornet 6-3, 6-2.

Ashleigh Barty, a finalist last year in Wuhan, defeated Johanna Konta 7-5, 6-4 to advance.

Other winners included Aryna Sabalenka, Donna Vekic, Aleksandra Krunic, Dominika Cibulkova, Madison Keys and Wang Xiyu.