Djokovic wins battle with his ‘other me’ to beat Sandgren

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NEW YORK (AP) Novak Djokovic had become rattled by Tennys Sandgren and a boisterous Arthur Ashe Stadium that knocked him off his game.

But his most troublesome antagonist at the U.S. Open came from within.

“The other me,” Djokovic said with a smile, “that my first me doesn’t like.”

The alternate version of himself that Djokovic detests – when his mind, more than his skill, becomes the problem – surfaced in a puzzling third set when the 31-year-old Serb was only one point from victory but couldn’t close the deal.

“You just have to accept it sometimes,” Djokovic said. “But that’s being a human being, I guess. Not human doing.”

Whatever it was, Djokovic straightened himself and kept on a path toward a third U.S. Open championship .

Djokovic wasted a match point in the third set, before going on to win 6-1, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2 against Sandgren on Thursday night at the U.S. Open to reach the third round.

Djokovic had a much easier victory over Sandgren, an American ranked 61st, in Wimbledon’s first round this year, dropping only six games in all.

The 13-time major champion seemed to be along the same path at Flushing Meadows, standing one point from victory while leading 5-4 in the third set as Sandgren served at 30-40. But Sandgren ended an 11-stroke exchange with a forehand winner, then took the tiebreaker .

Sandgren, who made a surprising run to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, noticed Djokovic’s dip in the third.

“It’s tough to stay really focused and clean for three full sets. It’s just difficult to do,” Sandgren said. “If anybody can do it, he can. But he definitely blinked there for a moment.”

Djokovic, the 2011 and 2015 champion, regained the upper hand with an early break in the fourth and was on his way.

But it wasn’t a fan-friendly victory.

Djokovic whined at Wimbledon when he was booed at times on Centre Court and he complained again at the U.S. Open about fans who turned the night session into a bit of a party.

He got on the fans during his post-match interview on the court for talking during points and said he lost his concentration.

“You can’t expect that 23,000 people are quiet,” he said. “That’s the beauty of night session U.S. Open. Everybody knows that. Wimbledon is all white, it’s tradition. You can’t hear a sound when you play a point. Here it’s different. That’s why these majors are unique in their own way.”

He has reunited with coach Marian Vajda – they briefly parted ways and Djokovic had a brief dalliance with Andre Agassi – to marked improvement. Djokovic knocked off Roger Federer in August to win a title in Cincinnati and a renewed focus with Vajda has been a key factor.

“When he came back, obviously we had to analyze what has happened in the last 12 months that we were not together and try to understand the situation with my body, with my game,” Djokovic said.

Djokovic, who missed last year’s Open with a sore elbow, won his 13th Grand Slam title this year at Wimbledon.

To get 14, he’ll have to keep his “other me” under wraps.

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

Nick Bollettieri, coach to many tennis stars, dies at 91

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Nick Bollettieri, the Hall of Fame tennis coach who worked with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Andre Agassi and Monica Seles, and founded an academy that revolutionized the development of young athletes, died at 91.

Bollettieri died at home in Florida after a series of health issues, his manager, Steve Shulla, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

“When he became sick, he got so many wonderful messages from former students and players and coaches. Many came to visit him. He got videos from others,” Shulla said. “It was wonderful. He touched so many lives and he had a great send-off.”

Known for his gravelly voice, leathery skin and wraparound sunglasses – and a man who called himself the “Michelangelo of Tennis” despite never playing professionally – Bollettieri helped no fewer than 10 players who went on to be No. 1 in the world rankings. That group includes sisters Serena and Venus Williams, Jim Courier, Maria Sharapova, Agassi and Seles.

“Our dear friend, Nick Bollettieri, graduated from us last night. He gave so many a chance to live their dream,” Agassi wrote on Twitter. “He showed us all how life can be lived to the fullest. Thank you, Nick.”

Bollettieri remained active into his 80s, touring the world to drop in on the top tournaments and, in 2014, became only the fourth coach to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. That was the same year another one of his proteges, Kei Nishikori, reached the final of the U.S. Open.

Six of his pupils already are in the Hall of Fame, a number sure to grow once others are eligible.

“I forged my own path, which others found to be unorthodox and downright crazy,” Bollettieri said in his induction speech at the hall in Newport, Rhode Island. “Yes, I am crazy. But it takes crazy people to do things that other people say cannot be done.”

The Bollettieri Tennis Academy opened in 1978 in Bradenton, Florida, and was purchased by IMG in 1987.

The IMG Academy now spans more than 600 acres and offers programs in more than a half-dozen sports in addition to tennis.

Bollettieri was an educator who would brag he never read a book, never mind that he majored in philosophy in college and even gave law school a try, albeit for less than a year.

He also was an adept self-promoter – one who would publish a pair of autobiographies – no matter that detractors dismissed him as a hustler and huckster. The truth is, any criticism was no match for the astounding success of his pupils.

His teaching methods were widely copied and tennis academies dot the globe today.

“Our sport lost one of its most passionate coaches & advocates,” Hall of Fame member Billie Jean King wrote on Twitter. “Nick was always positive & was able to get the best out of everyone fortunate enough to work w/him.”

Bollettieri’s first student to reach No. 1 was Boris Becker in 1991. Then came others, such as Martina Hingis, Marcelo Rios and Jelena Jankovic.

Just as rewarding, Bollettieri said, were the successes of less accomplished players.

“The fuel that has sustained me to the summit is, without a doubt, my passion to help others become champions of life, not champions just on the tennis court,” he said. “Nothing makes me more happy than when I run into a past student or receive a kind note telling me how I changed their lives, that they are better parents, lawyers, doctors, CEOs and people because of the impact I made on their lives.”

Bollettieri’s devotion to his players came at a cost. For much of his career, he was on the road nine months out of every year, and he cited his travel schedule as one reason he was married eight times.

Survivors include his wife, Cindi, seven children and four grandchildren, according to Shulla, who said a celebration of Bollettieri’s life is planned for March.

Nicholas James Bollettieri was born July 31, 1931, in Pelham, New York. He earned a philosophy degree and played tennis at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, and was a paratrooper in the Army before enrolling in law school at the University of Miami.

For spending money, Bollettieri began teaching tennis for $1.50 an hour, according to the Hall of Fame. More than 60 years later, his fee was $900.

After a few months, he dropped out of law school to concentrate on coaching. At first, he conceded, knowledge of tennis technique wasn’t his forte.

“I didn’t know much about teaching the game,” he said. “The gift God gave me was the ability to read people.”

Bollettieri won praise for his motivational skills, yelling when he deemed it necessary. He had an eye for talent and was a visionary regarding boot-camp training for young athletes who lived together.

He bought a club in 1978, and students lived in his house. Two years later, he borrowed $1 million from a friend to build a first-of-its-kind complex in what had been a tomato field.

The site now has a boarding school, 55 tennis courts and facilities for seven other sports, including football, basketball and baseball.

Running a business wasn’t Bollettieri’s strong suit, and he sold the academy to IMG but continued to work there, stressing a tactical approach that transformed tennis. He urged players to take advantage of modern racket technology, emphasizing power over finesse.

The academy churned out big hitters who relied on their serve and forehand to overpower opponents. That approach worked for Agassi, Seles, Courier and many others.

“In my dreams,” Bollettieri confessed with a grin, “I say, `Nick, you’re darn good.”‘

Fernando Verdasco accepts 2-month doping ban

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
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LONDON – Former top-10 player Fernando Verdasco accepted a voluntary provisional doping suspension of two months after testing positive for a medication for ADHD, the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Verdasco, who turned 39 this month, said he was taking methylphenidate as medication prescribed by his doctor to treat ADHD but forgot to renew his therapeutic use exemption for the drug. The integrity agency said Verdasco has now been granted an exemption by the World Anti-Doping Agency moving forward.

He tested positive at an ATP Challenger tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in February.

The integrity agency said in a news release that it “accepts that the player did not intend to cheat, that his violation was inadvertent and unintentional, and that he bears no significant fault or negligence for it,” and so what could have been a two-year suspension was reduced to two months.

Verdasco will be eligible to compete on Jan. 8.

The Spaniard is a four-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, reaching that stage most recently in 2013 at Wimbledon, where he blew a two-set lead in a five-set loss to eventual champion Andy Murray.

Verdasco reached a career-best ranking of No. 7 in April 2009 and currently is No. 125.