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Novak Djokovic credits hike with turnaround

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BELGRADE, Serbia — Novak Djokovic put his career back on track this year, and he credits a mind-cleansing hiking trip with his wife after the French Open with the extraordinary turnaround.

The Serbian tennis great went from winning all four Grand Slam tournaments in a row in 2015-16 to a two-year drought of major titles while bothered by an elbow injury. That all changed at Wimbledon in July, when the 31-year-old Djokovic won his fourth title at the All England Club. He followed that with a third U.S. Open championship, bringing his total to 14 majors.

“After the trip in nature, everything came together,” Djokovic said Monday after a training session in Belgrade. “The finals in Queens, the titles at Wimbledon, Cincinnati and the U.S. Open. … In May, who would have thought I would be in this position.”

Following those big wins, Djokovic has taken some time to rest. He even pulled out of this week’s tournament in Beijing to recuperate further.

“The U.S. Open was physically and mentally one of the most demanding Grand Slams for me,” Djokovic said. “When you win a Slam, it’s like climbing Mount Everest. You need a pause to recharge your batteries.”

However, Djokovic said he was planning to play in Shanghai next week, with the goal of possibly overtaking Rafael Nadal at the top-ranked player by the end of the year. To do that, he may end up playing in Basel, Switzerland, and Vienna, Austria, before the Paris Masters.

“I have to see whether I’ll get a wild card from the organizers,” Djokovic said. “But first, I want to play my best in Shanghai, and then we’ll see.”

Djokovic wins a record fourth Shanghai Masters title

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SHANGHAI (AP) Novak Djokovic won a record fourth Shanghai Masters title with a 6-3, 6-4 win over 13th-seeded Borna Coric on Sunday.

The second-seeded Djokovic has won all four Shanghai finals he’s contested in his career (2012, 2013, 2015 and 2018). He previously shared the record of winning three Shanghai titles with Andy Murray.

Djokovic holds an 11-0 overall record in finals played in China, where he also won the Beijing tournament six times and the 2008 year-end Tennis Masters Cup held in Shanghai.

“Maybe I was Chinese in the past life,” said Djokovic, smiling, in explaining impressive record in the country. “I wouldn’t be surprised, to be honest, with the way I feel here and the way I communicate and have relationship with the people.

“It’s all very, very positive, for more than ten years that I have been coming to China. There is something special about this place that makes me feel like at home.”

Djokovic dominated opponents behind his powerful serve, winning all 47 of his service games during the tournament.

“Well, to be honest, I’m not sure whether it has happened ever, you know, that I go through a tournament without dropping one service game,” Djokovic said. “I’m sure that it hasn’t happened too many times if it did. So this was definitely one of the best service weeks that I had in my career.

“But for me serve was always, so to say, a hidden weapon, the shot in the game that is obviously very important, “the” most important. But I always try to use it with an accuracy and efficiency rather than speed and power.”

The Serb offered 13th-seeded Coric one break point in the match, in the sixth game of the second set. Coric, who has yet to win a set against Djokovic in three matches played, sailed a forehand wide to miss out on the rare opportunity.

“It was really tough,” Coric said. “I didn’t know what to do exactly. I thought I was playing actually really well, which is in that moment not good because if I play bad, okay, I know I need to start playing better, need to change something.

“I’m just happy with the whole week. I think it was a really good week for me.”

Djokovic, who has now won four titles this season, will move up one ranking spot to No. 2, pushing Roger Federer back to No. 3.

The victory extended his winning streak to 18 matches, the longest of the season by any male player. Federer and Nadal both had 17-match winning streaks during the year.

Coric, who had his right thigh wrapped throughout the match, saved three match points on his own serve in the ninth game of the second set.

But the Croatian couldn’t prevent Djokovic from snatching the title on a fourth match point in the next game. Djokovic won the final game to love when Coric sailed a backhand long.

Federer battles, Djokovic cruises, del Potro out in Shanghai

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SHANGHAI — Roger Federer was stretched to three sets for a second consecutive match to reach the Shanghai Masters quarterfinals on Thursday. Nevertheless, the top seed insisted he was content with how he’s playing.

Federer defeated Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, a day after being taken the distance by Daniil Medvedev of Russia.

“I’m actually quite happy,” Federer said. “Bautista really had to raise his level of play in that second set to stay with me. I mean, he really caught fire, I thought. I served, I think, 80 percent in that second set and got broken twice.”

Novak Djokovic cruised through his second-round match, but Juan Martin del Potro had to retire after hurting his right knee in a fall.

Federer led Bautista Agut by a set and a service break when he became entangled in a fight that lasted until the second-to-last game of the third set.

Bautista Agut, a finalist here in 2016, finally offered Federer an opening to take control by surrendering his serve in the ninth game of the third set.

Federer will play eighth-seeded Kei Nishikori, a finalist in Tokyo last week, in the quarterfinals. Nishikori ousted Sam Querrey 7-6 (7), 6-4 on Thursday.

Third-seeded Del Potro, who has been playing with a cold throughout the week, was playing Borna Coric when he fell near the end of the first set. Del Potro had the knee wrapped but called it quits after losing the first set 7-5.

Djokovic earned partial revenge when he beat Marco Cecchinato 6-4, 6-0. The only other time the second-seeded Djokovic played Cecchinato was in the French Open quarterfinals, where the Italian upset him in four sets.

A Masters event is a level below a Grand Slam, but Djokovic was rapt to crush Cecchinato.

“I was making him play always an extra shot,” Djokovic said. “I was aggressive when I needed to be. The second set was perfect, really.”

Since Djokovic lost that French Open match to Cecchinato, he’s won 28 of his 30 matches. The Serb is on a 15-match winning streak, which includes title runs at Cincinnati and the U.S. Open. He’s bidding to win a record fourth Shanghai title this week.

He will take on seventh-seeded Kevin Anderson of South Africa, whom he leads 6-1 on head-to-head. Djokovic defeated Anderson in straight sets in the Wimbledon final in July.

Anderson ousted 10th-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece 6-4, 7-6 (1).

Fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany also advanced to the quarterfinals by pasting Alex de Minaur of Australia 6-1, 6-4.

Zverev will play Kyle Edmund after the Briton defeated Nicolas Jarry of Chile 7-6 (5), 6-3.