Djokovic deals with pain, Federer faces deficit at U.S. Open

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NEW YORK — Maybe, just maybe, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are feeling some lingering after-effects of their historic Wimbledon final last month.

For Djokovic, it’s in the form of a left shoulder that is hurting right now and probably contributed to slower-than-usual serves in the U.S. Open’s second round Wednesday night.

For Federer, it’s in the form of slow starts: He’s lost the opening set each of his first two matches at Flushing Meadows for the first time in 19 times he’s entered the Grand Slam tournament.

If they’re going to reprise their rivalry late next week in the semifinals, both will need to improve.

Djokovic was repeatedly visited by a trainer for shoulder massages at changeovers during a ragged 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-1 victory over 56th-ranked Juan Ignacio Londero of Argentina. Djokovic is a righty, of course, but he uses his other hand both for ball tosses on serves and on his two-fisted backhand – and both were less effective for stretches.

“I was definitely tested. This is something I’ve been carrying for a quite a while now,” said Djokovic, who repeatedly shook his left arm between points while serving in his first-round match Monday and did that again this time. “It wasn’t easy playing with the pain and you have to fight and hope you get lucky with some shots.”

Even though he won for the 35th time in his past 36 Slam matches, including in a fifth-set tiebreaker against Federer at the All England Club on July 14, the Serb looked uncomfortable and went away for stretches, including trailing 3-0 in the second set.

Asked how he plans to prepare for his next match Friday, Djokovic replied with a laugh: “I’ll probably freeze my arm for 48 hours, not do anything with it, and then see what happens.”

Federer, meanwhile, is not about to start trying new tricks now, despite needing to come back twice already.

He got to the third round by beating Damir Dzumhur 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 on an afternoon when rain postponed all but nine scheduled singles matches and every doubles contest.

Still, it’s not as if the guy is going to seek some sort of magic solution. Working up more of a sweat in the gym before heading to the court, say. Or playing an extra practice set.

What he chose to focus on, instead, is looking on the bright side: “Can only do better,” Federer said, “which is a great thing, moving forward.”

At a Flushing Meadows flush with surprises so far – half of the top 12 seeded men already were gone by the time Federer stepped into Arthur Ashe Stadium – he cleaned up his act quickly.

Indeed, Federer was one of the lucky ones who will stay on the usual play-one-day, get-a-day-off Grand Slam schedule. Only matches at Ashe or Louis Armstrong Stadium, the event’s two arenas with a retractable roof, were held.

That included a loss by two-time champion Venus Williams to No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina, and victories for No. 2 Ash Barty, No. 3 Karolina Pliskova and 2017 runner-up Madison Keys on the women’s side, and a win for No. 7 Kei Nishikori on the men’s.

The night program included Williams’ younger sister, Serena, against 17-year-old American Caty McNally.

“You go through a little phase where you don’t start so well and everybody asks you right away, `What are you going to do?’ You’re like, I don’t know. Just go back to the drawing board. Just do the same things again. You hope for a better outcome,” said Federer, owner of a total of 20 major trophies, four ahead of Djokovic. “I don’t think there is, per se, a secret to a good start, other than warming up well, being well-prepared mentally, not underestimating your opponent. I did all of that. You know me, I will always do that.”

He also ceded the first set to 190th-ranked Sumit Nagal of an eventual four-set victory Monday.

Federer called that pattern “just a bit frustrating, more than anything, especially when the level is that low and there is that many errors and the energy is not kind of there.”

Against Dzumhur, who is ranked No. 99 now but has been as high as No. 23, Federer fell behind 4-0 after all of 15 minutes. He was sluggish and his shots were off-target, to the tune of 12 unforced errors within the match’s first 19 points.

“Basically,” Federer concluded, “the entire set, just sort of donated.”

Hardly ideal, on this particular day or in the big picture: Never in the 107-year history of the tournament has a man gone on to claim the trophy after losing the first set in both of his first two matches.

What matters right now, of course, is that Federer is still in the draw.

Borna Coric, who was seeded 12th, was the latest to exit, withdrawing because of a lower back strain before he was supposed to face Grigor Dimitrov on Wednesday. That followed losses Tuesday by a quartet of top-10 men all on Rafael Nadal’s half of the bracket: No. 4 Dominic Thiem, No. 8 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 9 Karen Khachanov and No. 10 Roberto Bautista Agut.

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.