Djokovic eyes 5th post-30 Slam title in Australia

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MELBOURNE, Australia — The secret to Novak Djokovic’s post-30 success? Not his best-in-tennis return. Or his limb-twisting, body-bending court coverage. Or even his baseline consistency or clutch gene.

No, ask Djokovic to explain how he keeps playing so well at this age, and the Australian Open’s defending champion points to a quality he says he shares with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

“Roger has talked about this as well, Rafa as well, that age is just a number. It’s not just a cliche, but it’s really something that I feel like the three of us have in common. It’s really the way we approach career and our everyday life,” Djokovic said during a news conference before the year’s first Grand Slam tournament begins Monday (Sunday EST).

“I think we found a way, a formula, to balance private (and) professional life, so we are able to kind of excel in tennis and still be able to compete at the highest level after many years, still be motivated, still be mentally fresh and, of course, physically prepared and fit to compete in best-of-five-sets with young players that are coming up.”

Djokovic, 32, already owns four major titles since he turned 30, the same number as Federer. Only one man has won more often at that stage of his career in the professional era: Nadal, 33, has five such championships.

They also, of course, occupy the top three spots in history for men’s singles trophies at majors. Federer leads with 20, one ahead of Nadal.

Djokovic has quickly risen to 16, including a record seven at Melbourne Park, by grabbing four of the past six overall.

“For me, it seems like my career was going in sequences of several years. I think every sequence had different circumstances in life, in different situations, that have made me the person and the player I am today. I just had to adapt to these newly occurring circumstances and evolve, kind of grow stronger, and also find purpose and motivation in each of these phases,” Djokovic said, speaking in paragraphs, as he often does.

“I mean, I’m a completely different person, have a completely different life today than I had five years ago. I’m a father of two children. Obviously things are not the way they were 5 or 10 years ago. I know that,” he said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better or it’s worse. It’s just different.”

Another factor that at first seemed like a burden but Djokovic now calls an inspiration and motivator is the push he’s gotten to improve by needing to compete in an era with Federer and Nadal.

Djokovic is seeded second in Australia — one spot behind Nadal, one spot ahead of Federer — and is scheduled for the last match in Rod Laver Arena on Day 1, playing 37th-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff at night.

Federer, Serena Williams and 2019 champion Naomi Osaka play in that stadium during the day, while top-ranked Ash Barty — who will try to become the first Australian woman in 40 years to win the country’s major — precedes Djokovic at night.

The most anticipated contest of the opening day is slated for Margaret Court Arena: seven-time major champion Venus Williams, 39, against Coco Gauff, 15, in a rematch of their first-round matchup at Wimbledon last year won by the teenager.

The tennis world is waiting for a young man to take a step forward and win a major championship; there hasn’t been a first-time major winner under 30 since 2014.

“Well, they’re coming closer and closer. It’s obvious,” Djokovic said, mentioning 23-year-old Daniil Medvedev (runner-up to Nadal at the U.S. Open last year), 26-year-old Dominic Thiem (twice the runner-up to Nadal at the French Open) and 21-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas (a semifinalist at the Australian Open a year ago).

“They’re very, very close. They’re literally one set away,” Djokovic added. “On a given day, in the very near future, I think that can happen. It’s going to happen. It’s inevitable. What they’re missing? I don’t think they are missing too much, to be honest.”

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”

Sonego beats Bublik at Moselle Open to win 1st title of 2022

Winston-Salem Open - Day 5
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METZ, France – Lorenzo Sonego clinched his first title of the season by beating Alexander Bublik 7-6 (3), 6-2 in the Moselle Open final.

The 27-year-old Italian did not drop a set all tournament as he won the third title of his career and first on hard courts.

The unseeded Sonego recovered from 0-40 down in the fifth game of the match and secured victory when the seventh-seeded Bublik sent a backhand return long.

He then danced on court as he celebrated a perfect tournament where he also beat defending champion Hubert Hurkacz in the semifinals.

Sonego’s win will move him up 21 places in the ATP rankings and into 44th place.