Djokovic tops teen "Ruuune!" at US Open in calendar Slam bid

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NEW YORK – If the last-name chorus of “Ruuuuuune!” in support of his relatively unknown teenage opponent at the U.S. Open bothered Novak Djokovic, he never let anyone know.

Nor was there any visible evidence that Djokovic was shaken by the shaky patches he went through while dropping a set Tuesday night as he began his historic bid to complete the first calendar-year Grand Slam in men’s tennis since 1969 and collect a record-breaking 21st major singles championship.

Djokovic was not perfect – “It wasn’t the best of my performances,” he acknowledged – but he didn’t need to be. All he needed to do was win, and he did, just as he’s done every time he’s played a Grand Slam match this season, whether on the hard courts of the Australian Open, the red clay of the French Open, the grass of Wimbledon or, now, the first of what he hopes will be seven times on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows.

Quickly regaining control after a second-set blip, then wearing down his cramping foe, Djokovic beat Danish qualifier Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-1 to reach the second round.

“I mean, obviously you always wish to have crowd behind you, but it’s not always possible. That’s all I can say. I mean, I don’t know; I’ve been focusing on myself and what I need to do,” said Djokovic, who next faces Tallon Griekspoor, a 25-year-old from Netherlands ranked 121st who got into the field when Roger Federer pulled out. “I guess I have to just see how it feels on the court and try to keep it together. That’s all I can do.”

So many differences between the two players in Arthur Ashe Stadium on a muggy Tuesday evening.

Djokovic is 34; Rune 18. Djokovic is ranked No. 1; Rune 145th. Djokovic owns 20 Grand Slam titles, the men’s mark he currently shares with rivals Federer and Rafael Nadal; Rune, the junior champion at Roland Garros two years ago, had never played a match in the main draw of a major tournament until Tuesday. Djokovic’s on-court career earnings entering this week were more than $150 million; Rune’s were less than $150,000.

Rune showed up with some belongings in a blue Ikea shopping tote – “It’s a nice bag,” he explained – and wearing a backward-turned yellow hat, which he exchanged for a blue one after the first set. His descriptions of this match sounded as if they arrived from someone very much his age: All in all, he found it to be a “crazy experience” and “a dream come true,” and the crowd support was “unbelievable” and a “pretty sick feeling.”

Rune did come in on a 13-match winning streak, built on the lower-level ATP Challenger Tour and the qualifying rounds in New York. The fans – back at the U.S. Open after all spectators were banned last year because of the coronavirus pandemic – gave him some serious backing, responding to his pumped fists and uppercuts and pleas for more noise when he was playing at his best level in the second set.

What initially sounded like booing to both players was actually “Rune-ing,” and the kid clearly loved the moment. So did his mother, clapping and smiling in his guest box, which also included Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ coach. Rune has trained at Mouratoglou’s tennis academy in France.

Williams came so close to going 4 for 4 at the majors in 2015, before losing in the semifinals at the U.S. Open against Roberta Vinci in one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. Had Djokovic lost this, it would have been even more of a stunner.

Earlier on Day Two, the top-seeded woman, Ash Barty, made a successful return to the site of one of the two Grand Slam tournaments she has yet to win.

The biggest holdup for Barty during her 6-1, 7-6 (7) victory over 2010 U.S. Open runner-up Vera Zvonareva came early in the first set. There was a delay of more than five minutes because the Hawk-Eye Live electronic line-calling system went down when a TV camera wasn’t working.

“Just needed to make sure all cameras were spot on, and just, I think, plug one back in,” said Barty, the champion at the French Open in 2019 and Wimbledon this July but never past the fourth round at the U.S. Open, “and we were all right to go.”

She missed the tournament in 2020 because of the COVID-19 outbreak, remaining home in Australia.

This year, for the first time, every match on every court these two weeks is operating without any line judges. Instead, the only human officiating is the chair umpire, while every shot is ruled in or out by a system that uses cameras to detect where balls land.

Last year, electronic calls for each match except those played at the biggest two arenas, Ashe and Louis Armstrong Stadium, where people made the rulings. It was during a fourth-round match in Ashe against Pablo Carreno Busta that Djokovic was defaulted after a game in the first set when he smacked a ball that inadvertently hit a line judge in the throat.

The capable-of-combustion Djokovic, who chucked a racket into the stands while losing to Carreno Busta in the bronze medal match at the Tokyo Olympics a month ago, kept a steady countenance Tuesday, even as a set slipped away and there was applause for his faults during the tiebreaker.

Sure, there was an eye roll here or there. Puffed cheeks. A shake of his head. But otherwise, no outward betrayal of emotion.

Carreno Busta, was a surprise first-round loser Tuesday. He was eliminated 5-7, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7) by Maxime Cressy, a Paris-born American ranked 151st. Cressy played college tennis at UCLA, as did Mackie McDonald, the American who defeated No. 27 seed David Goffin in straight sets.

In other action, the two Olympic tennis singles gold medalists won: Germany’s Alexander Zverev extended his winning streak to 12 matches with a 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 victory over Sam Querrey, and Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic beat Arantxa Rus 6-4, 6-4.

“I hope I can keep the level up and maybe even play better,” said Zverev, the runner-up at the U.S. Open last year, “because to beat Novak here is going to be an extremely difficult task.”

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

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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.