Novak Djokovic motivated to compete again for biggest titles

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MONACO — Novak Djokovic is ready to move on from the controversy surrounding his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“I miss competition,” the Serbian tennis star said on the opening day of the clay-court season at the Monte Carlo Masters in Monaco. “I still feel motivation to be on the tour and compete. and try to challenge the best players in the world for the biggest titles.”

The 20-time Grand Slam champion has played only one tournament so far in 2022, losing to Jiri Vesely in the quarterfinals of the Dubai Championships.

Djokovic could not defend his Australian Open title in January after he was deported from the country for not being inoculated.

More recently, he had to skip tournaments in Indian Wells, California, and Miami because he couldn’t travel to the United States for the same reason.

He has declared that he would not get the vaccine in order to be able to compete.

It has been a turbulent start to 2022 for Djokovic, who went through detention and a court case during an 11-day saga in Australia before he was sent home and not allowed to defend his title at Melbourne Park.

Rafael Nadal went on to win the Australian Open for his 21st major trophy, breaking a tie with Djokovic and Roger Federer.

At the end of February, Djokovic lost his No. 1 ranking for the first time in two years, sliding to No. 2 behind Daniil Medvedev, before reclaiming top spot.

And on March 1, Djokovic announced that he and coach Marian Vajda were splitting after 15 years together.

“The last four, five months have been really challenging for me mentally and emotionally but here I am and I try to leave all that behind and move on,” Djokovic said on Sunday.

Djokovic said what happened in Australia has not impacted his ability to win.

“I don’t feel like it has left huge scars on me that I’m unable to train or participate in tournaments or live my life,” Djokovic said. “I will try to use that as a fuel for what’s coming up.”

His opening match in Monaco is scheduled for Tuesday.

The authorities in France and Monaco lifted most COVID-19 restrictions last month, allowing people who aren’t vaccinated into the country and back into restaurants, sports arenas and other venues.

With his French Open title in 2021 still fresh in his mind, Djokovic proclaimed that the clay in Monaco is the best surface to stage his comeback even though “historically it has not been my most successful surface.”

“I will try to use (the French Open title) as an inspiration to kick-start the clay court season the best possible way,” Djokovic said. “I understand that I probably won’t be at my best, particularly at the beginning.”

He added that “it will take some time, some matches to really get in the groove.”

The French Open starts on May 22 in Paris.

Alycia Parks reaches 1st WTA quarterfinal in Ostrava

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — American qualifier Alycia Parks is having quite the breakthrough tournament in Ostrava.

The 21-year-old Parks earned her first win against a top-10 ranked opponent by beating fourth-seeded Maria Sakkari 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 at the Agel Open on Thursday to reach her first WTA Tour quarterfinal.

The 144th-ranked Parks ousted former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova in the opening round – her first win against a top-20 opponent – and showed off her power by hitting 59 winners against Sakkari, compared to just nine for her opponent.

“I came out here not expecting anything, just playing my game, and it got me through the match,” Parks said.

Parks will next face former French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who advanced via walkover when Belinda Bencic withdrew with a left foot injury.

Caty McNally, another American qualifier who is playing doubles with Parks in Ostrava, also reached the last eight by beating wild-card entry Karolina Muchova 6-1, 3-6, 6-1. McNally is also into her first WTA quarterfinal and will face top-ranked Iga Swiatek, who advanced Wednesday.

Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Add Botic van de Zandschulp to the long list of players to have been schooled by Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic eased past Van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-1 on Thursday in his first career meeting with the 27-year-old Dutchman to reach the quarterfinals of the Astana Open.

Van de Zandschulp earned one break point in each set but couldn’t seriously threaten Djokovic, who is looking for a second straight indoor hardcourt title after winning in Tel Aviv last week.

“(In the) second set I think I started to read his serve better and just started swinging through the court more,” Djokovic said. “Botic is a quality tennis player. When he has time, he can hurt you, so I tried to take away that time from him and I’m very pleased with the way I played, particularly in the second.”

Djokovic will next face Karen Khachanov, who rallied to beat Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. If the 21-time Grand Slam champion gets past that one, he could come up against fellow former No. 1 Daniil Medvedev. The second-seeded Russian beat Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland 6-3, 6-2 to move one match away from a potential rematch of last year’s U.S. Open final, when Medvedev beat Djokovic to deny his attempt at a calendar-year Grand Slam.

Medvedev will first have to beat Roberto Bautista Agut, who advanced Wednesday.