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Djokovic wins battle with his ‘other me’ to beat Sandgren

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NEW YORK (AP) Novak Djokovic had become rattled by Tennys Sandgren and a boisterous Arthur Ashe Stadium that knocked him off his game.

But his most troublesome antagonist at the U.S. Open came from within.

“The other me,” Djokovic said with a smile, “that my first me doesn’t like.”

The alternate version of himself that Djokovic detests – when his mind, more than his skill, becomes the problem – surfaced in a puzzling third set when the 31-year-old Serb was only one point from victory but couldn’t close the deal.

“You just have to accept it sometimes,” Djokovic said. “But that’s being a human being, I guess. Not human doing.”

Whatever it was, Djokovic straightened himself and kept on a path toward a third U.S. Open championship .

Djokovic wasted a match point in the third set, before going on to win 6-1, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2 against Sandgren on Thursday night at the U.S. Open to reach the third round.

Djokovic had a much easier victory over Sandgren, an American ranked 61st, in Wimbledon’s first round this year, dropping only six games in all.

The 13-time major champion seemed to be along the same path at Flushing Meadows, standing one point from victory while leading 5-4 in the third set as Sandgren served at 30-40. But Sandgren ended an 11-stroke exchange with a forehand winner, then took the tiebreaker .

Sandgren, who made a surprising run to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, noticed Djokovic’s dip in the third.

“It’s tough to stay really focused and clean for three full sets. It’s just difficult to do,” Sandgren said. “If anybody can do it, he can. But he definitely blinked there for a moment.”

Djokovic, the 2011 and 2015 champion, regained the upper hand with an early break in the fourth and was on his way.

But it wasn’t a fan-friendly victory.

Djokovic whined at Wimbledon when he was booed at times on Centre Court and he complained again at the U.S. Open about fans who turned the night session into a bit of a party.

He got on the fans during his post-match interview on the court for talking during points and said he lost his concentration.

“You can’t expect that 23,000 people are quiet,” he said. “That’s the beauty of night session U.S. Open. Everybody knows that. Wimbledon is all white, it’s tradition. You can’t hear a sound when you play a point. Here it’s different. That’s why these majors are unique in their own way.”

He has reunited with coach Marian Vajda – they briefly parted ways and Djokovic had a brief dalliance with Andre Agassi – to marked improvement. Djokovic knocked off Roger Federer in August to win a title in Cincinnati and a renewed focus with Vajda has been a key factor.

“When he came back, obviously we had to analyze what has happened in the last 12 months that we were not together and try to understand the situation with my body, with my game,” Djokovic said.

Djokovic, who missed last year’s Open with a sore elbow, won his 13th Grand Slam title this year at Wimbledon.

To get 14, he’ll have to keep his “other me” under wraps.

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Novak Djokovic hires Radek Stepanek as coach

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MONACO — Novak Djokovic is bringing aboard former top-10 player Radek Stepanek as a coach.

Djokovic, a 12-time major champion, and Stepanek announced their partnership during a joint appearance on Instagram Live on Thursday.

Said Djokovic: “So this is the new team, baby. This is my new man.”

Added Stepanek: “Now it’s official.”

What was not immediately clear was how Stepanek and Andre Agassi, who began working with Djokovic on a part-time basis at the French Open in May, will divide their coaching duties. Djokovic split from longtime coach Marian Vajda shortly before bringing aboard Agassi, and stopped working with Boris Becker a year ago.

Djokovic hasn’t competed since a loss at Wimbledon in July, citing a right elbow injury.

Stepanek retired as a player in November and turned 39 on Monday. He was ranked as high as No. 8 in singles and No. 4 in doubles and won two Grand Slam men’s doubles titles. He also won a bronze medal in mixed doubles for the Czech Republic at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Andy Murray out of U.S. Open with hip injury

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NEW YORK — His voice choking, Andy Murray unexpectedly announced Saturday that he was withdrawing from the U.S. Open because of a hip injury, adding to the lengthy list of top players who will miss the year’s last Grand Slam tournament.

Murray was seeded No. 2 at Flushing Meadows, where play begins Monday.

“Did pretty much everything that I could to get myself ready here and took a number of weeks off after Wimbledon. I obviously spoke to a lot of hip specialists. Tried obviously resting, rehabbing, to try and get myself ready here,” said Murray, who won the 2012 U.S. Open for the first of his three major championships.

“Was actually practicing OK the last few days,” he added, “but it’s too sore for me to win the tournament. And ultimately, that’s what I was here to try and do.”

Murray, who yielded the No. 1 ranking to Rafael Nadal this week, has not played a match since July 12 at Wimbledon, where he was the defending champion and clearly was hampered by his hip during a five-set quarterfinal loss to Sam Querrey.

The 30-year-old from Britain revealed during a news conference at the U.S. Open site Saturday that the hip first bothered him during his semifinal loss to Stan Wawrinka at the French Open in June.

Murray said he will decide in the “next couple of days” whether to end his season because of the injury.

He has dealt with hip problems off and on for years, but not to the point where it forced him off the tour for an extended absence.

“I certainly wouldn’t have been hurting myself more by trying to play. It was more a question of whether it would settle down in time,” Murray said. “Obviously I kind of ran out of time.”

Murray’s exit from the U.S. Open further depletes an event that already was missing three of last year’s four men’s semifinalists, including 2016 champion Wawrinka, runner-up Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori.

Three-time major champion Wawrinka recently had surgery on his left knee, 12-time major champion Djokovic has a bad right elbow and 2014 U.S. Open runner-up Nishikori has an injured right wrist. All three have said they are done for the year.

Add in 2016 Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic, who has a problem with his left wrist, and Murray, and now five of the top 11 men in this week’s ATP rankings will be absent.

That leaves No. 1 seed Nadal and No. 3 Roger Federer – who has been dealing with a bad back himself – as the two clear favorites for the men’s trophy. They were drawn Friday into the same half of the bracket, meaning they could only meet in the semifinals in New York.

“Obviously there has been a lot of players with injuries this year,” Murray said. “Look, I want to be back on court as soon as I can. If it means that I can play before the end of the year, then that’s what I would love to do. I miss competing, and I’ll try to get myself back on court as soon as I can.”

If Murray had pulled out of the field anytime before the draw was conducted Thursday, then Federer would have moved up to the No. 2 seeding and automatically would be in the bottom half of the bracket, setting up the possibility of a final between him and Nadal.

Instead, Federer stays where he is at No. 3.

No. 5 Marin Cilic, the 2014 champion, shifts to Murray’s slot in the bracket and takes on the man who was supposed to face Murray in the first round, Tennys Sandgren of the United States. Under Grand Slam rules, the man seeded 17th – in this case Querrey – moves to Cilic’s vacated spot and will play Gilles Simon of France. Querrey’s old line in the draw gets filled by the highest-ranked man who was not seeded originally, Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany; he becomes seed No. 33 and plays qualifier Tim Smyczek of the U.S.

Lukas Lacko of Slovakia, who lost in qualifying, gets into the 128-man field as a “lucky loser,” replacing Murray. Lacko will play Benoit Paire of France.