Novak Djokovic got off to a winning start at the Italian Open on Wednesday, advancing to the third round of the clay-court tournament in his first match since his US Open disqualification earlier this month.
The world number one, the recipient of a first round bye in Rome, eased past Italian wild card entry Salvatore Caruso 6-3, 6-2 at the Foro Italico.
Four-time Rome winner Djokovic will next play either fellow Serb Filip Krajinovic or Italian qualifier Marco Cecchinato for a place in the quarter-finals.
Djokovic was unbeaten in 2020 before his dramatic last 16 default in New York on September 6 after he accidently struck a line judge with a ball hit in frustration.
Nine-time Rome winner Rafael Nadal will make his return to competition later on Wednesday after a six-month hiatus linked to the coronavirus pandemic.
The number two seed plays fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno, a recent semi-finalist of the US Open, for a place in the third round.
Sixth seeded Belgian David Goffin lost his second round match 6-2, 6-2 to Croatia’s Marin Cilic in the final tune-up for the French Open in Roland Garros from September 27.
Novak Djokovic sailed into the last 16 of the US Open on Friday as off-court intrigue forced the delay of a men’s singles match over issues linked to coronavirus.
Djokovic outclassed Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 in a routine victory for the world number one, who is chasing an 18th Grand Slam singles title.
Far from routine was a last-minute attempt by New York health officials to prevent France’s Adrian Mannarino from playing his last-32 encounter against German fifth seed Alexander Zverev.
The intervention led to a back and forth between tournament organizers and the state government and resulted in the match, which Zverev won in four sets, starting over three hours late.
“It was a weird situation for me,” said Mannarino, one of 11 players put under enhanced safety protocols earlier this week after compatriot Benoit Paire was withdrawn from the tournament after testing positive for coronavirus.
“I was just laying on the sofa still trying to be focused just in case I would go on court,” he said, following Zverev’s 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 6-2 victory.
Zverev will now play unseeded Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the last 16 while Djokovic will play Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta for a place in the quarter-finals.
– Osaka struggles –
Earlier, Japan’s Naomi Osaka battled into the last 16 of the women’s draw.
The two-time Grand Slam winner required three sets and 2hr 33 min to dislodge 18-year-old Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk in an early game at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The Japanese fourth seed, who threw her racquet in frustration after losing the second set on tie-break, prevailed 6-3, 6-7 (4/7), 6-2 against the world number 137.
“I just felt like I had so many points that I didn’t capitalise on. I think when I went up, I became a bit passive and then she came in because she has no fear,” said Osaka, 22.
Her experience came to the fore in the deciding set as she held her serve and broke Kostyuk twice to set up a match against 14th seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia for a place in the quarter-finals.
Elsewhere, sixth seed Petra Kvitova breezed past American Jessica Pegula 6-4, 6-3 to set up a last-16 encounter with Shelby Rogers, also of the United States.
Eighth seed Petra Martic of Croatia swept aside unseeded Russian Varvara Gracheva 6-3, 6-3.
Martic will play Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan in the last 16 after the 23rd seed powered past Vera Lapko of Belarus 6-3, 6-3.
Germany’s 17th seed Angelique Kerber also progressed to the fourth round, making light work of American Ann Li 6-3, 6-4.
Kerber, the 2016 US Open champion, will go up against Jennifer Brady for a quarter-final spot after the American 28th seed knocked out France’s Caroline Garcia 6-3, 6-3.
Garcia had provided the biggest upset of the tournament on Wednesday when she eliminated top seed Karolina Pliskova.
– Tsitsipas stunned –
In the men’s draw, Croatia’s 27th seed Borna Coric staged a remarkable Houdini act to stun fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in a 4hr 36min late-night thriller.
Coric appeared to be heading for certain defeat after Tsitsipas, leading by two sets to one, opened up a 5-1 lead in the fourth.
But Coric rallied superbly, saving six match points and fighting back to take the set 7-5 to force a decider.
Tsitsipas went a break up once more in the fifth but couldn’t press home the advantage as Coric forced a tie break before clinching a 6-7 (2/7), 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7/4) win.
Twelfth seed Denis Shapovalov recovered from 5-2 down in the fourth set to pip American number 19 seed Taylor Fritz 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-2
Fritz, 22 was within two points of victory before the 21-year-old Shapovalov completed a remarkable comeback.
“I think we both deserved to win,” said Shapovalov. “It was great tennis and I think I just got a little bit lucky.”
The Canadian will do battle with seventh seed David Goffin for a place in the quarter-finals after the Belgian brushed aside Serbia’s 26th seed Filip Krajinovic 6-1, 7-6 (7/5), 6-4.
Britain’s involvement in the singles ended on Friday with both Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie exiting.
France’s Corentin Moutet knocked out Evans 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) 7-6 (7/1) as they resumed their second-round match that was postponed Thursday because of rain.
Top-ranked Novak Djokovic rallied to defeat Canada’s Milos Raonic 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in Saturday’s ATP Western & Southern Open final, remaining unbeaten this year only two days before his first US Open match.
The 33-year-old Serbian star won his 80th career title, improving to 23-0 in 2020 and 11-0 all-time against Raonic, while capturing his 35th ATP Masters Series crown, matching Rafael Nadal’s all-time record.
“It was not easy, definitely, especially the last three, four days,” Djokovic said. “Has been challenging mentally and emotionally for me to stay sane and be able to compete on the highest level and win this title.”
Djokovic credited physiotherapy for getting him able to play after a grueling three-hour marathon semi-final victory Friday over Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut.
“Was a bit slow at the beginning, but I thought I did well, considering the form that Milos is in,” Djokovic said. “He’s serving rockets on the court and it’s really hard to return.
“You need all the freshness mentally and all the focus you can possibly have. So I did struggle with that, I must say.”
Djokovic launches his quest for a fourth US Open title and 18th career Grand Slam crown against Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 107th-ranked Damir Dzumhur on Monday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka won the WTA title by walkover when Japan’s Naomi Osaka withdrew from the final with a left hamstring injury.
“It’s not the way we wanted it,” said Azarenka. “It’s not easy times in the world right now but we’re here and we’re trying to do our best.”
The US Open tuneup event, usually played in Cincinnati, was moved to New York due to the COVID-19 pandemic and played inside the same quarantine bubble at the National Tennis Center where the US Open will be staged.
Djokovic has also had to deal with a leadership role in a group trying to develop a players union.
“It was not the most ideal situation for me, to be competing in the last four of a big tournament and have to deal with a lot of stuff off the court, but those were the circumstances. I accepted them,” Djokovic said.
“I was fortunate to get the title, but it’s a great lesson learned.”
The victory gives Djokovic a double career sweep of all nine ATP Masters Series titles while Raonic has gone winless in 63 Masters Series starts.
“He does what Novak does. He puts in a few more balls. He makes things a little more difficult,” Raonic said. “First few moments there I was stepping up, but there were a few lapses that I had, and he made the most of it.”
Raonic broke to lead the third set 2-0 when Djokovic sent a forehand long, but Djokovic broke back at love, Raonic netting a backhand on the final point, and broke again in the fifth game, seizing a 3-2 edge when the Canadian netted a forehand.
Djokovic held serve from there to claim the crown after two hours when Raonic netted a forehand.
Raonic, who dropped his serve only twice this week before the final, rolled through the first set in 30 minutes. Djokovic made the most of his first break chance in the sixth game of the second set and then held twice to force a third set.
Azarenka took her biggest victory since the 2016 Miami Open and her first since a break to become a mother.
“It has been a long time since I felt like I wanted to play and go after every point and I’m very thankful for that,” Azarenka said.
“I’ve been going through a lot of personal things. I wanted to give myself an opportunity to try. I worked really hard. I’m glad it’s paying off.”
The 31-year-old Belrussian captured the 2012 and 2013 Australian Opens and lost the same years in the US Open final.
An out-of-gas Serena Williams crashed out of the Western & Southern Open on Tuesday, losing in three sets to 13th seeded Maria Sakkari 5-7, 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 in New York.
The 23-time Grand Slam winner finished with a whimper at the end of the two-hour, 17-minute match as Sakkari clinched the victory with a backhand down the line that a dejected Williams just watched without making an effort to move.
At other points in the match, Williams flung her racket into the spectator-less stands and rebuked the chair umpire for slapping her with a time violation.
Sakkari, of Greece, advances to the quarter-finals of the no-spectator event where she will face Johanna Konta who cruised past Vera Zvonareva in straight sets 6-4, 6-2.
The joint WTA and ATP tournament was moved from Cincinnati to New York where the same quarantine bubble will house the US Open starting on August 31.
It was the second straight two-hour-plus match for Williams who at 38 was trying to become the oldest winner of the event. She still holds the record, having won this event in 2015 at age 33.
Williams survived a scare in her opening match, prevailing in a two hour, 48-minute marathon over qualifier Arantxa Rus. It was her longest match since 2012.
“It is hard to play the way I have been playing and stay positive,” Williams said. “To play nine hours in a week is too much. I don’t usually play like that. It is all new for me.”
Williams made seven double faults and won just 66 percent of her first serve points against Sakkari.
After losing the second set in a tiebreaker she tossed her racket over her shoulder into the empty stands behind her.
Williams, who has lost her cool at events in New York before, also admonished chair umpire, Aurelie Tourte of France, during a changeover for calling a time violation for slow play.
“I am walking all the way to get my towels… I mean, I am getting my own towels. That’s not fair,” said Williams.
“You didn’t give me a warning. I am actually a really fast player. Next time you warn me. I’m done.”
The ball people usually get the towels for the players but not in the COVID-19 bubble.
On the men’s side, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic won his 20th straight match of 2020 with a hard-fought 6-2, 6-4 victory over Tennys Sandgren.
Djokovic, who captured the Australian Open in February, needed six match points to tough out the straight sets victory and reach the quarter-finals of the hardcourt tournament.
Djokovic breezed through the final game by winning four straight points, closing it out with a cross-court forehand winner to take it in 88 minutes on Tuesday.
“All in all it was a great performance,” said Djokovic. “I felt better and played better than last night. I am going in a great direction.”
American Sandgren, who is ranked 55th in the world, made the Serb work for the victory as he survived five match points in the ninth game of the second set.
Djokovic advances to the quarters where he will play German Jan-Lennard Struff, who defeated seventh seed David Goffin 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
Djokovic had pulled out of doubles on Sunday with pain in his neck, but did not appear to be bothered by the injury against Sandgren.
“The neck is doing well,” he said.
Also on the men’s side, hard-serving Canadian Milos Raonic routed Brit Andy Murray 6-2, 6-2 and third seeded Daniil Medvedev, of Russia, swept past Aljaz Bedene 6-3, 6-3.
In other women’s action, fourth seeded Naomi Osaka rolled over Dayana Yastremska in straight sets 6-3, 6-1 to advance.
Osaka, who is the only top 10 player left in the women’s draw, clinched the victory when Yastremska was called for a foot fault while serving on match point.
Japan’s Osaka blasted eight aces, won 83 percent of her first serve points and broke Yastremska’s serve four times.
Osaka moves to the quarter-finals where she will face Anett Kontaveit, who defeated Marie Bouzkova 6-3, 6-3.
Yastremska, who at 20 was the youngest player left in the field, made six double faults and won just 38 percent of her second serves.
Novak Djokovic confirmed on Thursday he will play at the US Open, the world number one ending speculation about his presence at the first Grand Slam tournament since the season restarted following the coronavirus-enforced shutdown.
“I’m happy to confirm that I’ll participate at #CincyTennis and #USOpen this year,” the 33-year-old world number one tweeted.
“It was not an easy decision to make with all the obstacles and challenges on many sides, but the prospect of competing again makes me really excited,” added the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
The US Open gets underway behind closed doors in New York on August 31, with Djokovic arriving in the United States on Saturday to tune up in the Western and Southern Open, which is normally played in Cincinnati but has been moved to New York this year.
His decision to take part is a major boost for the US Open after a host of headline names pulled out.
The list of absentees includes four-time champion Rafael Nadal, women’s world number one Ashleigh Barty and her fellow Australian Nick Kyrgios. Five-time winner Roger Federer is also missing as the Swiss legend recovers from knee surgery.
Former champions Stan Wawrinka and Svetlana Kuznetsova are also notable absentees.
Djokovic makes his competitive return after being heavily criticised for hosting a charity tennis event in the Balkans in June at which he and a raft of players tested positive for COVID-19.
Kyrgios was among those to serve up verbal volleys, describing Djokovic’s decision to put on the ill-fated Adria Tour as “boneheaded”.
Djokovic, president of the ATP Player Council, said he was “so deeply sorry” that the event “caused harm”, but described the level of criticism as “like a witch hunt”.
Confirmation that he will bid for a fourth US Open title came after he initially expressed scepticism over strict protocols, describing limits on players’ entourages at the tournament as “extreme” and “impossible”.
In a statement on his website on Friday he wrote: “I am aware that this time around it will be very different with all the protocols and safety measures that are put in place to protect players and people of NY.
“Nevertheless, I have trained hard with my team and got my body in shape so I am ready to adapt to new conditions.”
He said he had completed “all the check-ups”, was fully recovered from coronavirus and was “ready to get back on court fully committed to playing my best tennis”.
The winner of a record eighth Australian Open before the season went into lockdown said he respected and appreciated the “time, effort, and energy” taken to put on the two events which are being staged in a quarantine environment without spectators at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.
He had expressed hope that the existing ban on South American players travelling to compete would be eased before the US Open began.
“Unfortunately for the players and the game itself, the current situation is not allowing everyone to travel and compete at the same level of risk, and I hope the situation will change soon and we will all be back to doing what we love and do best.”
The US Open, which finishes on September 13, is followed a fortnight later by the rescheduled French Open at Roland Garros.
Later Thursday, France’s world number 44 Fiona Ferro, who won the Palermo WTA event last week, announced she would not play the US Open.
She is the 10th player from the women’s top 50 to withdraw.
Her place in the draw goes to Caroline Dolehide of the United States.
Novak Djokovic, who recently tested negative for coronavirus after testing positive during his Balkans charity event, told a Serbian newspaper on Wednesday that he still was not sure if he would play the US Open.
“I still do not know if I will play the US Open,” the tennis world number one said in an interview with the Sportski Zurnal daily paper.
“I will certainly not play Washington or Cincinnati as planned.”
The ATP and WTA tours are set to resume next month, even though several professional players have contracted COVID-19.
The US Open will be the first Grand Slam following the restart, due to get underway behind closed doors in New York on August 31.
Djokovic resumed training on Tuesday and said he would take part on clay events.
“Participation at Roland Garros is certain for now, Madrid and Rome are part of my agenda,” he said.
The Serbian said he thought the ATP’s revised ranking system, due to be introduced in August, was “correct”.
Djokovic said on July 2 that he and his wife Jelena had both tested negative for coronavirus after testing positive during the Adria Tour in late June.
The couple had been self isolating since returning to Belgrade from Croatia, where the second leg of his ill-fated tournament was held.
Four players — Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki — tested positive for the virus after the event which saw little social distancing and packed stands.
Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic also contracted COVID-19.
Players had embraced across the net, played basketball and even danced in a nightclub during the week of the first leg played in Belgrade.
Djokovic, widely criticised for hosting the tournament, issued an apology, saying he was “so deeply sorry” that the event “caused harm”.
But Djokovic said the widespread criticism he received was like a “witch hunt”.
“I see nothing but critics lately, many malicious.
“Obviously there is something more than criticism, as if there is an agenda, someone has to ‘fall’, a personality, a big name has to be the main culprit for everything,” he said.
Novak Djokovic was widely condemned for hosting a tennis exhibition where he was one of four players to test positive for the coronavirus, a lapse that sent shudders through a sport struggling to get back on its feet.
The world number one on Tuesday issued an unstinting apology for the now-cancelled Adria Tour in the Balkans, where social distancing was minimal and matches were played in front of thousands of fans.
Djokovic, 33, said he is “so deeply sorry” that the tournament “caused harm”. His wife Jelena has also tested positive after the couple travelled back from Croatia to Belgrade to be tested.
Among the scathing criticism of Djokovic, there were questions about whether he or tennis, should be allowed back on any court in the near future.
Many voiced concerns over attempts to restart professional tournaments in August, including the US Open which is scheduled to begin on August 31.
Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric, and Viktor Troicki all tested positive after taking part in the Adria Tour event in Croatia, where players embraced across the net, played basketball and even danced in a nightclub.
Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, so often in the crosshairs for his own on-court indiscretions, said the incident was pure “stupidity”.
“Don’t @ me for anything I’ve done that has been ‘irresponsible’ or classified as ‘stupidity’ — this takes the cake,” tweeted the world number 40.
Britain’s Andy Murray, a three-time Grand Slam winner who has known Djokovic since their junior days, said: “I don’t think it has been a great look for tennis.”
“In hindsight, it’s not something that should have gone ahead,” Murray told reporters.
“Some people have said maybe this has put the US Open in doubt –- which it may well do. But the measures and the protocols they have in place at the USTA (United States Tennis Association) are different to Serbia and Croatia. No fans for a start.”
In the latest repercussion, Serbian NBA player Nikola Jokic has reportedly tested positive for the virus after being pictured with Djokovic at a basketball event in Belgrade earlier this month.
Jokic’s team, the Denver Nuggets, who are ramping up preparations for a resumption of the NBA season, declined to comment on the report in the Denver Post, citing medical privacy. The player is now in quarantine in Serbia.
The president of the Croatian tennis federation insisted that at the time of the Zadar event, it appeared safe to go ahead without strict health regulations.
“When we accepted Novak’s idea to organise the tour, the epidemiological situation in Croatia was much better,” Nikolina Babic told the Vecernji List daily paper on Wednesday.
“Maybe some minor mistakes were made but the idea was good.”
PR disaster COVID-19 has been a public relations disaster for Djokovic.
He was criticised for breaking lockdown rules to train in Spain and raised eyebrows by insisting he would not be prepared to vaccinate against the coronavirus.
Djokovic also described limits on players’ entourages at the US Open as “extreme” and “impossible”, again putting him at odds with much of public opinion.
His latest misstep has caused some to question his presidency of the ATP Player Council, which advises the ATP board.
“I think there’s a lot of his peer group who are scratching their heads,” veteran coach Paul Annacone told Tennis.com.
Martina Navratilova, who won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, tweeted: “Yikes… this is not good and it’s a pattern… What now, US Open? Roland Garros? We have a lot of work to do.”
Brazil’s Bruno Soares, a doubles player who sits on the Player Council, called the Adria Tour a “horror show”.
ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said it was a lesson for other tournaments.
“It’s a little bit like when you tell your kids when they try to learn to ride the bike to wear the helmet,” Gaudenzi said. “It’s ‘no, no, no’.”
“And they ride the bike, they fall, and then they wear the helmet.”
Djokovic had already raised eyebrows during lockdown for his anti-vaccination stance and for unusual claims including that human emotions can change the quality of water.
Serbian newspaper Danas said that the farcical end to the Adria Tour could “maybe be the best warning for all others that no one is immune to a vicious virus”.
Borna Coric announced on Monday he has become the second player to test positive for coronavirus after taking part in an exhibition tournament in Croatia featuring world number one Novak Djokovic.
“Hi everyone, I wanted to inform you all that I tested positive for COVID-19,” the Croatian, ranked 33rd in the world, posted on Twitter.
It follows Sunday’s announcement by Grigor Dimitrov that he had also tested positive after pulling out of the exhibition event, which is one of the biggest since the tennis season was halted because of the pandemic.
Coric tweeted: “I want to make sure anyone who has been in contact with me during the last few days gets tested!
“I am really sorry for any harm I might have caused! I’m feeling well and don’t have any simptoms (sic). Please stay safe and healthy! Lots of love to all!”
One of Djokovic’s coaches and another member of Dimitrov’s entourage have also reportedly tested positive for the virus, according to Croatia’s N1 television channel.
Coric had beaten Bulgaria’s Dimitrov in the second leg of the Adria Tour in Zadar on Croatia’s Adriatic coast on Saturday.
Dimitrov withdrew from the Balkans tournament following that match, complaining of feeling unwell.
Sunday’s final between Djokovic and Russia’s Andrey Rublev was immediately cancelled as a precaution.
Australian star Nick Kyrgios responded to Coric’s tweet by describing the staging of the tournament as “boneheaded”.
– ‘Not a joke’ –
“Boneheaded decision to go ahead with the ‘exhibition’,” Kyrgios wrote on social media.
“Speedy recovery fellas, but that’s what happens when you disregard all protocols. This IS NOT A JOKE.”
Also playing in the tournament were world number three Dominic Thiem, former US Open winner Marin Cilic, seventh-ranked Alexander Zverev and Filip Krajinovic.
Responding to Dimitrov’s positive test on Sunday, Djokovic’s brother Djordje, the tournament director, told Sportske Novosti: “Novak? He took this news very hard. We undertook all the measures prescribed by the governments of Serbia and Croatia.”
The news of Coric’s positive test emerged as Serbian football league champions Red Star Belgrade reported that five of their players had gone down with coronavirus just 12 days after their derby clash with Partizan Belgrade.
The game was watched by 16,000 fans, the largest sporting gathering seen in Europe since the continent went into lockdown in March.
The Adria Tour had been organised to fill the gap in the virus-hit tennis calendar which has been on ice since mid-March and was played out to a daily crowd of 4,000 fans at Djokovic’s tennis centre on the banks of the Danube in Belgrade last week.
Dimitrov, Djokovic and Thiem, as well as the other players, were then seen partying at a packed Belgrade night spot.
Thiem has since travelled to the south of France to play in another exhibition tournament, the Ultimate Tennis Showdown in Nice.
The Adria Tour had already suffered an embarrassing setback when the planned Montenegro leg of the four-nation tournament was cancelled over coronavirus protocol rules.
Montenegro was due to be the third stop on June 27-28 after Croatia and before the conclusion in Bosnia.
But organisers said the visit to Montenegro had to be called off when it became apparent Serbia’s health requirements did not match up to those of Montenegro.
Commenting on social distancing measures during the Belgrade leg, Djokovic argued that both Serbia and the region had been relatively successful in containing the virus.
“Of course you can criticise, you can also say this is dangerous or not, but it’s not up to me to make the calls what is health-wise right or wrong,” the 17-time Grand Slam winner told reporters.
Last week, the ATP and WTA said they were restarting their tours in August.
However, the US Open in New York will be played behind closed doors and under strict health protocols which Djokovic has described as “extreme” and “impossible”.