Ailing Djokovic advances, Serena ekes out victory

Novak Djokovic of Serbia in action against Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania. (AFP)
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Updated 26 August 2020

Ailing Djokovic advances, Serena ekes out victory

  • Djokovic twice went down a break in the second set, but broke back both times

NEW YORK: World No. 1 Novak Djokovic battled through neck pain on the way to a 7-6 (7/2), 6-4 victory over Ricardas Berankis Monday night  at the Western & Southern Open, where second seed Dominic Thiem crashed out.

Djokovic, who pulled out of doubles with a sore neck on Sunday, made it through to the round of 16 despite the ailment, for which he received treatment on court.

“It's getting better,” he said after the 7-6 (7/2), 6-4 win. “It's been four days. It's not yet where I'd like it to be but it's heading in the right direction.” That's good news with the US Open starting on August 31 on the same New York hard courts hosting this week's tournament, which was moved from Cincinnati to establish a quarantine bubble for the upcoming Grand Slam.

Djokovic twice went down a break in the second set, but broke back both times. He let out a roar when he broke for a 5-4 lead then calmly served it out. He next faces American Tennys Sandgren, a 6-7 (4/7), 6-2, 7-6 (7/5) winner over 15th-seeded Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime.

The upset of the day was at the opposite end of the men's draw, as 32nd-ranked Filip Krajinovic of Serbia toppled Austria's Thiem 6-2, 6-1.

Thiem, who pushed Djokovic to five sets in an Australian Open runner-up finish in January, couldn't find his rhythm in his first match since the ATP tour resumed.

In women’s action, third-seeded Serena Williams bucked the upset trend that saw top seed Karolina Pliskova and No. 2 Sofia Kenin ousted on Sunday. The 23-time Grand Slam champion battled back from the brink against Dutch qualifier Arantxa Rus, dominating a third-set to win 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 7-6 (7/0).

Krajinovic lined up a meeting with Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, who ousted 14th-seeded Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov 7-5, 4-6, 6-2.

Andy Murray also notched an upset, surprising world No. 7 Alexander Zverev 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 for his first win over a top-10 player in more than three years.

The Scot was facing defeat when Zverev served for the match at 5-4 in the third, but reeled off three straight games to seal the win.

Murray won the Cincinnati Masters in 2008 and 2011, but the former world No. 1  is now ranked 129th after a string of injuries, including a pelvic injury at the Davis Cup last November that, combined with the ATP's pandemic shutdown, kept him out of competition until this week.

In women's action, third-seeded Serena Williams bucked the upset trend that saw top seed Karolina Pliskova and No. 2 Sofia Kenin ousted on Sunday.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion battled back from the brink against Dutch qualifier Arantxa Rus, dominating a third-set to win 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 7-6 (7/0).

Williams dropped four straight games in the second set against the hard-hitting left-hander, who has never won a WTA title.

After rallying from 0-40 down in the opening game of the third she looked to have turned the tide with a service break on the way to a 3-0 lead.

Serving for the match at 5-3 in the third, Williams was broken to love, Rus winning the next two to give herself a chance to serve it out.

She was broken, and Williams crushed her in the tiebreaker to wrap up a bruising victory in 2 hours and 49 minutes.

It was Williams' fourth three-set match since she returned at a tournament in Lexington, Kentucky, in the wake of the WTA's coronavirus shutdown.

“I'm actually super fit and I'm super ready,” she said.

Fifth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus fought her way into the third round, downing American Cici Bellis 6-7 (1/7), 6-4, 7-5.

Eighth-seeded Briton Johanna Konta moved on, but two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, the sixth seed fell 2-6, 7-5, 6-2 to fellow Czech Marie Bouzkova.


Lower expectations for Barcelona entering Champions League

Updated 20 October 2020

Lower expectations for Barcelona entering Champions League

  • Barca have not won since 2015, but since then have never embarked on a new campaign amid so much disarray

MADRID: Despite managing to hang onto Lionel Messi, Barcelona begin its Champions League campaign with reduced expectations after one of their worst seasons in years.
The Catalan club appears to lack its confidence from previous seasons following an embarrassing elimination to Bayern Munich and a troubled off-season in which it nearly lost its talisman.

“Knowing what happened recently, we are not the top favorite,” coach Ronald Koeman said on Monday ahead of the team's debut in this season's competition against Hungarian club Ferencvaros. “But we are a team that can go far.”

Koeman arrived to put Barcelona back on track shortly after the 8-2 collapse against Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, which capped their first season without a title since 2007-08.

“Barcelona always plays to win titles, in the league and in Europe, but there are other strong teams,” Koeman said.

Barcelona have not  won the Champions League since 2015, but since then they had never embarked on a new campaign in the competition amid so much disarray.

The club avoided losing Messi after he said he wanted to leave, but it continued to endure political turmoil and even financial difficulties. President Josep Bartomeu is facing a censure motion that could force him to leave his post before the end of the year.

Koeman was given the task of revamping the first team, and he quickly got rid of veterans such as Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic, but the club failed to bring in any of the players he wanted in the transfer window.

Koeman said Messi is fine despite scoring just once so far this season.

“Maybe his performance could be better, but I see him happy,” Koeman said. “I see him training well and focused. I have nothing to complain about him in that sense.”

He said “a bit of bad luck” has played a role in keeping the Argentina star from scoring more goals so far. Koeman also downplayed criticism of Antoine Griezmann for his recent poor performances, though he admitted that “everyone in the attack” can improve.

Barcelona opened the Spanish league with two convincing wins under Koeman, but then it drew 1-1 with Sevilla at home and lost 1-0 at Getafe on Saturday.

Hungarian champions Ferencvaros return to the Champions League for the first time since 1995. They needed to get through four qualifying rounds to reach the group stage.

The other Group G teams are Juventus and Dynamo Kyiv.

“We want to start with the right foot,” Koeman said. “We want to win the match and gain tranquility.”