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Novak Djokovic to miss U.S. Open, rest of 2017

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Novak Djokovic will sit out the rest of this season because of an injured right elbow, meaning he will miss the U.S. Open and end his streak of participating in 51 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments.

“It is the most important for me to recover, to be able to play injury free for as long as possible, to compete in the sport that has given me so much, the sport I love,” Djokovic said Wednesday. “Of course I want to return to the winning form, to win again, to win the trophies. But now it is not the time to talk about it. At this point, I’m focusing on recovery.”

Until now, Djokovic has never missed a major tournament since he entered his first, the 2005 Australian Open. That is the third-longest active run among men and seventh-longest in history.

In that time, the 30-year-old Serb has won 12 Grand Slam titles, including the U.S. Open in 2011 and 2015.

“The remarkable series has come to an end,” Djokovic said. “My body has its limits, and I have to respect that and be grateful for all that I have achieved so far.”

He said that Andre Agassi, who he recently began working with on a part-time basis, will be his coach when Djokovic returns to the tour next year. He plans to start with a tuneup tournament ahead of the Australian Open in January.

“He supports my decision to take a break, and remains my head coach,” Djokovic said. “He is going to help me get back into shape and bounce back strong after the recovery period.”

Djokovic made his announcement via Facebook, his website and at a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia.

Djokovic’s last match was on July 12, when he stopped playing during his Wimbledon quarterfinal against Tomas Berdych because of the elbow. Djokovic said that day he was in pain when he hit serves and forehands.

At the time, Djokovic said he had been struggling with the elbow on his racket-swinging arm for about 1½ years and so far had opted against having surgery — and he reiterated Wednesday that he does not need an operation.

But he also said then that he would seriously consider taking a prolonged break from the tour.

Since winning the 2016 French Open to complete a career Grand Slam and become the first man in nearly a half-century to win four consecutive major trophies, Djokovic’s form has dipped. He has fallen from No. 1 to No. 4 in the ATP rankings and failed to defend any of those titles. He has made it past the quarterfinals at only one of the past five Grand Slam tournaments: last year’s U.S. Open, where he lost in the final to Stan Wawrinka.

Djokovic, who also mentioned Wednesday that his wife is expecting their second child, reached at least the semifinals at Flushing Meadows each of the past 10 years. That includes seven appearances in the final.

This year’s U.S. Open starts Aug. 28.

Roger Federer demonstrated the benefits of a hiatus from the tour, sitting out the last half of 2016 after Wimbledon to let his surgically repaired left knee to heal fully.

Federer returned at the beginning of this season and won the Australian Open to end a 4½-year Grand Slam drought, plus titles at Indian Wells and Miami. He took another break after that, missing the entire European clay-court circuit, and returned for the grass, winning his eighth Wimbledon championship and 19th major title overall — both records for a man — this month.

“All the doctors I’ve consulted, and all the specialists I have visited, in Serbia and all over the world, have agreed that this injury requires rest. A prolonged break from the sport is inevitable,” Djokovic said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to recover. I will use the upcoming period to strengthen my body and also to improve certain tennis elements that I have not been able to work on over the past years, due to a demanding schedule.”

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Russia enters 19 athletes into world track and field champs

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia plans to send 19 athletes to the world track and field championships in London next week despite its suspension from international competition for widespread doping.

The 19, including three world champions, have been given exemptions from Russia’s suspension after the IAAF reviewed their history of drug testing.

Maria Lasitskene is the overwhelming favorite to retain her high jump title, following an unbeaten season in the Diamond League. No other woman has leapt over two meters this year, but Lasitskene has done it at 11 different outdoor competitions.

Sergey Shubenkov leads the charge for Russia’s men as he tries to win a second world title in the 110m hurdles.

Russian Athletics Federation director Elena Orlova told TASS news agency on Monday that, besides the 19, it also filed paperwork for doping whistleblower and 800m runner Yulia Stepanova, but the federation isn’t in contact with her and believes she doesn’t intend to compete.

Since they’re officially “neutral athletes” under IAAF rules, the Russians won’t be allowed to wear national colors and the Russian anthem won’t be played if they win gold.

A total of 38 Russians had exemptions that could have allowed them to compete at the championships, but many didn’t make the qualifying standards. Eleven more were approved only for youth events, and 106 applications were declined.

Russia has been suspended since November 2015, when the first in a series of World Anti-Doping Agency investigations alleged drug use and cover-ups were common on its track team.

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Syria swimmer races at worlds after competing for Olympic refugee team

Yusra Mardini
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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Yusra Mardini slept in fear of Hungarian border police on train station floors on her first visit to Budapest when she fled her native Syria two years ago.

Now they protect the 19-year-old swimmer as an Olympic athlete competing at the world championships.

It’s been quite a change.

After her ordeal — she was stuck for a week in Hungary as part of her 25-day journey to Germany — Mardini wasn’t exactly looking forward to coming back to the Hungarian capital.

“I hated the country, I hated the people. I said, ‘I’m gonna come back one day, rich, a normal person, and then I can also enter as a normal person.’ Because I was broken-hearted,” Mardini told The Associated Press in an interview on Sunday.

“It was bad. The situation with the refugees in Hungary – other countries, they handled it, but here it was more complicated.”

Mardini said the aggression she encountered from Hungarian police was the worst, that the people she met were rude, but also that she encountered kindness.

“Now that I’m back I see that the people are all nice, how they are interested in the world championships. The seats are full. I think it’s great,” she said.

On Sunday, Mardini competed in the 100m butterfly heats, clocking 1:07.99, some 12 seconds behind top qualifier and world record holder Sarah Sjostrom. She shaved 1.22 off her time in the same event at the Olympics last year.

Mardini competed in Rio de Janeiro under the Olympic flag for a team of refugees, and again she’s competing as an independent in Budapest as the fighting still rages in her native country. The 200m freestyle provides another opportunity for her Tuesday.

“It’s one of my dreams to compete again for my country. But we will wait to see what will happen,” she said.

The Damascus native had been among Syria’s brightest swimming prospects, competing for the country in both the 200 and 400 freestyle at the 2012 worlds in Istanbul.

The family moved around to avoid the fighting, but eventually the decision was taken to leave Syria altogether as the war intensified with no end in sight. Mardini had already given up swimming long before.

“I was the one who decided not to stop. There was war and so on but I was the one, I saw it wasn’t working any more,” she told the AP. “This was also the reason I left Syria. There was war but I could have lived there. But there was no future anymore.”

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Life had been reduced to mere survival.

“Yesterday she said you didn’t know if you would die at home or on the street,” said Sven Spannenkrebs, Mardini’s first swimming coach in Berlin, who has accompanied her to Budapest for the worlds. “This is war as a normality. For us it’s not normal.”

Mardini and her older sister left Syria in early August 2015, joining the wave of refugees who had lost hope of the conflict ending. They went first to Lebanon, then Turkey, where they paid smugglers to take them to Greece.

Mardini has told the story of their hazardous journey on the Aegean Sea many times, of swimming for her life when the overcrowded inflatable dinghy started taking on water even after their luggage was thrown overboard.

“The engine broke and we had to swim 3+ hours to arrive to the other side. Me and my sister and two guys,” Mardini said. “My sister jumped in the beginning and then I jumped after her. We didn’t swim normally, but we had a hand on the boat and hand swimming and then kicked.”

Through their efforts dragging the boat, they eventually made it to the Greek island of Lesbos. An overland trek followed through Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary, where she experienced the worst conditions along her weeks-long journey. They hid from police, got arrested at borders, had belongings stolen and lost money on tickets as authorities refused to let trains pass.

“Hungary was awful. It was really hard,” Mardini said. “Hungary was the biggest fear for all the refugees.”

Eventually, the Mardinis made it to Berlin, where an Egyptian translator at their refugee shelter put them in touch with a local swimming club, where they met Spannenkrebs. He quickly realized Mardini’s potential and helped her make the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team for Rio last year.

Mardini still has family in Syria from whom she receives regular updates.

“There is no electricity, no water. There is life, but it’s almost a dead life because you don’t know what’s gonna happen in a minute, in a second,” said Mardini, who is grateful to Germany for giving her the security to pursue her dreams.

“Now it’s also my country. They helped me so much. They have taken care of me and a lot of people. They have opened the door for us,” she said.

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