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Novak Djokovic wins U.S. Open, back atop tennis, after revealing hikes

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NEW YORK — Novak Djokovic completed his comeback summer, winning the U.S. Open for his 14th Grand Slam singles title on Sunday.

Djokovic mitigated the power of Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-3 in a final that was tighter than the straight-set score — Djokovic led, 49 points to 48, after the 95-minute middle frame.

Djokovic dedicated it, “to the support of the loved ones, my kids, my wife, my small team of people that has been there with me through difficult times.”

The 31-year-old Serb tied Pete Sampras for third on the men’s career Slams list, trailing Roger Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (17).

“The first actually thing I saw related to tennis on the TV was [Sampras’] first or second Wimbledon championship,” Djokovic said. “That inspired me to start playing tennis.”

Djokovic earned his second straight major title after winning Wimbledon two months ago. The Wimbledon crown was bigger. It marked his first Slam in 26 months, since he he held all four titles at once after the 2016 French Open.

Djokovic spent the better part of two years in a funk. He cited “private issues” in summer 2016, split from coach Boris Becker that fall, was coached by Andre Agassi for less than a year, missed the 2017 U.S. Open for an elbow injury, then underwent surgery to fix it in January.

It took a few months, but Djokovic rejoined the Big Three with Federer and Nadal with his Wimbledon crown in July. After the U.S. Open, no doubt he is back atop the sport, no matter he is third in the new ATP rankings behind the other titans.

At the start of 2017, as Djokovic faded, Federer and Nadal had their returns to the top by combining to win six straight Slams.

After Djokovic lost to 72nd-ranked Italian Marco Cecchinato in the French Open quarterfinals in June, he hiked in the French mountains with his wife for five days. He remembered one peak in particular that took three hours to scale.

“We sat down and we just looked at the world from that perspective, just kind of breathed in the new inspiration, new motivation,” Djokovic said. “I thought of tennis, thought of the emotion that tennis provokes in me in a way. It was all positives. I just felt like I had a new breath for this sport. The rest is history.”

Djokovic came back to win both summer Slams, going 22-1 in four tournaments from Wimbledon through the U.S. Open. He beat Nadal for the first time in two years at Wimbledon. He played Federer for the first time in two years, and swept him in Cincinnati last month.

Now, they make up the top three in the ATP rankings for the first time since May 2015.

“Maybe 10 years ago I would say I’m not so happy to be part of this era with Nadal and Federer,” said Djokovic, who at this time a decade ago was 2-7 against Federer and 4-10 against Nadal. Now, he leads both head-to-heads. “Actually today I am. I really am. I feel like these guys, rivalries with these guys, matches with Federer and Nadal, have made me the player I am.”

Del Potro made sure these last two weeks, if not this entire season, that he is part of the discussion moving forward. Playing all four Slams for the first time since 2012, he made the third round in Australia, the semifinals at the French and the quarters at Wimbledon. He faced Nadal in three of the four majors.

Del Potro reached a career-high ranking of No. 3, four wrist surgeries and eight years after becoming No. 4.

At 29, two years younger than Djokovic, he can see the Serb, plus Federer and Nadal, and know that playing title-worthy tennis in your 30s, after physical setbacks, is realistic.

Del Potro contemplated retiring in 2015, during a two-year stretch where he played just two tournaments and his ranking fell to No. 1,045.

At one point, the gentle giant missed 14 out of 28 Grand Slams in a seven-year stretch. What could have been if not for the wrist problems. If not for the presence of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, who combined to win 47 of the last 55 majors.

“I don’t feel sad that I couldn’t win Grand Slams because of them,” del Potro said. “I am just one of the guys that have lucky to be in the same era as them.”

Djokovic stopped his trophy-presentation interview to congratulate his friend.

“For what he has done in the last four or five years,” Djokovic said. “Still having faith, having belief in himself that one day he’s going to be a top player, and he’s going to be fighting for Grand Slams. … I know that he’s going to be here again with the champion’s trophy.”

Del Potro has said the fans, those boisterous supporters in the Albiceleste jerseys, were his motivation to endure. They made their presence known inside a closed-roof Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday, forcing chair umpire Alison Hughes‘ refrain: Ladies and gentlemen, please.

A quote from del Potro after his breakthrough 2009 win here is again apropos today.

“I have new opportunities in the other Grand Slams to win, because if I did here, if I beat Nadal, Federer and many good players, maybe I can do one more time,” he said then. “But of course, will be difficult.”

U.S. OPEN: Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

Kuwaiti sheikh steps aside from IOC after indictment

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GENEVA (AP) — Facing a criminal trial in Switzerland, Olympic powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad al Fahad al Sabah temporarily stepped aside from his IOC work on Monday.

The Kuwaiti sheikh denies wrongdoing but said in a statement he did not want “these politically motivated allegations to distract attention” from the Olympic movement’s work.

“Sheikh Ahmad has every confidence and trust in the Swiss courts and IOC Ethics Commission’s impartial due processes,” the statement from his personal office in Kuwait said. “He fully intends to continue serving the IOC again at the earliest opportunity.”

The sheikh has been indicted for forgery in Geneva and faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years, city daily Le Temps reported. The investigation arose from a dispute with another royal family member, who is a former prime minister of Kuwait.

Sheikh Ahmad has been an International Olympic Committee member for 26 years, a close ally of president Thomas Bach, and leads the global and Asian groups of national Olympic bodies. He also chairs an IOC panel which will give $500 million to Olympic bodies and athletes before the 2020 Tokyo Games.

He is due to be re-elected unopposed in Tokyo next week as president of the global Olympic group known as ANOC.

The IOC said in a statement its ethics panel can intervene for misconduct “even if it is not related to sport.”

The Olympic ethics panel had confirmed last year it was studying separate allegations against Sheikh Ahmad relating to bribery in international soccer elections.

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Who qualifies for figure skating’s Grand Prix Final?

Yevgenia Medvedeva
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A look at the qualifying scenarios for December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international figure skating event, with the sixth and last qualifier happening this week at Internationaux de France, headlined by Nathan Chen and streaming live on NBC Sports Gold … 

Men
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 24 points (qualified)
5. Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Nathan Chen (USA) — 15 points, Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 9 points, Jin Boyang (CHN) and Dmitry Aliyev (RUS) — 7 points, Jason Brown (USA) — 5 points.

Outlook: Chen qualifies with a fifth or better this week. If he wins as expected, it would mean the favorites swept the six men’s Grand Prix Final qualifiers (Hanyu, Uno and Chen with two wins each). That trio last faced off at the Olympics, where Hanyu repeated as champion, Uno took silver and Chen rebounded from a 17th-place short program with the top free skate to place fifth overall. Hanyu, though, is uncertain for the Final after injuring his right ankle in practice before his free skate at Rostelecom Cup on Saturday. Samarin is the only man in this week’s field who would get into the Final by placing second to Chen.

Women
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 28 points (qualified)
3. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 24 points (bubble)
5. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 24 points (bubble)
6. Mako Yamashita (JPN) — 17 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Rika Kihira (JPN) — 15 points, Stanislava Konstantinova (RUS) — 13 points, Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 11 points, Mai Mihara (JPN), Bradie Tennell (USA) and Alexia Paganini (SUI) — 9 points, Laurine Lecavelier (FRA) — 7 points.

Outlook: It’s a near-lock that the Grand Prix Final will be an all-Russian and Japanese affair. The biggest question across all disciplines this week is whether the Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Medvedeva can earn one of the three available spots. She is definitely in with a win. If she’s second, it likely comes down to a tiebreak among at least Medvedeva, Sakamoto and Samodurova, looking at who had the most total points between their two Grand Prix starts. If she’s third, she’s almost definitely out of the Final. The U.S. champion Tennell is one of six women who qualify automatically with a win this week.

Pairs
1. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 26 points (qualified)
5. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Alisa Efimova/Alexander Korovin (RUS) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 15 points, Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 9 points, Ryom Tae-Ok/Kim Ju-Sik (PRK), Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea (USA) and Minerva Fabienne Hase/Nolan Seegert (GER) — 7 points.

Outlook: With none of the Olympic medalists competing this fall, the fourth- and fifth-place finishers from PyeongChang have been the most impressive thus far — Tarasova and Morozov and James and Cipres. The French make it to the Final by finishing fifth this week. For either the North Koreans or the Americans to make the Final, they almost definitely have to win. That’s a very tall order against the French in Grenoble.

Ice Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue (USA) — 30 points (qualified)
2. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 30 points (qualified)
3. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 26 points (qualified)
4. Tiffany Zahorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 24 points (bubble)
5. Sara Hurtado/Kirill Khaliavin (ESP) — 22 points (bubble)
6. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 20 points (bubble)

Competing this week: Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 15 points, Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 13 points, Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) and Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 11 points, Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac (FRA) — 9 points, Olivia Smart/Adrián Díaz (ESP) — 7 points, Allison Reed/Saulius Ambrulevičius (LTU) — 5 points.

Outlook: This week’s favorites have no chance at the Final. That’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who missed their first Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s back injury. The anticipated showdown between the three-time world champions and Olympic silver medalists from France and world silver medalists Hubbell and Donohue must wait until the world championships in March. Their absence could open the door for multiple U.S. dance couples to qualify for the Final for a fifth straight year, despite the absence this fall of Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (indefinite break) and Madison Chock and Evan Bates (injury). Hawayek and Baker are into the Final with a fourth or better this week.

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