Novak Djokovic, after shoulder injury, fan distractions, wins at U.S. Open

Novak Djokovic
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NEW YORK — Twice, Novak Djokovic batted away questions about his injured shoulder before Friday night’s match. Twice, he responded sharply to spectators. But on the court, ball in play, he was every bit the top-ranked, defending champion on Friday night.

Djokovic swept overmatched American veteran Denis Kudla 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 to reach a fourth-round Sunday showdown with 2016 U.S. Open titlist Stan Wawrinka.

“I managed to play almost pain free,” Djokovic said. “That’s a big improvement from last match. I didn’t know how the body [would] react.”

The Serb’s status going into the Kudla match was far from certain. Djokovic, who won four of the last five Grand Slams, has dealt with left shoulder pain for two weeks. He revealed that much after taking a medical timeout and getting the shoulder worked on repeatedly in his previous match.

Djokovic said Wednesday that he didn’t know if he could finish that second-round win over Argentine Juan Ignacio Londero. He said he would get a further assessment of the injury, consulting with sports medicine experts. He didn’t practice Thursday.

“I’ve been experiencing some days of higher intensity of pain, some days less,” Djokovic said after beating Londero. “What happened [Wednesday] on the court, actually how I felt, was quite rough and unpredictable.”

Concern grew Friday evening when Djokovic’s pre-match practice time was moved from 5 to 6 and then to 7. He finally arrived on site around 7, just before the Arthur Ashe Stadium match preceding his was to start.

Then, in that tardy practice, Djokovic paced to a screen shielding spectators from him and said, “Trust me, I come find you.”

“Just had a little chat,” Djokovic said later, smiling and joking that he would buy the man a drink. “We’ll keep it between us. But he definitely helped me. He doesn’t even know, but he did help me.”

He entered Ashe Stadium soon after and was asked twice about his shoulder in the perfunctory pre-match interview.

“Let’s talk about it after. I’m giving myself a chance. I believe it’s going to be fine,” he said. He was asked again. “I’m here,” Djokovic said. “Let’s play.”

In the first set, Djokovic used an obscenity in telling at least one spectator to shut up after there was audible noise from the crowd during a point.

“Night sessions, New York, crowd gets into it,” he said. “A couple guys that had a couple of drinks more than I guess they were supposed to. But it was all good after.”

The second week figures to bring more major challenges for Djokovic on the other side of the net. Wawrinka, possibly followed by red-hot Russian Daniil Medvedev in the quarterfinals and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal potentially waiting in the last two rounds should he make a 12th straight U.S. Open semifinal.

Wawrinka won their last head-to-head in the 2016 U.S. Open final and kept Djokovic from a calendar Grand Slam in 2015 by winning their French Open final.

“We had some great battles over the years everywhere, but especially here,” Djokovic said. “Let the better player win.”

U.S. OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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Olympian Derrick Mein ends U.S. men’s trap drought at shotgun worlds

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Tokyo Olympian Derrick Mein became the first U.S. male shooter to win a world title in the trap event since 1966, prevailing at the world shotgun championships in Osijek, Croatia, on Wednesday.

Mein, who grew up on a small farm in Southeast Kansas, hunting deer and quail, nearly squandered a place in the final when he missed his last three shots in the semifinal round after hitting his first 22. He rallied in a sudden-death shoot-off for the last spot in the final by hitting all five of his targets.

He hit 33 of 34 targets in the final to win by two over Brit Nathan Hales with one round to spare.

The last U.S. man to win an Olympic trap title was Donald Haldeman in 1976.

Mein, 37, was 24th in his Olympic debut in Tokyo (and placed 13th with Kayle Browning in the mixed-gender team event).

The U.S. swept the Tokyo golds in the other shotgun event — skeet — with Vincent Hancock and Amber English. Browning took silver in women’s trap.

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Mo Farah withdraws before London Marathon

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British track legend Mo Farah withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon, citing a right hip injury before what would have been his first 26.2-mile race in nearly two years.

Farah, who swept the 2012 and 2016 Olympic track titles at 5000m and 10,000m, said he hoped “to be back out there” next April, when the London Marathon returns to its traditional month after COVID moved it to the fall for three consecutive years. Farah turns 40 on March 23.

“I’ve been training really hard over the past few months and I’d got myself back into good shape and was feeling pretty optimistic about being able to put in a good performance,” in London, Farah said in a press release. “However, over the past 10 days I’ve been feeling pain and tightness in my right hip. I’ve had extensive physio and treatment and done everything I can to be on the start line, but it hasn’t improved enough to compete on Sunday.”

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

Sunday’s London Marathon men’s race is headlined by Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele and Birhanu Legese, the second- and third-fastest marathoners in history.

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