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Djokovic wins 35th Masters; hurt Osaka withdraws from final

Sports

NEW YORK (AP) — Novak Djokovic tied Rafael Nadal’s record by winning his 35th title at a Masters 1000 tournament, overcoming a sluggish start to beat Milos Raonic 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the Western & Southern Open final Saturday and remain unbeaten this season.

Getting tuned up ahead of the U.S. Open, which starts Monday, the No. 1-ranked Djokovic improved to 23-0 in 2020 and 11-0 head-to-head against Raonic, the 2016 Wimbledon runner-up.

Earlier Saturday, Victoria Azarenka won her first tour title since 2016 when Naomi Osaka pulled out of the women’s final because of a left hamstring injury.

“I just hope I’m giving myself, you know, the opportunity and the chance to have enough time” to recover ahead of the U.S. Open, Osaka said.

The Western & Southern Open normally is held in Ohio but was moved to Flushing Meadows this year because of the coronavirus pandemic as part of a two-tournament “controlled environment.”

Djokovic, who owns 17 Grand Slam titles, played Raonic in Louis Armstrong Stadium — the No. 2 court for the U.S. Open — with the roof closed because of rain.

Djokovic was listless in the first set, looking exactly the way one might have expected given that he labored through a three-hour semifinal a day earlier, repeatedly grabbing his stomach and twice having his neck massaged by a trainer.

It took all of 30 minutes for Raonic, a Canadian ranked No. 30, to take that set. Djokovic never held so much as a single break point until 61 minutes into the final, at 3-2 in the second set, and he raised his right fist when his backhand passing shot converted the chance.

Soon enough it was a set apiece, and Raonic appeared to regroup quickly, breaking to go up 2-0 in the third.

But Djokovic, never one to go quietly, broke right back at love. He broke again the next time Raonic served, bellowing to celebrate the 3-2 edge.

Eventually, the 33-year-old from Serbia was raising his arms to mark his 80th career title and 61st on hard courts. Jimmy Connors holds the men’s record of 109 titles; the only others with more than Djokovic are Roger Federer, Ivan Lendl and Nadal.

Djokovic also won the Western & Southern Open in 2018 and is now the first man to win each Masters 1000 event — one level below the Grand Slams — at least twice.

Osaka initially felt a problem with her leg in her first match of the Western & Southern Open and said she pulled the hamstring in the second-set tiebreaker of her 6-2, 7-6 (5) semifinal win over Elise Mertens on Friday.

Osaka called this an “emotional week.”

The 22-year-old Osaka, who was born in Japan and is now based in the U.S., brought the push for racial justice to the tennis tour by saying she was not going to play in her semifinal, joining athletes in the NBA, Major League Baseball and other sports in sitting out this week in reaction to the police shooting in Wisconsin of a Black man, Jacob Blake.

Osaka’s stance prompted the tournament to say it was taking a “pause” to back the cause and scrapping all scheduled matches for Thursday. When play resumed Friday, Osaka did compete.

The 59th-ranked Azarenka called her 21st career title “special” because it’s her first as a mother.

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