Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

Novak Djokovic of Serbia during practice for the US Open tennis tournament on Saturday. (AP)
Updated 25 August 2019

Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

  • When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain

NEW YORK: During a break in practice two days before opening his US Open title defense, Novak Djokovic pulled off his blue shoe and white sock so a trainer could look at his right foot.

Did it again a little while later.

And then, toward the end of Saturday’s training session in Louis Armstrong Stadium with 2014 runner-up Kei Nishikori, Djokovic stopped a sprint and pulled up short of a ball, raised his right leg off the ground entirely and hopped repeatedly on his left, wincing. Nothing to worry about, Djokovic said later at his pre-tournament news conference: Just blisters.

“A minor thing,” Djokovic called it. “Like anybody has ... Nothing major that is causing a concern for the event.”

When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena, a 26-year-old from Spain whose career-best ranking was 72nd.

Carballes Baena has an overall career record of 43-50. That includes 2-7 at major tournaments, 1-1 at Flushing Meadows, where he made his debut a year ago and lost in the second round.

Djokovic, meanwhile, has won 33 of his past 34 Grand Slam matches en route to collecting four of the past five major titles. That allowed the 32-year-old Serb to raise his career haul to 16 trophies, putting him just two away from second-place Rafael Nadal’s total of 18, and Roger Federer’s 20, which is the record for men.

He’s not shy about trying to catch those guys.

“More or less everything is about Grand Slams, in terms of how I see tennis and how I approach it, because they matter the most,” Djokovic said. “So I will definitely try to play my best tennis — and aim to play my best tennis — at these events.”

And while many would attribute Djokovic's success to his ability to return serves, say, or his mental strength and propensity for coming up big in the biggest moments — such as saving two match points along the way to edging Federer in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the Wimbledon final last month — there's something else the man himself would point to as his most vital quality.

That's the way Djokovic can cover a court, which is why the state of that right foot is actually a rather big deal.

His movement, Djokovic said Saturday, is "the base of everything" and "the most important thing."

"It just allows you to be more in balance. And at the end of the day, that is what you're looking for as a tennis player," he explained. "How can you hit the ball, being in the right balance, so you can penetrate the ball with the right speed, accuracy and precision?"

Watch Djokovic during a match, and you'll see him change direction in a heartbeat, twist and turn, contort his limbs, slide — on clay, on grass, even on hard courts — always getting to the right spot at the right time.

He attributes his strength in that area to the flexibility of his ankles and is grateful he used to participate in another sport while growing up back home in Serbia.

"I credit my childhood spent on the skis. I used to spend a lot of time skiing," Djokovic said. "That had an effect as well, with kind of coordination and changing movement from one side to another. Even though they're different sports, in essence, you're using some major muscle groups and joints and stuff like this in most of the sports."

It is Djokovic's right elbow that gave him the most trouble a couple of seasons ago.

He missed the last half of 2017, including that year's US Open because that arm was bothering him, then wound up having surgery in February 2018. It took some time for Djokovic to get going after that. All's good these days, though.

"Novak had a couple years where he didn't seem like the same guy," ESPN's John McEnroe said. "Now he's back with a vengeance."

Only 1½ months have passed since Djokovic edged Federer in that classic title match at the All England Club.

Not a lot of time to savor the victory. Not a lot of time to rest a weary body.

"This sport can be a little bit 'cruel,'" Djokovic said, using fingers to indicate air quotes, "when it comes to, I guess, marveling or celebrating your own success. You don't have that much luxury of time to really reflect on everything because the season keeps going."


Bulgarian soccer chief quits after racist chants mar England game

Updated 6 min 34 sec ago

Bulgarian soccer chief quits after racist chants mar England game

  • Prime Minister Boyko Borissov had called earlier for Mihaylov, a former goalkeeper and Bulgaria international, to go

SOFIA: Bulgarian soccer chief Borislav Mihaylov resigned on Tuesday after fans taunted England’s black players with Nazi salutes and monkey chants during a Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia, prompting match officials to halt the game twice.
Prime Minister Boyko Borissov had called earlier for Mihaylov, a former goalkeeper and Bulgaria international, to go.
The fallout from what English FA chairman Greg Clarke described as “probably one of the most appalling nights I have seen in football” also triggered calls for urgent action from anti-racism campaigners and politicians.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said European governing body UEFA — the tournament organizers — needed to do more to tackle “vile” racism.
The issue has long been a blight on European soccer, with racist incidents during matches reported sporadically and abuse levelled at players on social media.
UEFA, the administrative body for the sport in Europe, had already ordered the partial closure of Sofia’s Vasil Levski stadium for the England game after racist behavior by Bulgarian supporters in June’s qualifiers against the Czechs and Kosovo.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said that soccer could not solve the problem on its own, and politicians must play a greater role.
“Football associations themselves cannot solve this problem. Governments too need to do more in this area. Only by working together in the name of decency and honor will we make progress,” the Slovenian said in a statement.
FIFA, the global governing body for soccer, threatened to extend punishments levelled against sides globally in light of events at the match in the Bulgarian capital.
“FIFA may extend worldwide any sanctions that a Confederation or Member Association imposes for racist incidents, such as those which occurred in Sofia during the UEFA EURO 2020 qualifier match between Bulgaria and England,” the Zurich-based organization said.
Monday’s match was temporarily halted by the Croatian referee under a three-step UEFA protocol, but the stoppage did not go far enough for some anti-racism activists who felt the England players should have walked off.
Anti-racism organization Kick It Out said UEFA’s existing sanctions were not fit for purpose and called for Bulgaria to be booted out.
“There can be no more pitiful fines or short stadium bans. If UEFA care at all about tackling discrimination — and if the Equal Game campaign means anything — then points deductions and tournament expulsion must follow,” it said.
UEFA said it had opened disciplinary proceedings against Bulgaria on a number of charges including racist behavior and the throwing of objects.
England were also charged for disruption of the national anthem and an insufficient number of traveling stewards.
Mihaylov had previously defended Bulgarian soccer from accusations of racism and criticized England for what he saw as a “fixation” on potential incidents that could raise tension.
His departure came just hours after a Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) spokesman said Mihaylov would not resign because the state had no right to interfere in football.
A later statement said that Mihaylov’s formal resignation would be presented to the Executive Committee on Friday.
“His position is a consequence of recent tensions; an environment that is detrimental to Bulgarian football and the Bulgarian Football Union,” it said.
Reuters was not able to reach Mihaylov by telephone on Tuesday.
More than 20 police officers swept into the (BFU) headquarters on Tuesday afternoon.
But the Bulgarian chief prosecutor’s spokeswoman said that the operation was part of an investigation conducted by the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office, and so not directly related to the racism row.
“It’s about crimes against sport,” Rumyana Arnaudova told Reuters. “We’re talking about corruption offenses, connected to the work of the BFU’s referee commission and the appointment of referees on football matches.
“The investigation is still under way and it’s too early to say if there’ll be some arrests.”
Mihaylov, captain of the Bulgarian national team that made it to the World Cup semifinals in 1994, has been heavily criticized by local media and soccer fans for failing to lead the BFU out of years of corruption and controversy.
Bulgaria have failed to qualify for a major tournament since 2004, while Mihaylov’s tenure has been marred by allegations of cronyism. He has denied such allegations in the past.
There have been widespread reports of match-fixing in Bulgaria in recent years but little in the way of progress in holding anyone accountable.