Djokovic reaches final despite 'physical crisis'

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Djokovic reaches final despite 'physical crisis'

From Comcast SportsNetMELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Novak Djokovic overcame his breathing problems and a "physical crisis" to beat Andy Murray in an almost five-hour Australian Open semifinal Friday night and move into his third straight Grand Slam final. Standing between Djokovic and a record shared by some of the greatest players of all time will be No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal, a man he beat in six tournament finals in 2011. Despite appearing tired and sore from the second set, defending Djokovic rallied to beat fourth-seeded Murray 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 7-5 in a rematch of the 2011 final at Melbourne Park. After wasting a chance to serve out the match at 5-3 in the fifth and letting Murray back into the contest, Djokovic cashed in his first match point when the Scottish player missed a forehand after four hours, 50 minutes. "You have to find strength in those moments and energy, and that keeps you going," Djokovic said. "I think we both went through a physical crisis. You know, him at the fourth set, me all the way through the second and midway through the third. It was a very even match throughout, from the first to the last point." Djokovic dropped onto his back, fully laid out on the court. He got up and shook hands with Murray, before jogging back out onto the court like a boxer, dropping to his knees and crossing himself. It was already after 12:30 a.m. Saturday when he got up again and pumped his arms triumphantly. "Andy deserves the credit to come back from 2-5 down. He was fighting. I was fighting," Djokovic said. "Not many words that can describe the feeling of the match. "Evidently it was a physical match ... it was one of the best matches I played. Emotionally and mentally it was equally hard." It was a bitter setback for Murray, who lost the previous two Australian finals and is still trying to end a drought for British men at majors dating back to 1936. He is confident he has already improved in the few weeks since hiring eight-time major winner Ivan Lendl as coach. "Yeah, it was tough at the end 'cause, you know, obviously you come back, then you get close to breaking," he said. "To lose, yeah, it's tough. "But a different player, a different attitude to this time last year. I'm proud of the way I fought." Djokovic finished last year at No. 1 after winning three of the four majors, including a straight-sets win over Murray in the Australian final. His only loss at a Grand Slam in 2011 was against Roger Federer in the French Open semifinals. It was phenomenal season after previously only winning one major -- the 2008 Australian Open -- and not returning to a final for 11 Grand Slams. "To be honest, I think I matured as a player. I started to believe on the court I could win majors," he said. "Rafa and Roger are the most dominant players for the last seven, eight years. ... It was very hard to take away the titles from them. They will not give you the titles. You have to earn it." He is now aiming to be only the fifth man in the Open Era started in 1968 to win three straight majors -- only Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Federer and Nadal have achieved it before him, with only Laver going on to complete the Grand Slam by winning all four majors in a season. The Australian great was in the arena named in his honor to watch Friday night's semifinal, as he had been when 2009 Australian Open winner Nadal came back from a set and a break down to beat four-time champion Federer in four sets the previous night. Djokovic's 70-6 win-loss record in 2011 included those six wins over Nadal in finals -- including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Nadal has had an extra day to prepare for the final, but will be conscious of his own performance three years ago when he beat Fernando Verdasco in a 5-hour, 14-minute semifinal and had 24 hours less to prepare for a final against Federer that he eventually won. On Friday night, both Djokovic and Murray had form dips -- but Djokovic's were more obvious. He led by a set and a break before Murray started coming back at him. Then Djokovic started walking gingerly and appeared to be struggling for breath -- just as he had been in his straights sets quarterfinal win over No. 5-ranked David Ferrer. At one point, he pointed to his nose and seemed to indicated to his support group that he was having trouble breathing. He stayed in the points, despite Murray scrambling and trying to get him involved in long rallies. "You try to get energized in every way," he said. "A lot of liquids, try to eat something, as well, that gives you energy." He put his breathing problems down to allergies, and said he'd seen a doctor for it. After winning a tight tiebreaker but then virtually conceding the fourth set, Murray rallied again after slipping behind 5-2 in the fifth. He broke Djokovic at love when the Serb was serving for the match on a three-game streak that put all the pressure back on the defending champion. But Djokovic composed himself and seemed to be gathering energy as the match wore on. He held serve and then broke Murray to finish it off. "I'm extremely delighted to be in the final," Djokovic said. "What can be a bigger challenge than playing against Rafa Nadal, one of the greatest players ever. "I'm going to try to recover. Obviously it's going to be physical as well." Despite being friends and childhood rivals, this was only the second meeting between Djokovic and Murray at a Grand Slam. Djokovic beat Murray in the 2011 Australian final and had a 6-4 lead in their overall head-to-heads at tour level. Murray won the Brisbane International and came into the semifinal on a 10-match winning streak. The blue-and-white crossed Scottish flags fluttered in the crowd, held by fans with the flag painted on their faces and some wearing their tartan Tam hats. The support was evenly split at Rod Laver Arena, encouraging both players in the tense final set. The Maria Sharapova vs. Victoria Azarenka women's final on Saturday night is being previewed in the local media as a battle of the two loudest grunters on the tour. Azarenka, who won the Sydney International title the weekend before the season's first major, is bidding to continue her winning shriek. Sharapova has won three majors, but none since the 2008 Australian Open. Azarenka will be playing her first Grand Slam final. The winner will move to the top of the women's rankings. Caroline Wozniacki, who came into the tournament as No. 1, will drop three places after her quarterfinal loss to 2011 champion Kim Clijsters. Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva won the women's doubles final on Friday with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 victory over the Italian duo of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and her Romanian partner Horia Tecau advanced to the mixed doubles final with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Indian pair Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi. They'll next play Elena Vesnina of Russia and India's Leander Paes. In the men's doubles final Saturday, American twins Bob and Mike Bryan are aiming for a Grand Slam record 12th major when they take on Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek.

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's loss despite five home runs

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from A's loss despite five home runs

BOX SCORE

Hit five home runs, and a team has to like its chances of winning.

The A’s simply couldn’t keep up with the Houston Astros’ bats, however, in an 11-8 loss Wednesday night that snapped Oakland’s four-game winning streak. Khris Davis went deep twice, and Ryon Healy, Jed Lowrie and Matt Olson all went deep as the A’s set their season high for home runs.

But Houston racked up 17 hits against Jesse Hahn (3-6) and four relievers and evened this three-game series at a game apiece. It was the second time Hahn has gotten knocked around by Houston inside of a week.

The A’s took an early lead, 5-4, in the third on the second of Davis’ two homers, part of a four-run rally for Oakland. But the Astros answered right back with five runs in the bottom half, and the A’s never recovered from that momentum swing.

Hahn’s struggles continue: Hahn was trying to rebound after the Astros hung nine earned runs on him last Thursday at the Coliseum. Things didn’t improve Wednesday at Minute Maid Park, as the right-hander lasted just two-plus innings and allowed six runs on nine hits. Is this a case of one team simply having Hahn’s number or do the A’s make a move and try someone else in the rotation? It bears watching.

Krush Davis x 2: It was apparent early this would be a slugfest, with Khris Davis homering twice within the first three innings as the A’s tried to keep pace. He led off the second with a shot to left field, then came back with a three-run blast to left in the third that put Oakland up 5-4. The homers were his team-leading 20th and 21st.

Reddick-ulous night: Josh Reddick filled up the stat sheet against his old team in every way imaginable. He went 3-for-4 with three RBI and two runs, and twice caught the A’s by surprise by stealing third base. For good measure, he turned in an excellent running catch in right field to rob Yonder Alonso.

Strange offensive night: What to make of this night offensively for the A’s? They hit a season-high five homers but also struck out a whopping 17 times. No matter … you can’t hang this one on the offense, because …

The pitching staff just couldn’t hold things down: Josh Smith was called upon to hold down the fort after Hahn departed in the third, but Smith was tagged for three runs on four hits. Daniel Coulombe and John Axford also got touched for runs. Rookie Michael Brady did turn in 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

Cubs outfielder vows he didn't give Trump the middle finger at White House

Cubs outfielder vows he didn't give Trump the middle finger at White House

WASHINGTON – Albert Almora Jr. didn’t use Wednesday’s Oval Office photo op as a subtle form of political protest, but it did sort of look like the Cubs outfielder gave President Donald Trump the middle finger, at least from that angle in an image that went viral on Twitter.    

“There was two fingers! Look closely, there was two fingers!” a veteran player yelled across the room as reporters gathered around Almora’s locker inside the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park. 

“Guys were giving me a hard time about it,” Almora said, “but I pointed out the second finger. We’re all good.”

In another White House visit that didn’t look nearly as unofficial or informal as the Cubs said it would be, one snapshot became Almora with part of his left hand in his pocket. Almora stood near Kris Bryant – who held a 45 Wrigley Field scoreboard panel – and Trump at his desk with the World Series trophy.

“Obviously, it’s unfortunate,” Almora said with a laugh. “I’m getting ready to take a picture and I’m posing there. But you guys know that I would never do that to the president of the United States. 

“I respect everybody. It is what it is. We laugh about it now, but there’s definitely two fingers out there.”

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