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Different Djokovic books his place in the final four

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By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic felt he was a different player to the Wimbledon winner of old but comparisons were inevitable on Wednesday as the Serb rolled into the semi-finals for the first time since 2015.

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The former world number one and three-times champion played some sublime tennis, and showed plenty of fire in altercations with the umpire, as he swept past Japan’s Kei Nishikori 6-3 3-6 6-2 6-2.

“I feel if I have to compare the game that I’ve played, the level of tennis that I’ve had those years and today, I think it’s pretty close,” he told reporters after two and half hours on a sunny Centre Court.

If there were obvious empty seats for the lunchtime encounter, with defending champion Roger Federer in action at the same time on Court One, the entertainment could not be faulted.

Djokovic looked in impressive form, particularly as he closed out the final set.

“It’s kind of hard to copy anything, right? I don’t like that,” he said. “I usually like to recreate something. I know, as everything in life, we are evolving. I’m a different person, different player today.”

That said, the 31-year-old liked where he found himself after a difficult 12 months and comeback from elbow surgery this year.

Only last month, after a French Open quarter-final defeat, Djokovic had raised doubts about even appearing on the grass of south-west London.

“I think with the performances I’ve had, I deserve to be in the semi-finals. I don’t want to stop here. I hope I can get a chance to fight for a trophy,” he said.

Djokovic is through to his eighth Wimbledon semi-final, an achievement bettered by only three players in the Open Era.

It will be the 32nd Grand Slam semi of his career and first since the 2016 U.S. Open but, given what has happened since his previous one, a special feeling nonetheless.

“Obviously it’s different coming into semi-finals this year, taking in consideration 15 months behind, what everything that has happened, my results that were not up to the standard that I was doing before, that I was expected to play on,” he said.

“In the same time, I’m trying to use the experience and memories that I had on being in final stages of Grand Slams, just take things very simple, day by day…not get ahead of myself too much.”

Nishikori, who failed to take advantage of three break points early in the third set and lost his serve immediately afterwards, reckoned the Serb was timing his return to form just right.

“He was pumping himself up. He was playing, you know, good tennis again,” said the Japanese. “I’m sure he’s in good shape again. I think confidence is back for him.

“After coming back from injury, you’ve got to pump yourself a little more than before.”

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)

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Woods on brink of breaking title drought at Tour Championship

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(Reuters) – Tiger Woods stood on the brink of his first victory for more than five years after opening a three-shot lead over Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy in the third round of the Tour Championship in Atlanta on Saturday.

Woods exuded a sense of calm as he contemplated his chances of what given his 42 years and surgical history would be perhaps his greatest triumph, at least outside of his 14 major titles.

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And he had every reason to fancy his chances given his history as a front-runner of the highest order.

He has enjoyed the sole lead 44 times entering the final round, and has converted all but twice. And he has never coughed up a lead of three shots or more.

“Simple math says that if I play a clean card the guys behind me have to shoot 67, so that helps,” Woods told reporters after a five-under-par 65 at East Lake.

“I don’t have to shoot 63 or 64 and hope I get help. That’s a big difference. This is a spot I’d much rather be in than four or five back.

“I feel good about it. I’ve been playing well throughout the entire summer, just piecing it together, building, building and building.

“Finally I’ve come to a point where I’ve got control of the lead.”

A victory on Sunday would be his 80th on tour — two short of Sam Snead’s record — and his first since the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August, 2013.

Woods has not been the closer of old in his return this year from a spinal fusion, most notably at the British Open at Carnoustie where he charged into the lead halfway through the final round before faltering.

But he said he had felt comfortable on that occasion, even if he did not hoist the Claret Jug.

“When I grabbed the lead at the Open Championship (it) didn’t really feel abnormal, even though it’s been years since I’ve been in those spots,” he said.

“Today was the same. I got off to just an ideal start … and the next thing you know I’m off and running.”

Indeed he was, a blistering start reminiscent of his halcyon days as he notched six birdies in the first seven holes after starting the day tied for the halfway lead with world number one Rose.

“I felt hot early for sure,” Woods said. “I was hitting it absolutely dead flush, the putts I was hitting were going in and from there I just tried to hang in there.”

He cooled off on the back nine en route to a 12-under 198 total, while Englishman Rose recovered from a bogey, bogey start to card a 68.

Woods led by five strokes late on, but showed a hint of fragility by fluffing a pitch shot at the par-four 16th, where he failed to carry his ball up the slope.

But with a double-bogey looming, he regrouped to hit his next delicate shot stone dead for a tap-in bogey, before Rose sank an eight-foot birdie to cut the gap to three.

McIlroy, meanwhile, birdied the 16th and 18th holes to join the fray, setting up the prospect of a Sunday to remember.

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ed Osmond/Nick Mulvenney)

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Rose, McIlroy looking to rain on Tiger’s Tour Championship parade

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(Reuters) – Justin Rose knows the overwhelming majority of fans at the Tour Championship on Sunday will be cheering for Tiger Woods, so it might be a blessing that he will not be paired with the American in the final group.

World number one Rose and Rory McIlroy will both start the final round at East Lake in Atlanta three strokes behind Woods, who is in prime position to end a five-year drought since his 79th PGA Tour victory.

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Rose played with Woods on Saturday but because McIlroy finished his third round before the Englishman, he gets to accompany the 14-times major champion in the final pairing on Sunday.

“It was crazy out there for sure, but it’s fun,” Rose said of playing with Woods.

“It’s good to see him exciting the people. I think people maybe didn’t realize they missed Tiger until now he’s back.

“Now people really enjoy watching him play. And that’s why everyone is rooting for him tomorrow absolutely, except maybe for the other guys on the leaderboard.”

Rose will be playing not only for the victory but also the FedExCup, which is worth $10 million to the winner of the season-long PGA Tour points race.

Currently ranked second behind Bryson DeChambeau, Rose could probably secure the Cup with a runner-up finish on Sunday.

For all their achievements, 2013 U.S. Open champion Rose and four-times major winner McIlroy know that beating Woods would be a career highlight.

McIlroy had his game face on as he contemplated the task ahead.

“All I can do is worry about myself,” the Northern Irishman said.

“It’s obviously exciting for the tournament, it’s exciting for golf in general that he’s up there but for me, all I can do is concentrate on myself.

“The game’s hard enough without looking at other people. Go out there and take care of my business and hopefully that’s good enough.”

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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NASCAR notebook: Newman excited to take over No. 6 car

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RICHMOND, Va. – Team owner Jack Roush said the deal was for “years” but wouldn’t say for how many.

But Saturday’s announcement at Richmond Raceway confirmed that Ryan Newman’s immediate future lies behind the wheel of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford in 2019, after Newman closes out his current tenure in the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

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“I’m in a position where I’ve never wanted to quit, never wanted to stop, never wanted to retire, and I want to win a championship,” said the 40-year-old driver. “I look forward to this opportunity — obviously, finishing out this year as strong as we both can in our respective positions — but also, at the same time, with enthusiasm for the Daytona 500 in 2019.”

Newman will replace 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne in the No. 6 Ford. Matt Kenseth, who has spelled Bayne behind the wheel for the bulk of the races in the second half of the season, opted not to seek the ride full-time for next year, according to Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark.

“He’s been on the road and has been sacrificing a lot of family time,” Newmark said. “He just wasn’t prepared to run full-time. We talked a lot about that, and he said he owed it to his family.”

Newman, who started his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in a Team Penske Ford, has accumulated 18 victories in 611 starts in NASCAR’s premier series. The 2002 Cup rookie of the year earned the nickname “Rocket Man” for his qualifying prowess, which has produced 51 career poles, ninth on the all-time list.

Newman’s last pole came at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the 28th race of the 2013 season. He scored his last victory at Phoenix in 2017, thanks to a bold call to stay out on old tires near the end of the race.

Newman’s most noteworthy wins came in the 50th running of the Daytona 500 in 2008 and the 2013 Brickyard 400, which he won from the pole.

Newman achieved his best result in the final standings in 2014, the first year the elimination format was used to decide the championship. Driving for Childress, Newman qualified for the Championship 4 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway without winning a race and managed a runner-up finish, a half-second behind champion Kevin Harvick.

Newman is the only driver in the garage with an engineering degree, which he earned at Purdue University. Famed for his own engineering innovations, Roush prizes that sort of knowledge.

“The fact that he has an engineering degree makes him more valuable to me as a driver than he might be without that,” Roush said.

ELLIOTT SADLER REFLECTS ON FINAL RICHMOND RACE AS FULL-TIME DRIVER

It wasn’t until the end of Friday night’s GoBowling.com NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond that it dawned on Elliott Sadler and Dale Earnhardt Jr. that they had probably raced together for the last time in one of NASCAR’s top three touring series.

Sadler is competing for a championship in the series. Earnhardt, who also is Sadler’s car owner at JR Motorsports, was running his only scheduled race of the season in the No. 88 JRM Chevrolet.

More than that, Sadler and Earnhardt are long-time friends, dating to the days when they drove Late Model Stock Cars. On Friday night, after Earnhardt led 96 laps and finished fourth, and Sadler came home sixth, they shared a heartfelt hug on pit road.

“We started racing together 25 years ago, and we have a special relationship,” Sadler said afterward. “It kind of hit us both there that this is our last time racing on the same track together. He and (Earnhardt’s sister) Kelley have meant so much to my career.”

Both Sadler and Earnhardt agreed that they may race Late Models at some point, but with one stipulation.

“He won’t let us do it together,” Sadler said. “I’ll be his crew chief, and he’ll be mine.”

–Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

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NFL notebook: Superintendent resigns after Watson comments

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The Texas school superintendent who made a racially charged comment about Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has resigned, a Houston television station reported Saturday.

The Onalaska Independent School District’s Board of Trustees accepted a letter of resignation from Lynn Redden after a meeting Saturday morning, according to ABC 13.

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Redden came under fire for a comment posted on the Houston Chronicle’s Facebook page following the Texans’ Week 2 loss to the Tennessee Titans. “You can’t count on a black quarterback,” he wrote.

“The OISD does not condone negative comments or actions toward any race,” the school board said in a statement earlier this week. “The District values every individual and therefore the District will take the appropriate measures to address the situation expeditiously and completely.”

–Four days after signing with the Washington Redskins, wide receiver Breshad Perriman has been released.

Washington promoted running back Kapri Bibbs to the 53-man roster in his place. Running back Rob Kelley recently went on injured reserve with an injured toe.

Perriman, 25, was the 26th player selected in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. After missing his rookie season due to injury, he made his debut in 2016, appearing in all 16 games and catching 33 passes for 499 yards and three touchdowns.

–Tennessee Titans linebacker Kamalei Correa will not play Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars because of a back injury.

Correa, tied for the team lead with two sacks, had been listed as questionable but was downgraded on Saturday. Correa, 24, was acquired in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens in August for a 2019 sixth-round pick.

The Titans also said safety Kendrick Lewis will miss his third straight game with a foot injury. He has not played in a regular season game since 2016 with Baltimore.

–The San Francisco 49ers released linebacker Terence Garvin and promoted defensive back Tyvis Powell to the 53-man roster, the team announced.

Garvin saw action in one game this season for San Francisco. The 27-year-old has played 75 games (four starts) in six NFL seasons, including stints with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2013-15), Washington Redskins (2016) and Seattle Seahawks (2017).

Powell, 24, played in three games for San Francisco last season and has three defensive tackles and two special teams’ stops. He also played in eight games for the Seahawks in 2016.

–Tight end Erik Swoope was promoted to the Indianapolis Colts’ 53-man roster from the practice squad as fellow tight end Jack Doyle is considered week to week with a hip injury.

Swoope, who played basketball at the University of Miami, has been on and off the Colts’ roster since signing as an undrafted rookie in 2014. He was also active for Week 1. He has 16 career receptions in 18 games over five seasons. The Colts waived cornerback Lenzy Pipkins to make room for Swoope on the roster and signed quarterback Phillip Walker to the practice squad.

–Field Level Media

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NBA notebook: Butler to miss Wolves’ media day, start of camp

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Jimmy Butler has received permission from the Minnesota Timberwolves to skip the team’s media day on Monday and he will not be available for the start of training camp on Tuesday, The Athletic reported on Saturday.

Earlier this week, the four-time All-Star guard reportedly requested a trade and expressed interest in the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets.

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Butler, who turned 29 last week, appeared in 59 games last season for the Timberwolves, averaging 22.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.0 steals.

He is entering the fourth season of a five-year, $92.3 million contract he signed with Chicago in 2015, but he can enter the free agent market next summer by opting out of the final year. He is scheduled to earn a base salary of $18.7 million in 2018-19. In July, Butler reportedly turned down Minnesota’s four-year extension offer worth $110 million.

–Less than two weeks before the first preseason game, Sacramento Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic injured his knee in international play for the Serbian national team.

Bogdanovic will undergo a minor arthroscopic procedure in New York on Monday and is expected to make a full recovery. He felt discomfort in his left knee during a 91-65 win over Estonia in a World Cup qualifier.

A first-round draft pick by the Phoenix Suns in 2014, Bogdanovic made his NBA debut with the Kings last season and averaged 11.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists as a rookie.

–The Chicago Bulls announced that center Omer Asik will be out indefinitely due to an arthritis condition that developed over the summer.

The Bulls acquired Asik when they traded Nikola Mirotic to the New Orleans Pelicans in February.

Asik, 32, began his career with the Bulls in 2010 and spent his first two seasons in Chicago before moving on to stints with the Houston Rockets and Pelicans. For his career, Asik has averaged 5.3 points and 7.1 rebounds over 471 games.

–Field Level Media

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Joshua retains heavyweight crowns with Povetkin TKO

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By Christian Radnedge

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Anthony Joshua delivered a devastating technical knockout in the seventh round to defeat Russian Alexander Povetkin at Wembley Stadium on Saturday and retain his WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO world heavyweight championship belts.

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In front of about 80,000 fans, Joshua moved on to 22 fights unbeaten in his professional career by handing the 39-year-old Povetkin only his second defeat but his first by TKO.

Joshua, returning to the arena where he knocked out Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko in April, 2017 to become a unified heavyweight world champion, was given a hero’s reception by the almost capacity crowd.

However, early on it was the smaller challenger who appeared the more inspired by the occasion, despite the constant boos and jeers from the partisan crowd, and he caught the Briton late in the first round with an uppercut on the nose.

Both men had won Olympic gold medals, but it was the youthful energy of the 28-year-old Joshua which proved decisive as Povetkin visibly tired halfway through the contest.

Joshua began dictating with his movement from the fourth round and started to find his range with his right hook.

That was what did for Povetkin, the WBA mandatory challenger, in the seventh when a fearsome right-hander from Joshua landed square on his jaw and sent the Russian to the canvas.

He got back to his feet but not for long as an onslaught of punches from the champion led referee Steve Gray to intervene one minute and 59 seconds into the round and give Joshua his 21st win by knockout.

“Povetkin is a very tough challenger, he proved that tonight with good left hooks and counter punches,” Joshua said from inside in the ring.

“I came in here to have fun, and give it my best, I knew he was strong to the head but weak to the body. I was just mixing it up.

“It could have been seven, maybe nine, maybe 12 rounds to get him out of there. But the ultimate aim was to be victorious.

“I got my knockout streak back,” he added, having been taken to 12 rounds for the first time in his previous fight against New Zealand’s Joseph Parker in Cardiff in April.

The fight is the first of a two-match deal Joshua has agreed to stage at Wembley Stadium, with the second due to take place in April next year.

However, his plan to become the undisputed world heavyweight champion may have to wait a little longer as WBC title holder Deontay Wilder announced earlier on Saturday a showdown with Joshua’s compatriot and former world champion Tyson Fury on Dec. 1 in the United States.

(Reporting by Christian Radnedge,; Editing by Ed Osmond)

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