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Top-ranked Novak Djokovic wards off upset bid

- Associated Press - Monday, September 5, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Novak Djokovic put his hand to his ear to revel in the cheers pouring down from the stands.

It was only one set, but the world's top-ranked player is seasoned enough in the role of favorite these days to realize that warding off that first challenge from an underdog is usually enough to avoid an upset.

Djokovic survived a marathon tiebreaker, fighting off four set points, then cruised the rest of the way to beat Alexandr Dolgopolov in the fourth round of the U.S. Open.

"I knew in the back of my mind I needed to hang in there and try to wait for the opportunities," Djokovic said. "After I won the first set, I felt that I have a little mental advantage over him, that I'm in control."

The Serb won 7-6 (14), 6-4, 6-2 on Monday. Countryman Janko Tipsarevic watched the tiebreaker before his own post-match news conference with the interest of a friend and a soon-to-be foe.

The first time in the Open era that two Serbian men have made the quarterfinals of a major tournament, they'll play each other.

After Djokovic won the opening set against the 22-year-old Dolgopolov and his unpredictable game, Tipsarevic was quite sure who he'd be facing next.

"I'm not going to try and play like Dolgopolov. I don't think even he knows what's going to happen the next point," Tipsarevic said. "I mean, it's understandable. Alexandr is playing really good; he's a new opponent for Novak. He's not an everyday opponent. He never played Novak before and it's windy out there."

The 20th-seeded Tipsarevic reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal by beating Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-5, 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-2. He and Djokovic are frequent practice partners.

"Even if I'm not friends with Novak, I would know his game since he's, you know, going out of your fridge in Serbia, basically," Tipsarevic said with a grin of his buddy's popularity and ubiquity in their home country.

"In a way it can be easier on us maybe knowing where the other one is going to serve when it's important or whatever," he added. "But those things are maybe 2 percent of the overall outcome of the match. Who plays better tennis is going to win."

Both men are playing the best tennis of their lives this year. Tipsarevic insisted he was most excited about achieving his goal of ascending to a top-20 ranking.

"I know it's maybe stupid, but I'm honestly only focusing now on my ranking," he said. "I don't know why. I am like that. When I take something, I just _ when I was a baby, I take a doll, and until I break it I don't want a new one. I'm just now focused. I'm looking that there is 360 points waiting for me (on) the other side of the net, and I need to beat whoever (that is)."

Even if it's his top-ranked compatriot.

Djokovic fell behind 0-4 in his first-set tiebreaker. But he regained momentum when his shot ticked off the top of the net and over, and the 22nd-seeded Dolgopolov's backhand crosscourt volley landed just wide.

It was the kind of theater fans waited on long lines for outside Louis Armstrong Stadium.

"Sometimes it's really nice to be on the smaller court where the crowd is closer to the court where you can feel them," Djokovic said. "When you're taking a towel, you can feel them so close to you."

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SPIKE'S GAME: Even the most intimidating player in women's tennis can be intimidated.

Director Spike Lee, who sat in Serena Williams' box during her fourth-round win Monday, is apparently quite the competitor on the court.

"He's crazy. He wants to win more than I do," Williams said about her good friend.

She recalled that Lee will implore: "Hit to me really hard."

When Williams tells him, "I'm going to break your racket if I do," he'll insist, "No, go your hardest."

"He's actually really good," Williams said. "He's like really, really intense. I'm a little intimidated. 'Calm down, calm down.'"

That intensity carries over to the dinner table, where topics of conversation can include Williams' support for the Miami Heat and Lee's well-chronicled devotion to the New York Knicks.

"Whenever we're at dinner, he's looking for a debate," Williams said. "You have to join in and pick a side. I always try to pick an opposite side so it can just be a debate. It's fun, though. I love it."

So perhaps it's not a surprise that when asked for her favorite Lee movie, Williams replied, "I don't want to say. I think he would be angry."

Williams might be starring in her own videos soon of the musical variety. She has a karaoke room in her new house in Los Angeles.

"We sing our hearts out," she said. "We've sung till 8 in the morning. I was like, 'Oh, my God, the sun's coming out.' I look out and see the sun. We keep singing and singing and singing and singing. It's magical."

Williams loves tunes from the 1980s and '90s, but her favorite artist to impersonate is Rihanna.

She may start posting videos of the karaoke nights on her website.

"I'm a little nervous because my voice isn't the best," Williams said. "My performances are probably the best. I do a full routine. It's amazing."

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ROLE REVERSAL: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova won the first set against Francesca Schiavone at the French Open, and that didn't turn out too well.

So after the 20-year-old Russian dropped the opening set in a rematch Monday, she comforted herself with the thought that maybe rallying from behind was her best chance of winning.

She did just that in a 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 victory over the seventh-seeded Italian. The youngest player left in the draw defeated the oldest as Pavlyuchenkova reached her first U.S. Open quarterfinal.

The 17th-seeded Pavlyuchenkova had led 6-1, 4-1 in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Roland Garros earlier this year before Schiavone came back for a three-set victory.

The roles were completely reversed going into the decisive set this time.

"She kind of found courage ... and then everything was going well for her," Pavlyuchenkova said of the previous meeting. "I was a little bit disappointed and I was really negative and tired. So I just couldn't play my game. That's why I was 5-1 down in the third very fast and easy.

"This time I won the second set, so it was the same for me. Emotionally I felt better and I felt like I could win the third set."

Pavlyuchenkova will need all sorts of self-belief against her next opponent: 13-time major champion Serena Williams.

The 31-year-old Schiavone carries the confidence of winning the 2010 French Open, but she was wildly inconsistent at this tournament, especially with her serve. The two players combined for 16 service breaks and 21 double-faults in 31 games in Monday's match.

"When I play like this, I have to swallow it and just go home," Schiavone said.

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