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Djokovic sets sights on elusive French Open

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Djokovic sets sights on elusive French Open

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) In years past, Novak Djokovic marked his victories at the Australian Open with rowdy late-night celebrations and bleary-eyed photo shoots the next morning in downtown Melbourne.

This year's win made history but inspired a more sober reaction.

After beating Andy Murray to become the only man to win three consecutive Australian Open titles, the No. 1-ranked player didn't feel the need to celebrate immediately.

Instead, he booked an early Monday flight home to start preparing for his next challenge: the clay courts of Europe.

The Serb has the Davis Cup next weekend and a few months away is the French Open - the one major that has eluded him. Djokovic now has six Grand Slam tournament trophies, four overall from the Australian Open and one each from Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2011. He came close last year at Roland Garros, but lost in the final to clay-court master Rafael Nadal.

``Of course, I want to go all the way in the French Open,'' Djokovic said at his post-match news conference just after midnight.

His goal for the year is a big one, he said, when asked if he would choose a Roland Garros title over his No. 1-ranking.

``I'll take everything,'' the 25-year-old Djokovic said. ``I have no reason not to be confident in myself.''

Djokovic never lacked self-confidence and his dominating performance at the Australian Open showed just why.

The elite group Djokovic heads includes No. 2 Roger Federer, No. 3 Murray and Nadal, whose creaky knees caused him to sit out this tournament and yield his No. 4 ranking to David Ferrer. Djokovic beat Ferrer in an 89-minute semifinal he said he played ``perfectly.''

Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam-winner, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray have combined to win 33 of the past 34 majors.

``I have a great feeling about myself on the court at this moment,'' Djokovic said after beating Ferrer.

His 6-7 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2 victory over Murray on Sunday night showed his mental toughness and supreme fitness in a match that contained riveting rallies between two of the best returners in the game.

The win deprived Murray of his chance to capitalize on his breakthrough year in 2012, when he won an Olympic gold and his first major title at the U.S. Open.

``I'm full of joy right now,'' Djokovic said. ``It's going to give me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season, that's for sure.''

The season resumes next weekend with Serbia's Davis Cup tie against Belgium, which was why Djokovic flew home early so he could celebrate with the people closest to him.

``In life you don't get many opportunities to win Grand Slams. As a tennis player, that's a pinnacle of the ambitions and of the success,'' he said. ``So I (will) try to enjoy it for a few days with the people I love the most - family, friends and team.''

Djokovic apologized to reporters for skipping Monday's traditional post-victory news conference.

``The main reason is because I want to get to Europe as quick as possible so I can be ready for the Davis Cup tie,'' said Djokovic, who led Serbia to its first and only Davis Cup title in 2010. ``I hope I find your understanding for that.''

After he wrapped up his media obligations, he went online at about 4:30 a.m. to post a note of thanks to his fans.

``My dear friends,'' he wrote in a personal blog post that he also tweeted. ``(I'm) laying in bed now and thinking `Novak, you are 4 times AO champion,' That's quite something, right? I will have to repeat it in my mind for a while to sink in.''

``This is just the start of the year!'' Djokovic wrote, ahead of catching his flight. ``Plenty of things ahead of us, starting from tomorrow morning. ... Stay tuned.''

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Evgeny Kuznetsov accepts IIHF suspension for cocaine while Capitals, NHL lay out next steps

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Evgeny Kuznetsov accepts IIHF suspension for cocaine while Capitals, NHL lay out next steps

After news broke of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s four-year suspension by the IIHF for testing positive for cocaine, the Capitals center released a statement Friday accepting the suspension and expressing his regret for the situation 

Said Kuznetsov:

"Recently, the IIHF notified me that, due to a positive test for a banned substance, I would be suspended from international competition for four years. I have made the decision to accept this penalty. Representing my country has always been so close to my heart and something I take so much pride in. Not being able to put that sweater on for four years is very hard to take. I have disappointed so many people that are important to me, including my family, teammates and friends. From the first day I took the ice in D.C., the Washington Capitals organization and our fans have been nothing but great to me and my family. I feel absolutely terrible for letting you down. I realize that the only way I can win you back is to take ownership of my situation and my actions from this point forward."

The question now is what happens next?

Both the Capitals and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly also released statements on Friday saying that Kuznetsov “has voluntarily sought help through the education and counseling program provided for in the NHL/NHLPA collective bargaining agreement and has agreed to a regular testing protocol relating to his involvement with that program.”

In addition, Kuznetsov will meet with commissioner Gary Bettman “to discuss his situation and review his conduct prior to the start of Training Camp preceding the 2019-20 season.”

While the positive test has resulted in a four-year suspension with the IIHF, it is unclear if any such discipline will be levied on Kuznetsov by the NHL.

Said Daly, “Unlike the IIHF, cocaine is not considered a performance-enhancing drug and is therefore not a Prohibited Substance under the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program.  Instead, it is considered a drug of abuse that is tested for and for which intervention, evaluation and mandatory treatment can occur in appropriate cases.”

Daly left the door open for NHL discipline as he concluded, “We intend to reserve further comment on any additional actions that may or may not be taken with respect to today’s announcement (disciplinary or otherwise) pending the completion of the Commissioner’s meeting with Mr. Kuznetsov.”

The Capitals, meanwhile, expressed support for Kuznetsov saying “we are committed to ensuring he has the necessary support required to work through this situation.”

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Evgeny Kuznetsov receives IIHF suspension after testing positive for cocaine

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Evgeny Kuznetsov receives IIHF suspension after testing positive for cocaine

Evgeny Kuznetsov has been suspended for four years by the IIHF after testing positive for cocaine, the organization announced Friday. The test was found in a sample taken on May 26, 2019, at the World Championship.

The suspension will last through June 12, 2023.

A video posted on Twitter in May showed Kuznetsov in a hotel room next to lines of an unidentified white powder. The Capitals center released a statement afterward saying that he has “never taken illegal drugs in my life and career.” He also claimed the video was from 2018 in Vegas after Washington won the Stanley Cup.

After a review, both the NHL and the Capitals accepted Kuznetsov’s explanation of the situation and considered the matter closed.

A team official told NBC Sports Washington on Friday that the team does intend to make an official comment on the news of Kuznetsov’s suspension.

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