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September 21, 2017

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Tennis greats play humor-ace games in Taipei

TAIPEI--World No. 2 Novak Djokovic and No. 12 Nicolas Almagro provided an amusing afternoon of tennis Saturday in two exhibition matches full of laughter.

The afternoon started with a super tie-breaker, in which Djokovic and Almagro teamed up with local young talent and Almagro and his partner, 14-year-old Lee Ho-chun, beat their opponents 10-8.

Leading 7-4, Spaniard Almagro ran around on court to entertain the fans and distract his opponents when Djokovic's partner, 12-year-old Tseng Chun-hsin, served.

Not to be outshone by Almagro's humor, Djokovic jokingly did a push-up before taking Lee's serve, drawing a burst of laughter from the audience at the National Taiwan Sport University in Linkou, New Taipei.

The light-hearted atmosphere was carried into a best-of-three singles match between the two tennis stars.

The 25-year-old Serb sometimes challenged the chair umpire or screamed in dismay when his returns were called out in the first set before he managed to conclude it 7-6 (5).

Trailing 3-0 in the second set, Almagro mimicked retired American player Andy Roddick at Djokovic's request and the Serb, in return, impersonated world No. 4 Rafael Nadal and Nadal's signature posture — pulling his pants down before serving.

The stars' spontaneous idea of letting the line judges play on behalf of them and Djokovic's occasional chants of "jia-you" — the Chinese equivalent of "go, go, go" — to Tseng, also had the audience laughing.

The Serb said at the end of the match that it was nice to "play good tennis but also to smile, have fun and do something different."

"We don't get to do that often," he said.

The two players arrived in Taiwan a day earlier and Almagro also coached local young talent at a Taipei junior high school.

After the short Taipei trip, Djokovic left for Beijing to compete in the China Open, in which he won the men's singles in 2009 and 2010. He skipped the ATP Tour 500 event last year because of injury. Almagro, meanwhile, will play in the Rakuten Open in Japan.

Both Djokovic and Almagro are also scheduled to play in the Shanghai ATP Masters 1000 that takes place immediately after the Beijing event.

In the next few weeks, Djokovic will have a chance to regain the world No. 1 ranking. He currently trails world No. 1 Roger Federer by some 1,300 ATP ranking points.

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