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Djokovic beats Murray in Sony Open quarterfinals

Novak Djokovic benefited from an erroneous call and claimed he didn’t realize he had broken the rules. When Andy Murray walked to the net and challenged him about it, Djokovic responded with a shrug and a sheepish smile.

Murray lost the dispute, and the match. The pivotal ruling helped Djokovic win 7-5, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the Sony Open in Key Biscayne, Fla.

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The point in question occurred at the start of the 12th game, with Murray serving at 5-6. Djokovic charged forward to volley a short ball and hit it for a winner.

Murray argued — and TV replays confirmed — he should have been awarded the point because Djokovic’s racket was on the far side of the net when he hit the ball. Chair umpire Damian Steiner declined to change his call, and such rulings can’t be appealed for video review.

An irritated Murray briefly discussed the matter with Djokovic.

“I went and asked Novak, and he told me he was over the net,” Murray said.

“Look, it might be my mistake,” Djokovic said. “I think I crossed the net with the racket. I didn’t touch the net. Maybe the rule is that you are not allowed to pass on his side with the racket. I’m not sure. You tell me.”

That is indeed the rule.

A flustered Murray committed unforced backhand errors on the next three points to lose the game and the set.

“Obviously, that distracted him mentally, and after that he gave the set away,” Djokovic said.

Later, Roger Federer squandered a big lead and lost to No. 20-seeded Kei Nishikori 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.

Federer was up a service break twice in the second set but couldn’t close out the victory. He lost serve five times and committed 39 unforced errors.

Li Na became the first Chinese woman to reach the Key Biscayne semifinals when she beat Caroline Wozniacki 7-5, 7-5. Li’s opponent Thursday night will be Dominika Cibulkova, who erased three match points in the second set — one when a call was overturned via replay — and beat Agnieszka Radwanska 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3.

Auto racing

Hamlin cleared after metal removed from his eye

A small piece of metal in his eye, and not a sinus infection, caused Denny Hamlin to miss last week’s race at California.

Hamlin was not medically cleared to race last Sunday by doctors in the infield care center at Auto Club Speedway. He had visited the care center on Saturday and Sunday complaining of an irritation to his eye, and it was determined at the track that it was related to a recent sinus infection Hamlin had suffered.

Hamlin was referred to a hospital for further evaluation, and once there, “a small piece of metal was found to be in Hamlin’s eye,” Joe Gibbs Racing said in a statement Wednesday.

The metal was removed and JGR said “Hamlin felt immediate improvement.” By then, the race at Fontana had already started and replacement driver Sam Hornish Jr. was behind the wheel of Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota.

Dixon adjusts to racing without Franchitti

So much has changed for Scott Dixon since he wrapped up his third IndyCar championship five months ago in California.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s offseason move to Chevrolet has given Dixon a new engine for the year, and when he heads into Sunday’s season-opener through the streets of St. Petersburg, he won’t have longtime teammate Dario Franchitti alongside him for the first time in six years.

Franchitti was forced to retire because of injuries suffered in an October crash in Houston, and he’s been replaced in the Target lineup by Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan.

Franchitti has taken a role as a driver coach with the Ganassi organization.

Horse racing

Cairo Prince favored in Florida Derby at Gulfstream

Cairo Prince has been set as the 9-5 favorite for Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby in the 11
8-mile race at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla., a major prep along the road to the Kentucky Derby. The draw was Wednesday, and it was no surprise to see the multiple stakes winner trained by Kieran McLaughlin set as the one to beat.

Intense Holiday 2-1 favorite in Louisiana Derby

Intense Holiday has drawn the inside post position and is listed as a 2-1 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s $1 million Grade II Louisiana Derby, one of the premier prep races for the Kentucky Derby.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Intense Holiday already has a major victory at the New Orleans Fair Grounds Race Course, taking the Grade II Risen Star Stakes last month.


• The Mid-American Conference and Massachusetts football will part ways after the 2015 season.

• The Atlanta Dream has re-signed All-Star center Erika de Souza. The 6-foot-5 player has been with the Dream since the team’s initial season in 2008. She is the franchise leader in games played (161), rebounds (1,371), blocked shots (232) and field-goal percentage (.539).

Hank Lauricella, the 1951 Heisman Trophy runner-up at Tennessee who went on to serve more than three decades as a Louisiana state legislator, has died in Jefferson, La. He was 83.

• The Canadian Football League announced that the 2015 Grey Cup game will be played at Winnipeg’s Investors Group Field. The game is set for Nov. 29, 2015, at the stadium that opened last year.

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