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Nadal beats Nishikori to win Monte Carlo Masters

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MONACO — Rafael Nadal won a record 31st Masters title after beating Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2 in the Monte Carlo Masters final on Sunday.

Nadal also became the first man in the Open era to win the same title 11 times – 13 years after his first title here – and moved one ahead of rival Novak Djokovic for career Masters titles.

“It’s great to have this trophy in my hands again,” Nadal said.

It gave him a 76th title overall and ensured the Spaniard keeps his top ranking ahead of Roger Federer.

Nishikori was chasing a first Masters title, but the Japanese player took 11 minutes to hold for 1-1.

He got some brief hope, breaking Nadal with a superb passing shot at full stretch to lead 2-1, but meekly surrendered the next four games.

“I knew it was going to be tough even though I was up break,” said Nishikori, who complained of tiredness. “My legs were very heavy today, playing three sets (for) three days in a row (before the final). It wasn’t easy physically.”

The second set was a procession and Nadal won on his first match point with a stinging backhand winner.

Nadal’s celebration was brief and low key. He thrust both hands into the air, and then jogged over to offer Nishikori a sympathetic hug after beating him for the 10th time in 12 meetings.

Nishikori saved a set point with a sharp, angled volley at the net. But Nadal was in relentless mood and sealed it on his next chance with a crisp forehand winner.

“It’s not easy to describe when you are coming back from injury and you start the clay-court season in this way,” Nadal said.

Nishikori is still working his way back to form and full fitness, after missing the 2017 U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open because of a torn tendon in his right wrist.

“It was a great week for me, I had an injury and couldn’t play for a long time,” said Nishikori, whose ranking has slipped to 36.

Nadal has not dropped a set in seven matches since coming back from a recurrence of a right hip injury that forced him to abandon during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

The injury relapse subsequently forced him out of the Mexico Open and Masters tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami, but Nadal now looks back to his ruthless best on clay.

He has his sights firmly set on an 11th title at Barcelona next week and then an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.

 

Nadal beats Dimitrov, one win from record 31st Masters title

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MONACO (AP) Rafael Nadal remains on course for a record 31st Masters title after beating Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-1 in the Monte Carlo Masters semifinals on Saturday.

The top-ranked Spaniard never looked in trouble as he beat the fourth-seeded Bulgarian for the 11th time in 12 career meetings.

If Nadal wins Sunday’s final, he will earn a 76th career title and also keep his No. 1 ranking. Should he lose, Roger Federer will reclaim the top spot.

Nadal faces either third-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany or Kei Nishikori of Japan, who play later Saturday.

In the opening game, Dimitrov came out firing. He pressured Nadal with two superb lobs, forcing a backhand smash wide from the Spaniard for deuce. But Nadal held a tight first game lasting eight minutes, and then broke Dimitrov for 2-0.

Dimitrov found his range, broke Nadal back and held for 3-3. The next two games were even, with Dimitrov matching Nadal in the rallies.

The 16-time Grand Slam champion held for 5-4 and then Dimitrov cracked, serving consecutive double faults and hitting a wild forehand long to trail 15-40. He saved one set point but Nadal was in ruthless mode and took the next chance.

It appeared that Nadal was gaining his usual momentum on clay – and two consecutive love breaks and three easy holds made it 5-0 to the Spaniard in the second set.

Dimitrov explained his collapse this way.

“I think I played smart against him. I kind of know his pattern a little bit better,” Dimitrov said. “But it was my fault when I got broken. Simple as that. Two double-faults, it’s just definitely not acceptable, especially when you play against him on that surface.”

Dimitrov finally held, drawing polite applause, but Nadal served out the match with ease. He clinched victory on his first match point when Dimitrov patted the ball wide following a brief exchange.

“You see me with a smile. I’m a positive person,” Dimitrov said. “Deep down, I’m hurt. I hate losing. Simple as that.”

Nadal shares the Masters record with Novak Djokovic, whose 30 wins include two here.

Nadal’s victory at Monte Carlo last year made him the first men’s tennis player in the Open era to win the same title 10 times. He then won a 10th title at Barcelona and the French Open.

 

Capitals Among NHL Betting Favorites on Saturday Playoff Slate

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The law of averages would suggest the Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin are bound to see success at home in the playoffs eventually.

The Capitals are the -165 consensus favorite with the Columbus Blue Jackets coming back at +145 and a 5.5-goal total for their playoff matchup on Saturday, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Each team has won twice in the other team’s arena to forge a 2-2 tie in the best-of-seven series, and Washington is just 3-6 in its last nine playoff games at home.

Washington has had the stronger offensive performance in the series, led by the Evgeny Kuznetsov-Ovechkin-Tom Wilson line, and it is 5-1 in its last six home games as a moneyline favorite of -150 to -500. The other development with Washington is that goalie Braden Holtby has retaken the job, after Philipp Grubauer struggled during their two home losses.

Columbus, which is 4-6 in its last 10 away games against Washington, according to the OddsShark NHL Database, may still be without injured forward Alexander Wennberg. The Blue Jackets power play is struggling, so its path to victory likely rests heavily on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky stealing the win.

The total has gone over in seven of Columbus’ last 10 away games against the Metropolitan Division. The total has gone over in six of Washington’s last eight home games against the Metropolitan Division.

Elsewhere, the Boston Bruins (-190) have a chance to bounce the Toronto Maple Leafs (+165) in a primetime matchup that has a 5.5-goal total.

The Bruins, who won without No. 1 center Patrice Bergeron on Thursday, are an excellent 8-2 in their last 10 home games when they were a -175 to -500 moneyline favorite. Riley Nash has drawn in between left wing Brad Marchand and right wing David Pastrnak.

Toronto gets key forward Nazem Kadri back from a three-game suspension, but it is only 2-8 in its last 10 games as a +150 moneyline underdog or greater. Six of those losses were by exactly one goal, a sample that might interest puckline bettors.

And the Tampa Bay Lightning (-235) are heavily favored against the New Jersey Devils (+210), with a 6-goal total in the potential closeout game of their series.

The main storyline is that Devils No. 1 defenseman Sami Vatanen (upper body injury) likely won’t play after taking a borderline illegal check from Tampa Bay first-line right wing Nikita Kucherov, who’s been exonerated by the league.

That plays heavily in favor of the Lightning, who are 10-4 in their last 14 home games against Metropolitan Division teams.

The total has gone over in 14 of Tampa Bay’s last 15 home games against Metropolitan teams, so the 6.0 total shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. The total has also gone over in five of the last seven New Jersey-Tampa Bay matchups.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.