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Djokovic seeks 6th Miami Open title

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Basking in cheers following his latest victory, a weary but happy Novak Djokovic kissed his hand and patted the stadium court concrete, celebrating his return to the Miami Open final.

In sweltering semifinal sunshine Friday, Djokovic won a thrilling tiebreaker to beat David Goffin 7-6 (5), 6-4. The margin was so slim a blown overhead by Goffin might have made all the difference.

Djokovic needs one more victory to match Andre Agassi’s tournament record of six men’s titles, which is why he showed his affection for the court.

“A little kiss for goodbye and see you in two days,” Djokovic said. “I wanted to make the court feel my love. It’s one of my favorite courts.”

His opponent Sunday will be steady Kei Nishikori, who committed only eight unforced errors in 119 points and beat big-swinging Nick Kyrgios 6-3, 7-5.

Seeded No. 6, Nishikori saved five match points in a quarterfinal victory over Gael Monfils, and built a more comfortable margin against Kyrgios by breaking serve four times.

Nishikori is bidding for his first ATP Masters title, while Djokovic will try for his 28th, which would break the record he shares with Rafael Nadal.

“It’s going to be tough, for sure,” Nishikori said. “He has been playing well. I hope I can play another good match.”

Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka plays 2006 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the women’s final Saturday.

Djokovic reached set point in the tiebreaker and worked hard to win it with a frantic 16-shot exchange typical that typified the entertaining match. He dug out shots in both corners and chased down a pair of volleys, finally switching from defense to offense by flicking a lob too high for the 5-foot-11 Goffin to handle.

That clinched the set, and as fans roared, the world’s No. 1 player walked to his chair with his index finger aloft.

The tiebreaker turned four points earlier, at 4-all. Goffin had an easy putaway overhead near the net and inexplicably hit it directly to a surprised Djokovic, who invented a shot in response, raising the racket strings in front of his face to patty-cake a deep lob. Goffin chased the ball down and the rally continued until Djokovic tapped a drop volley for a winner.

“I was a bit fortunate in the tiebreaker,” Djokovic said. “But I made him play always an extra shot.”

Djokovic also earned points for sportsmanship. When Goffin challenged a call while returning serve, Djokovic waved off the replay, indicating it was unneeded because the linesman’s ruling was correct.

“Really fair play,” Goffin said, before noting with a chuckle that Djokovic went on to win the point anyway.

Eager to avoid a third set on an 87-degree afternoon, Djokovic earned the only break of the second set to take a 4-3 lead and lost only one point in his final two service games.

“Physically it was a great battle with a lot of exchanges from the baseline,” Djokovic said. “We were both trying to catch our breath at some points.”

Djokovic showed no signs of lingering issues from the back spasms that bothered him in the quarterfinals. He improved to 27-1 this year as he closed in on his fourth title of 2016.

On Key Biscayne, where he has won 15 consecutive matches, he’s bidding for his third title in a row. He has reached the final of his past 11 Masters tournaments.

Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping tournaments like Federer

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MONACO (AP) For now, Rafael Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping any major tournaments the way Roger Federer has been sitting out the French Open.

The veterans are back at the top of world tennis, with Nadal needing to win the Monte Carlo Masters this week to avoid losing his top ranking once again to Federer in their seemingly eternal battle for tennis supremacy.

For the second consecutive season, the 36-year-old Federer is skipping the entire clay-court season in order to be at his best on grass.

After coming back from injury to win the Australian Open last year, Federer skipped the clay-court season, won Wimbledon, and retained his Melbourne crown to extend his record tally to 20 majors.

The Swiss star is keeping his aging body fresher by playing a bit less – avoiding Nadal on clay at Roland Garros or elsewhere – and it is working for him.

But Nadal still thinks he can play a full schedule.

“There (are) tournaments that I can’t imagine missing on purpose, because (they are) tournaments that I love to play,” Nadal said on Wednesday. “I don’t see myself missing Monte Carlo on purpose. I don’t see myself missing Wimbledon on purpose, or the U.S. Open, or Australian, or Rome. These kind of events, I don’t see missing (them).”

The 31-year-old Spaniard recently returned from a right hip injury which forced him to retire during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

With his 32nd birthday coming up on June 3 – during the French Open – the 16-time Grand Slam champion accepts he may think differently when he gets closer to Federer’s age.

“Of course, when you get older, you need to adjust a little bit more the efforts and the calendar. But for me (it) is difficult to say I don’t play, for example, grass, or I don’t play hard (courts),” Nadal said. “(It) is not in my plan, but I can’t say `never’ because I cannot predict what’s going to be in the future.”

Nadal is chasing an 11th title at both Monte Carlo and Roland Garros, which begins on May 27.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Thiem reaches third round at Monte Carlo

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MONACO — Dominic Thiem saved a match point and beat Andrey Rublev of Russia 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

Rublev was serving for the match at 5-4, 40-30 but hit a forehand narrowly wide. Fifth-seeded Thiem broke him with backhand pass down the line and held for 6-5.

The Austrian was 15-40 up on Rublev’s serve and clinched victory on his first match point, when Rublev double-faulted with a weak serve into the net.

“I was 10 centimeters from being out of the tournament,” a relieved Thiem said. “But I’m happy that I played two hours and 40 (minutes).”

Thiem has reached the French Open semifinals for the past two years. He next meets 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic or Borna Coric of Croatia, who play their second-round match on Wednesday.

“I’m looking forward to watching Djokovic and Coric in front of the TV, and then playing the winner on Thursday,” Thiem said.

In the second round later Tuesday, fourth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria faced Pierre-Hugues Herbert and seventh-seeded Lucas Pouille played Mischa Zverev.

In remaining first-round play, there were wins for Gilles Simon of France, Marco Cecchinato of Italy and Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.