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Federer confident his knee will hold up on return to action

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MONACO (AP) Roger Federer fully expects his left knee to hold up when he returns to action at the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday, and the 17-time Grand Slam champion feels “mentally and physically” rested after more than two months out.

Seeded third, Federer opens in the second round against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. He leads the Spaniard 3-0 in career head-to-heads.

The Swiss star might be a little rusty, seeing as his last match was a semifinal defeat to top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Australian Open. Shortly afterward he had arthroscopic surgery on Feb. 3 for torn cartilage in his left knee.

Although Federer was scheduled to play at the Miami Masters two weeks ago, he withdrew because of a stomach virus.

That meant he arrived much earlier than usual to practice on the clay courts of Monte Carlo, where he has been runner-up four times: three straight to Rafael Nadal from 2006-08 and to countryman Stan Wawrinka two years ago.

Federer does not have high hopes of an 89th career title, but is using the tournament more as a gauge in the lead up to the French Open in Paris, which begins on May 22.

“I am rested mentally and physically. I feel really good,” Federer said. “Every week that goes by I’m going to get better and then hopefully by Paris that’s where you really want there not to be a problem – seven (matches), five sets, OK, I’m ready for that.”

Depending on how he does here, he will decide whether to play the following clay Masters events in Madrid – starting on May 1 – and Rome the week after.

“I have to wait and see how my knee and my body react,” Federer said. “I have to see what I feel I still need to work on. Is it recovery? Is it training? Is it something specific? I don’t know yet. I will know more in two weeks. Then I can decide.”

Federer, who lost to Frenchman Gael Monfils in the third round here last year, is in the same half of the draw as Djokovic, the defending champion. He won six titles last year, beating Djokovic in two finals at Cincinnati and Dubai.

The 34-year-old’s last title came at his home town of Basel on November 1 when he beat Rafael Nadal in the final. Given his advanced age, Federer views his absence as a useful way of storing up energy that will come in handy later in the season.

“I do believe that whatever rest it is – maybe from injury, maybe from just a training block or a vacation – it all ends up somewhere in a canister where you can pull from it,” Federer said. “You see it with Tommy Haas for instance. He’s been injured for almost three years or more of his career, yet he’s still on tour. Because he’s still mentally fresh. He loves it.”

Federer, who lost to Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, still strongly believes he can clinch an 18th major.

“I’ve won Paris before and I’ve played so well there over the years as well. Why not there?” he said. “But I definitely think that Wimbledon and the other Slams probably give me a bit of a better chance than the French.”

Venus ready for return WTA Finals

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SINGAPORE (AP) Venus Williams returns to the year-end WTA Finals for the first time since reaching the 2009 final, and the fifth time overall, starting on Sunday in Singapore.

Williams joins top-ranked Simona Halep of Romania, second-ranked Garbine Muguruza of Spain, third-ranked Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic, fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, sixth-ranked Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, seventh-ranked Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia and ninth-ranked Caroline Garcia of France.

They’re all pretty special,” said Williams, of her career appearances in the year-end competition. “It’s the end of the year. Only Top 8 get here. It’s definitely something well earned.”

At 37-years-old, Williams is the third oldest player to qualify for the year-end championships behind a 39-year-old Billie Jean King in 1983, and a 38-year-old Martina Navratilova in 1994.

Williams is the oldest player in this draw with 27-year-old Wozniacki the next oldest.

Having played since 1995, Williams has seen the women’s game advance, saying: “The competition is so much greater. It’s a beautiful change, in fact.”

In 2008, Williams won the WTA Finals title, going 3-0 in the round-robin, and defeating Vera Zvonareva of Russia in the final.

She was also was a semifinalist in her first two appearances in the finals, in 1999 and 2000.

Williams reached two Grand Slam finals this season at the Australian Open, where she lost to what turned out to be an already pregnant younger sister, Serena, and at Wimbledon, where she fell to Muguruza.

Every player but Garcia has a possibility of playing themselves into the year-end No. 1 ranking depending on their result this week. Williams has ranked No. 1 for 11 weeks of her career.

In the round-robin, Williams is situated in the White Group with fellow big-hitters Muguruza and Pliskova, who both ranked No. 1 at some time during this season, and French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

Williams opens the competition against Pliskova on Sunday. The two are tied at one match apiece in their head-to-head.

She holds a 3-2 winning record over Muguruza and is 1-0 over Ostapenko.

“I think my group is more aggressive style players in the group and the other one is more defending,” Pliskova said. “I just like to play better these players.

“I start with Venus tomorrow, so I beat her once from match point and once I lost very close match. This one is open.”

Goerges ends 6-year title wait with victory at Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Julia Goerges ended her six-year wait for another WTA singles title Saturday with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Daria Kasatkina in the Kremlin Cup final.

Goerges cruised to victory against her Russian opponent, who was ranked one place below her at 28th.

The German swept the first five games of the first set before Kasatkina could even get on the board.

Kasatkina put up more resistance at the start of the second, forcing three break points in Goerges’ first service game, but couldn’t convert them and was broken next game.

Goerges is now 3-7 in career singles finals, with her last title in Stuttgart in 2011. Before Saturday’s match, she had lost six straight finals, including three in the space of two months this summer.