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Nadal beats Kuznetsov to reach 3rd round at Madrid Masters

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MADRID (AP) Rafael Nadal defeated Andrey Kuznetsov 6-3, 6-3 on Tuesday to win his 11th consecutive match this year and advance to the third round of the Madrid Masters.

Nadal broke Kuznetsov’s serve once in the first set and twice in the second to secure the win in his opening match at the clay-court tournament that he has won twice in the last three seasons.

The Spaniard had four aces and no double faults against the 39th-ranked Russian, winning the match in 1 hour, 18 minutes.

Nadal will next face either American Sam Querrey or Frenchman Lucas Pouille, who play their match on Wednesday.

Nadal hasn’t lost since his opening match at the Miami Open in March. The former No. 1 is coming off consecutive titles at the Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open.

Another win in Madrid this week would allow Nadal to match his total number of titles from last year, and boost his confidence even further heading into the French Open in three weeks. Nadal last won at Roland Garros in 2014.

After struggling last season, the fifth-ranked Spaniard is off to a good start in 2016 and has been playing at a high level again. He has reached at least the semifinals in six of the eight tournaments he has played this year, with the early eliminations coming at the Australian Open and in Miami.

“I’m happy with the way I started the clay-court season,” Nadal said. “Today, another victory, so that’s great news. I’m excited about this tournament.”

Nadal dominated on Tuesday by serving extremely well. He needed only eight second serves the entire match, and lost only five points on his first. He hit 22 winners and had only nine unforced errors at the “Magic Box” center court in Madrid.

“My serve has been solid,” Nadal said. “I served well both in Monte Carlo and in Barcelona. And it’s going to be vital to serve well here as well to have a good tournament.”

Nadal reached his 40th win at his home Masters. He has won the tournament four times, including in 2013 and 2014, but lost last year’s final to Andy Murray.

The second-ranked Murray will play Radek Stepanek later Tuesday. The 37-year-old Stepanek on Monday became the oldest player to win a match at a Masters 1000 tournament since Jimmy Connors in 1992.

Top-seeded Novak Djokovic debuts on Wednesday against either clay-court specialist Nicolas Almagro – a winner at the Estoril Open last weekend – or 19-year-old Croatian Borna Coric, the youngest player in the top 40. Coric is known as the “mini-Djokovic” for having a similar playing style as the top-ranked player.

Djokovic and Nadal each have 28 career Masters titles.

Third-ranked Roger Federer withdrew on Monday because of a back injury.

In other matches Tuesday, former No. 4 in the world Juan Martin del Potro – currently ranked 274th after a series on injuries – had an emotional 7-6 (5), 6-3 win over 14th-seeded Dominic Thiem.

Del Potro hit 10 aces to reach the second round against American Jack Sock, who rallied to defeat Benoit Paire of France 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (5) in nearly two hours.

“I have just played my best match since I came back to tennis after my surgeries,” Del Potro said. “I’ve had a great test against a very high-level player.”

Also, 13th-seeded Gael Monfils cruised past Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-1, while 15th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut beat qualifier Santiago Giraldo 6-3, 7-5.

In the women’s draw, sixth-seeded Simona Halep of Romania routed Karin Knapp of Itay 6-1, 6-1, while eighth-seeded Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro beat Sabine Lisicki of Germany 6-3, 6-2.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

2-time Wimbledon champ Kvitova wins return from knife attack

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PARIS —¬†Sweat-soaked and still wearing her match outfit, Petra Kvitova was looking for someone to hug as she wandered into the players’ lounge in the French Open’s main stadium shortly after leaving the court Sunday.

She found her father, Jiri, and her brother, also Jiri, who greeted her with warm embraces and joyous kisses on the cheek. Kvitova’s family members rarely attend her tournaments, but this was different – “special” was the word she, and others, kept using.

Less than six months after a knife attack at her home, two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova was back competing, winning the first match of her comeback 6-3, 6-2 at Roland Garros against 86th-ranked Julia Boserup of the United States.

“I’m happy with the game, of course,” Kvitova said, “but I mean, it wasn’t really about the game today.”

Indeed, just being there under a cloud-filled sky at Court Philippe Chatrier was a triumph of sorts for Kvitova, who needed surgery on her left hand – the one she uses to hold her racket – after being stabbed by an intruder in the Czech Republic in late December. She was undecided until late last week whether to even try to play in the French Open.

“For us, it’s amazing. It’s miracle. Not even me or Petra thought she could be ready to come back so soon,” said her coach, Jiri Novak. “The prognosis was, let’s just say, not optimistic.”

During her on-court interview, Kvitova addressed Novak, her family and others in her guest box, saying: “Thank you for everything you helped me through (in) this difficult time.”

Several members of her entourage wore black T-shirts with white capital letters on the front that read, “Courage. Belief. Pojd.” That last word, which is the Czech equivalent of “Come on!” and was spelled with a red heart instead of the “O,” is often yelled by Kvitova to celebrate particularly good shots.

“The belief and the mind, the heart, it’s really important,” Kvitova said afterward. “So that’s … what we try to show everyone. I hope that it will be kind of inspiration for other people, as well.”

There were plenty of opportunities for her to clench a fist and scream “Pojd!” on Sunday against Boserup, who was making her debut in the French Open’s main draw and facing a lefty for the first time.

“She’s one of the nicest girls, and we are all really happy to see her back. After what she went through, it’s incredible,” Boserup said. “So it’s a victory for her to be back on court. It was really special.”

Kvitova began things with a quick forehand winner on the opening point.

“Amazing,” she said. “I surprised myself.”

Kvitova wound up compiling the match’s first 10 winners and finished with a 31-9 edge in that category. She took 15 of the first 20 points en route to a 3-0 lead and never really faced a whole lot of resistance, other than when she saved three break points – the only ones she had to deal with in the match – while ahead 3-1.

When it was over, Kvitova dropped her racket near the baseline and removed her blue headband. As she walked to the net for a handshake, her eyes welled with tears.

“We are happy that she is healthy. The hand is good – and also the head,” her brother Jiri said. “Mentally, she is back.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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

Venus Williams eases into French Open’s second round after beating Qiang Wang

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In a record 20th appearance at the French Open, Venus Williams eased into the second round with a straight sets victory over Qiang Wang of China.

Williams, who is seeded 10th, saved two set points to win 6-4, 7-6 (3).

The 36-year-old American will play Kurumi Nara of Japan in the next round.