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Federer wins after last-minute decision to play

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ROME (AP) Roger Federer put his full array of shots on display in a 6-3, 7-5 win over Alexander Zverev on Wednesday in the second round of the Italian Open, an encouraging performance considering he only decided to play moments before stepping onto the court.

“I was expecting to lose in straight sets today. That was the mindset going in, so to win in straights is actually a really big surprise to me,” said Federer, who has been having problems with his back. “I played cautious, and I only decided after the warmup that I was actually going to play.”

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray also advanced in straight sets on the red clay courts at the Foro Italico.

In women’s action, Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber and fourth-seeded Victoria Azarenka each lost.

After withdrawing from last week’s Madrid Open with lower back pain, Federer looked sharp from the start against the 44th-ranked Zverev, using his backhand slice drop shot especially well.

“I’m happy I was able to play a full match without any setbacks,” said Federer, who also missed 10 weeks earlier this year after surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus. “I’m coming off a brutal last few months, and I’m just happy to be able to play normal tennis to some extent. … So for me it’s a big day and huge step in the right direction.”

The 19-year-old Zverev, considered a potential future Grand Slam champion, often found himself running down shots wide in the alleys. At one point, the 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) German was pulled so far off the court he ended up in the lap of a line judge – then hugged the official after Federer put away an easy volley.

On the first point of the final game, Federer surprised Zverev by following his second serve to the net and Zverev lost his footing as he attempted to chase down Federer’s volley. Zverev fell to the clay, dirtying his shorts and shirt, and had to go over to his chair to dust himself off.

Still, Federer was impressed with Zverev.

“Clearly he has a big game and nice technique and good attitude and all that,” the 17-time Grand Slam champion said.

Federer will next meet 13th-seeded Dominic Thiem, who beat Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-3, 6-2, but he couldn’t immediately confirm that he would play Thursday.

“I don’t know how I’m going to feel tomorrow,” Federer said. “I hope so. But I’m literally going practice after practice. Every 15 minutes I speak to (coaches) Ivan (Ljubicic) or Severin (Luthi) and say, What else can we do?

“It’s baby steps right now. So to even think of tomorrow is already a big ask,” he added.

Back to No. 2 in the rankings this week, Federer is attempting to win this tournament for the first time. It’s his 16th appearance in Rome and he’s a four-time runner-up.

“It would be wonderful to win, but not this year,” Federer said. “I’m too far off.”

Rome is the last major warmup for the French Open, which starts May 22.

Djokovic beat 35-year-old French qualifier Stephane Robert 7-5, 7-5 as he seeks a third straight title in Rome and fourth overall.

Robert unleashed a series of winners followed by wild fist pumps as he broke Djokovic’s serve early in the second set and when Djokovic eventually broke back, the Serb let out a loud demonstrative scream.

Robert hit more than twice as many winners as Djokovic, 33-16, but also committed far more unforced errors, 32-14.

Murray never dropped his serve, hitting seven aces, as he eliminated Kazakh qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3, 6-3.

Eugenie Bouchard, the 2014 Wimbledon runner-up, beat the second-seeded Kerber 6-1, 5-7, 7-5. Irina-Camelia Begu, ranked 35th, defeated Azarenka 6-3, 6-2.

Azarenka said she was still affected by a back injury that prompted her to withdraw in Madrid.

“I thought I was OK and was ready to play and came back, so I’m just disappointed,” Azarenka said. “It’s just unfortunate that I can’t play my best tennis.”

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Kerber beats Sharapova in 3rd round; Halep in long-haul win

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Angelique Kerber is the only major winner remaining in the Australian Open women’s draw after ending Maria Sharapova’s comeback tour to Melbourne Park.

The 2016 champion routed Sharapova 6-1, 6-3 in the third-round match on Saturday night to extend her winning streak to 12 matches, including winning the Sydney International title last week.

Five-time major winner Sharapova was back at the Australian Open for the first time since 2016, when a failed test for meldonium led to a 15-month doping ban.

It was all over in one hour and four minutes, a vast contrast to top-ranked Simona Halep’s 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 win in three hours, 45 minutes over American Lauren Davis in the opening match on Rod Laver.

The third set took 2:22 and momentum swung. Halep wasted chances to serve for the match in the ninth, 11th and 15th games, then had to save three match points in the 22nd. There were 11 service breaks and two medical timeouts – for Davis to get treatment on both feet – before Halep converted on her first match point.

“I never played the third set so long, so I’m really happy I could stay and win it. I’m almost dead,” Halep said of the match which equaled Chanda Rubin’s win over Arantxa Shanchez Vicario in 1996 – also 48 games – for the Australian Open record in terms of most games.

“I just feel that my muscles are gone,” said Halep, who badly twisted her left ankle in the first round. “My ankle is, I don’t know how it is because I don’t feel it anymore! But … it was nice to win this match.”

Halep will play Naomi Osaka, who beat 18th-seeded Ashleigh Barty 6-4, 6-2 in a match that was moved from the center court to Margaret Court Arena because of the two long matches on Rod Laver.

No. 20 Barbora Strycova beat U.S. qualifier Bernarda Pera 6-2, 6-2, leaving U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys as the only American woman to reach the fourth round.

Keys advanced 6-3, 6-4 over Ana Bogdan and will next play No. 8 Caroline Garcia, who beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3, 5-7, 6-2.

Sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat No. 29 Lucie Safarova 7-6 (6), 7-5 in a match featuring just one service break.

On the men’s side, Hyeon Chung took out a Zverev for the second time this week. Chung beat fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev 5-7, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 six days after a win over No. 32 Mischa Zverev in the first round.

Another unexpected loss at a major had the highly-touted Zverev admitted he may have a problem.

“Definitely not physical, so… I have some figuring out to do, what happens to me in deciding moments in Grand Slam,” he said.

The 20-year-old Zverev has five titles on the elite tour but his fourth-round exit at Wimbledon last year remains his best run at a major.

Tomas Berdych ended 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro’s return to Melbourne Park for the first time since 2014 with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win.

Fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem beat Adrian Mannarino 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 to set up a fourth-round match against Tennys Sandgren, who continued his career-best run by beating Maximilian Marterer 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (5).

Former world junior No. 1 Marton Fucsovics beat Nicolas Kicker 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 and No. 25 Fabio Fognini overcame Julien Benneteau 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.

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More AP coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/AustralianOpen

Top-seeded Halep survives marathon match

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Top-seeded Simona Halep served for the match four times before prevailing 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 over American Lauren Davis in a marathon match at Rod Laver Arena.

Halep saved three match points in the 22nd game of the third set at 0-40 and Davis saved five break points in the 23rd game in the 3 hour, 45-minute match. The final set took 2 hour, 22 minutes and Halep won on her first match point when Davis hit a forehand wide along the sideline.

Davis twice had medical timeouts in the final set to have blisters on both feet treated.

Halep will play the winner of Saturday’s later match between local hope Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka.

In other women’s third-round matches, sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat Lucie Safarova 7-6 (6), 7-5 and No. 8 Caroline Garcia beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3, 5-7, 6-2. Garcia will play Madison Keys in the fourth round.

 

More AP coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/AustralianOpen