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Murray heads into French Open in confident form on clay

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PARIS —¬†Andy Murray heads into the French Open buoyed by his form on clay, especially after handing top-ranked Novak Djokovic a stinging defeat recently.

Murray lost to Djokovic in last year’s semifinals at Roland Garros, but not before he frustrated the Serb by battling back from two sets down to force a decider.

Djokovic is well placed to highlight the improvements in the second-seeded Murray’s game, having lost 6-3, 6-3 to him in the Italian Open final last weekend.

“Second serve is one of the parts of his game that he was dedicated to. He did have some progress there,” Djokovic said on Friday. “He gets more depth and more speed on the second serve, which of course helps him a lot.”

Murray’s Grand Slam titles were on grass at Wimbledon in 2013 and on hard court at the U.S. Open in 2012, the year he also won the Olympics on grass, at Wimbledon.

Even though only three of his 36 career titles have been on clay, they have all been in the last 14 months.

Last year, Murray won back-to-back clay titles at Munich and Madrid, where he routed nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-2 in the final.

He opened this season on clay by reaching the Monte Carlo semifinals, where he lost in three sets to Nadal.

Defending his Madrid title, he beat Nadal 7-5, 6-4 in the semifinals before losing a three-set final to Djokovic – then gained revenge for that in Rome, celebrating his 29th birthday in style with a resounding win.

It was no mean feat, given that Djokovic is 119-9 overall since the start of 2015, a .930 winning percentage, while earning 16 titles. This year, Djokovic is 37-3 with a tour-high five titles.

But Djokovic was not surprised by the intensity of Murray’s play.

“I’ve known Andy for a very long time. Things are different now when we are No. 1 and No. 2 in the world than they were five or 10 years ago, when we even played doubles together in the Australian Open,” said Djokovic, who turns 29 on Sunday. “Our practice sessions are like official matches. Honestly, we practiced in Madrid recently and we played a set and a half. We both felt like we played a match.”

Djokovic and Murray will play a much bigger match if they meet as seeded in the June 5 final.

The likelihood of that looks more favorable than in previous years given the absence of 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, who pulled out on Thursday after failing to shake off a back problem, Nadal’s struggles to get back to his best level on clay, and the inconsistent form of defending champion Stan Wawrinka.

Murray, a three-time semifinalist at Roland Garros, faces Czech qualifier Radek Stepanek in the first round.

“That’s tough, they have won three matches here,” Murray said when earlier asked about facing players who have come through the qualifying rounds. “They are probably feeling pretty good about their condition, and comfortable on the courts.”

Murray recently split with coach Amelie Mauresmo, and is in no hurry to find a new one.

“I have spoken a little bit to my team about it, but I haven’t spoken to anyone (else) yet,” Murray said. “Things obviously are going well just now, so no need to rush into anything.”

Unexpected QF: Chung ousts Djokovic; Sandgren upsets Thiem

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Six-time champion Novak Djokovic was stunned in straight sets by Hyeon Chung only hours after Tennys Sandgren upset No. 5 Dominic Thiem at the Australian Open.

The back-to-back upsets Monday have set up a very unexpected quarterfinal: Chung, the first Korean to reach the last eight at a Grand Slam, vs. 97th-ranked Sandgren, who had never won a match at a major or beaten a top 10 player until last week.

No. 58-ranked Chung relentlessly attacked Djokovic – who is playing his first tournament since Wimbledon last July because of an injured right elbow – in the 7-6 (4), 7-5, 7-6 (3) fourth-round win.

He ripped 47 winners, including a forehand on the slide and at full stretch that put him within two points of victory, in the almost 3 1/2-hour match.

Chung credited the usually athletic Djokovic, who needed a medical timeout in the second set for a massage on his sore elbow, for the inspiration for that unlikely shot.

“When I’m young, I’m just trying to copy Novak because he’s my idol,” Chung said. “I can’t believe this tonight. Dreams come true tonight.”

The 26-year-old Sandgren, who entered the season’s opening major ranked 97th, missed a match point in the fourth set but held on for a 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (7), 6-3 win over Thiem. It followed up his earlier victory over 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka.

“I don’t know if this is a dream or not – all you guys are here, so maybe it’s not,” he said in an on-court TV interview after his 3-hour, 54-minute fourth-round win. “I’m not in my underwear, so maybe it’s not a dream.”

Sandgren is only the second man in 20 years to reach the quarterfinals on his debut at Melbourne Park.

He converted half of his eight break-point chances, and fended off 10 of the 12 he faced against Thiem, and hit 63 winners against 38 unforced errors in the biggest win of his life.

“Trying to keep riding the wave,” said Sandgren, who was named after his great-grandfather and who comes from Tennessee.

Defending champion Roger Federer had no real difficulties in reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals for the 14th time, accounting for Marton Fucsovics 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-2.

The 19-time major winner had never played Fucsovics but had beaten his coach – Attila Savolt – here in the second round in 2002.

Federer will renew a lengthy rivalry next against Tomas Berdych, who returned to the quarterfinals for the seventh time at Melbourne Park with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 win over Fabio Fognini.

The win over Fucsovics was Federer’s first day match of the 2018 tournament, and he joked about needing sunglasses and a towel for the beach but said really the only change was to set the alarm for a different time.

Angelique Kerber, the only Grand Slam singles winner remaining in the women’s draw, was up earlier, and got a serious wakeup call.

For a while it appeared Kerber’s progression could unravel against No. 88 Hsieh Su-wei, a former top-ranked doubles player with a double-handed grip on both sides, until she regained momentum for a 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 win. That earned Kerber a quarterfinal spot against U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys.

With a mix of slice and chips, lobs and bunts, whippy half-volleys and wristy crosscourt ground strokes off both wings, Hsieh pushed Kerber to the extremes.

“Credit to her. She played an unbelievable match,” said Kerber, who won the Australian and U.S. Open titles in 2016 and is on a 13-match winning streak to start 2018. “I was feeling I was running everywhere.”

Keys returned to the quarterfinals here for the first time in three years with a 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 8-seeded Caroline Garcia, and is yet to drop a set so far.

Top-seeded Simona Halep, who had to rally from triple match point down to advance through the third round, beat Naomi Osaka 6-3, 6-2.

Hsieh, contesting the fourth round in a major for the first time in a decade, certainly made the most of her time back in the spotlight.

The Taiwanese player took out one major winner – Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza – in the second round, and took the first set of Kerber.

“I like to play freestyle,” Hsieh, a two-time Grand Slam doubles titlist, explaining her unusual array of shots. “Like today I go on the court, if I don’t have a plan then I do whatever I can.”

Nadal, Dimitrov advance to Australian Open quarterfinals

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) After snuffing out local hopes for yet another Australian Open, Grigor Dimitrov huddled with Nick Kyrgios at the net and the pair exchanged encouraging words.

It was Kyrgios, having just lost 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (4) in the fourth round in a typically tempestuous performance, who left No. 3-ranked Dimitrov with this message: “Believe.”

Dimitrov has never won a major, coming closest here last year before losing a semifinal to Rafael Nadal in five sets, but is enhancing his credentials as a next generation champion.

Nadal secured his spot in a 10th Australian Open quarterfinal earlier Sunday on Rod Laver Arena, beating Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3 in 3 hours and 51 minutes.

The 16-time major winner draped an arm around his Argentine friend and patted him on top of the head. If he needed a fitness test in the first week in his comeback from an injured right knee, he got it.

“A great battle … he’s a good friend of mine,” Nadal said. “This is the first big match that I played in 2018. That’s confidence for myself … confidence I can resist for four hours on court at a good intensity.”

Nadal will next play 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic, who collected his 100th Grand Slam match win with a 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (0), 7-6 (3) victory over No. 10 Pablo Carreno Busta.

“I had the 300th win of my career at the U.S. Open in 2014, so this is also beautiful one,” Cilic said of his latest major milestone. “I hope I’m going to continue and gather three more here.”

Nadal lost last year’s Australian Open final to Roger Federer, but went on to regain the No. 1 ranking and win the French and U.S. Open titles before bringing his season to a premature end because of an injured right knee.

Despite not playing any competitive matches in his Aussie Open preparation, Nadal advanced through three rounds without dropping a set.

That streak finished when Schwartzman took the second set, rebounding three times after dropping serve to break back and win the tiebreaker.

Nadal lifted to win the third, but Schwartzman didn’t relent.

The second game of the fourth set lasted almost 13 minutes, with Nadal finally holding after saving five break points.

He broke again in the next game to regain control.

“It was a good test for me. It was a lot of hours on court. Moments under pressure,” Nadal said.

Britain’s Kyle Edmund reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal with a 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-2, 6-3 afternoon win over Andreas Seppi and could relax and watch the night-time entertainment featuring Dimitrov and Kyrgios. They all played two weeks ago in Brisbane, where Edmund lost to Dimitrov, who lost to eventual champion Kyrgios.

Both Dimitrov and Kyrgios got tense at key times in the night match. Dimitrov was broken while serving for the match. Kyrgios was called for a foot fault, double-faulted on a set point and smashed an easy overhead into the net on a break point after dominating the rally. He had 36 aces, and some second serves recorded at faster than 202 kph (125 mph).

“Only a couple points in it, you know. It wasn’t like I got demolished out there,” said Kyrgios, who missed the chance to end the drought for local men that dates back to the 1976 Australian Open. “I had a lot of chances to win the match and I just came up short.”

He tipped his mate Dimitrov to go far.

“He hasn’t even found his best form yet and he’s still getting through all those matches, which is pretty frightening,” Kyrgios said. “Once he finds his feet and he has more confidence, he’s got a real chance at winning it.”

Dimitrov thanked him for the support, and said he’s growing more confident in his game.

Caroline Wozniacki continued to cash in on her second chance, reaching the quarterfinals here for the first time since 2012 with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Magdalena Rybarikova.

After saving match points and coming back from 5-1 down in the third set of her second-round win, No. 2-ranked Wozniacki said she was “playing with the house money” and had nothing to lose.

Wozniacki next plays Carla Suarez Navarro, who rallied from a set and 4-1 down to beat No. 32 Anett Kontaveit 4-6, 6-4, 8-6.

The other quarterfinal will feature the winners of two tune-up events. Brisbane International champion Elina Svitolina beat Denisa Allertova 6-3, 6-0 in a match that started just before midnight.

Fourth-seeded Svitolina next plays Hobart International winner Elise Mertens, who beat Petra Martic to reach the quarterfinals in her Australian Open debut.

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