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Djokovic, Nadal, Murray reach 2nd round at French Open

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PARIS (AP) Novak Djokovic treated the Roland Garros crowd with some great tennis shots on Tuesday. His charm offensive continued after the match.

Interviewed on court by former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, the top-ranked Serb pleased the fans on Court Philippe Chatrier with a few words in French.

Djokovic is craving a career Grand Slam at the French Open after losing in the final three times over the past four years. A fans’ favorite in Paris, he has dramatically improved his level of French in recent years.

“These two weeks might be the most important in the whole season (for me),” Djokovic said after defeating 95th-ranked Yen-hsun Lu of Taiwan 6-4, 6-1, 6-1.

Djokovic was in complete control, broke his opponent seven times, and closed the match with a drop shot. He joined his main rivals Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray in the second round.

Seeded No. 2 in Paris for the first time, Murray rallied to win from two sets down for the ninth time, and beat Czech qualifier Radek Stepanek 3-6, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3, 7-5.

While Murray needed two days to progress, nine-time champion Nadal had a much easier time, easing past Sam Groth 6-1, 6-1, 6-1.

In the women’s draw, Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber lost in the first round. Hampered by a left shoulder injury, the third-seeded Kerber was upset by 58th-ranked Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open champion, was also eliminated, losing to Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 6-4.

Stepanek, the oldest man in the field at 37, hit 57 winners in his suspenseful encounter on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Murray was leading 4-2 in the fourth set when play was suspended on Monday because of darkness. He was twice two points from losing while serving and trailing 5-4 in the fifth. But he held there, then broke Stepanek, and served out after wasting his first match point with a double-fault.

“It’s unbelievable what he is doing,” Murray said. “At 37 years old, coming out and fighting like that. I don’t expect to be doing that myself at that age.”

Murray, who will be 37 in eight years, progressed with Aljaz Bedene and Kyle Edmund to ensure three British men in the second round at Roland Garros for the first time since 1975.

Also advancing were seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych, No. 13 Dominic Thiem, No. 15 John Isner and No. 20 Bernard Tomic.

Kerber received treatment on her shoulder during a changeover while trailing 3-0 in the deciding set. The left-handed Kerber briefly left the court and returned to win her service game but could not break again and lost.

She arrived in Paris following early losses in Madrid and Rome. Last week, she pulled out of the Nuremberg tournament because of her shoulder injury.

“It’s getting worse and worse, but I hope it’s not too bad,” Kerber said.

She’s the fifth Australian Open women’s champion to lose in the first round at Roland Garros, after Chris O’Neil (1978), Barbara Jordan (1979), Lindsey Davenport (2000), and Li Na (2014).

Schiavone was surprised to receive a standing ovation after her loss, and was annoyed at tournament organizers for prematurely announcing this was her last French Open.

“Roland Garros announced my retirement but I didn’t,” Schiavone said. “So you can stand up all of you and go back to work in the office because I didn’t say that. I will announce when I will want to stop.”

Later, Serena Williams faced 77th-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova to start the defense of her title.

The weather should remain dry, good news for tournament organizers who had a backlog of matches because of rain during the first two days.

Serena Williams returning to competition for US Fed Cup team

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) The U.S. Tennis Association says Serena Williams will return to competition for the first time in more than a year at the country’s Fed Cup matches against the Netherlands next month.

Williams has not played an official match since winning the Australian Open in January 2017 for her 23rd Grand Slam singles title. She was pregnant during that tournament and gave birth to a daughter on Sept. 1.

Joining Williams on U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi’s roster announced Tuesday is older sister Venus, a seven-time major champion. The siblings have not played on the Fed Cup team together in three years.

Also on the team: CoCo Vandeweghe, a semifinalist at the Australian Open and U.S. Open last year. A fourth member of the U.S. squad will be announced next week.

The U.S. won last year’s Fed Cup.

The matches against the Netherlands will be held on an indoor hard court in Ashville, North Carolina, on Feb. 10-11.

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

Injured Nadal out of Australian Open; Cilic into semifinals

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) An injured and visibly struggling Rafael Nadal retired while trailing in the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal match against Marin Cilic.

Top-ranked Nadal fended off five break points in the last game before Cilic broke his serve, then the 16-time major winner went to shake hands with the umpire and his opponent, and angrily hurled his headband into his equipment bag.

No. 6-seeded Cilic advanced to his first semifinal in Australia since 2010 with a score of 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 2-0, retired.

Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, will next play No. 49-ranked Kyle Edmund, who beat No. 3-ranked Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time.

Nadal limped into a news conference about a half-hour later, still wincing when he stepped up onto a platform. He said he felt muscle pain in his upper right leg in the third set but played through it. In the fourth set, chasing a drop shot, he felt the pain get worse “but didn’t realize how bad.”

“Tough moments -not (for) the first time here,” he said. “I’m a positive person, but today is an opportunity lost to be in a semifinal for a Grand Slam and fight for an important title for me.

“It’s really tough to accept.”

Nadal said he’d have medical scans Wednesday to determine the exact location and extent of the injury, which he could only describe as being high on his right leg but not in the hip.

“Unbelievable performance from both of us and really unfortunate for Rafa,” Cilic said. “He’s such an unbelievable competitor. He always gives his best … it’s very unfortunate for him to finish this way.”

It was only the second time Nadal had retired during a Grand Slam match – the last time was also an Australian Open quarterfinal, in 2010 against Andy Murray.

On Tuesday night, he needed a medical timeout after going down 4-1 in the fourth set for treatment on his leg.

Nadal returned but was clearly bothered by the injury, limping and taking as much time as possible as he tried to stretch between points.

He called the trainer again after losing the fourth set, and lasted only two further games.

Cilic had only previously beaten Nadal once in their six previous matches – in their first match at Beijing in 2009.

Nadal had a delayed start to the season because of an injured right knee, but appeared to be in good form through the first four rounds. He now hasn’t won back-to-back Australian Open quarterfinals since 2008 and ’09, the year he won his only Australian title.

“I worked hard to be here,” said Nadal, who skipped tournaments in Abu Dhabi and Brisbane, Australia, while his knee recovered at the start of the season. “We did all the things that we believed were the right things to do.”

His absence also means there’s only one of last year’s singles finalists remaining in the tournament. Roger Federer, who beat Nadal in five sets last year, is playing Tomas Berdych in a quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Serena Williams didn’t defend her title, deciding she hadn’t had enough time to prepare following the birth of her first child last September. Her older sister, Venus Williams, was beaten in the first round.

On top of that, six-time champion Novak Djokovic was upset in the fourth round.

There’ll be a British man in the Australian Open semifinals for the seventh time in nine years, but it won’t be five-time finalist Murray – who skipped the season-opening tournament to have surgery on his hip.

Edmund had never played in a major quarterfinal, had never won five consecutive matches at tour level, had lost both of his previous matches against Dimitrov and had never beaten a top five player.

He checked all those boxes on Rod Laver Arena.

“I am loving it right now, just the way I’m playing,” Edmund said. “My first Grand Slam semifinal. First time I played on one of the biggest courts in the world. To beat a quality of player like Grigor. They’re great feelings. So, yeah, I just try to enjoy it as much as possible.”

After breaking Dimitrov’s serve in the ninth game of the fourth set, Edmund set up match point with an ace. Then he had to wait before a video challenge confirmed that Dimitrov’s last shot – a floating backhand – was out.

“I just held my nerve in that last game and prayed that last ball would be out,” Edmund said. It was out. And so was Dimitrov, who lost a five-set semifinal here last year to Nadal.

“Everything went his way today,” Dimitrov said. “It’s hard to hide a disappointment. It hurts, and so it should.”

Edmund, who had a first-round upset over U.S. Open finalist Kevin Anderson, is now the center of attention for the tennis-loving British public.

“I know what it feels like to be Andy Murray the last eight years,” he said. “It’s probably the first time I’ve done well on my own, so there’s more attention there. Of course you take it in stride.”

Elise Mertens is facing a similar experience.

Mertens upset fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-0 to extend her winning streak to 10 matches, becoming the first Belgian since Kim Clijsters in 2012 to reach the semifinals here.

Mertens, who trains at Clijsters’ academy, said: “Kim, thanks for watching. I’m trying to be in your footsteps this week.”

In the semis, she’ll play either second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki or Carla Suarez Navarro.