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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.

Nadal beats Dimitrov, one win from record 31st Masters title

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MONACO (AP) Rafael Nadal remains on course for a record 31st Masters title after beating Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-1 in the Monte Carlo Masters semifinals on Saturday.

The top-ranked Spaniard never looked in trouble as he beat the fourth-seeded Bulgarian for the 11th time in 12 career meetings.

If Nadal wins Sunday’s final, he will earn a 76th career title and also keep his No. 1 ranking. Should he lose, Roger Federer will reclaim the top spot.

Nadal faces either third-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany or Kei Nishikori of Japan, who play later Saturday.

In the opening game, Dimitrov came out firing. He pressured Nadal with two superb lobs, forcing a backhand smash wide from the Spaniard for deuce. But Nadal held a tight first game lasting eight minutes, and then broke Dimitrov for 2-0.

Dimitrov found his range, broke Nadal back and held for 3-3. The next two games were even, with Dimitrov matching Nadal in the rallies.

The 16-time Grand Slam champion held for 5-4 and then Dimitrov cracked, serving consecutive double faults and hitting a wild forehand long to trail 15-40. He saved one set point but Nadal was in ruthless mode and took the next chance.

It appeared that Nadal was gaining his usual momentum on clay – and two consecutive love breaks and three easy holds made it 5-0 to the Spaniard in the second set.

Dimitrov explained his collapse this way.

“I think I played smart against him. I kind of know his pattern a little bit better,” Dimitrov said. “But it was my fault when I got broken. Simple as that. Two double-faults, it’s just definitely not acceptable, especially when you play against him on that surface.”

Dimitrov finally held, drawing polite applause, but Nadal served out the match with ease. He clinched victory on his first match point when Dimitrov patted the ball wide following a brief exchange.

“You see me with a smile. I’m a positive person,” Dimitrov said. “Deep down, I’m hurt. I hate losing. Simple as that.”

Nadal shares the Masters record with Novak Djokovic, whose 30 wins include two here.

Nadal’s victory at Monte Carlo last year made him the first men’s tennis player in the Open era to win the same title 10 times. He then won a 10th title at Barcelona and the French Open.

 

Fed Cup: Stephens to open for US against France in semis

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AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France (AP) U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens will open play for the U.S. against Pauline Parmentier of France in the Fed Cup semifinals.

France No. 1 Kristina Mladenovic and CoCo Vandeweghe will follow on Saturday in the second singles at the new 6,700-capacity Arena Pays d’Aix. France has opted for an indoor clay court.

Mladenovic and Amandine Hesse are set to face Madison Keys and Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the doubles on Sunday following the reverse singles.

France and the United States meet for a 14th time, with the Americans holding an 11-2 winning record. The French won their most recent meeting, in 2014.

Both teams are missing their highest-ranked player: No. 8 Venus Williams for the U.S., and No. 7 Caroline Garcia for France.

Germany is facing the Czech Republic in the other semifinal in Stuttgart.