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Even before easy win, good day for Serena in Paris

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PARIS (AP) Even before Serena Williams quickly and easily seized control of her first-round match Tuesday, things were shaping up rather well for her at the French Open.

Williams’ bid for her 22nd Grand Slam title, which would equal Steffi Graf’s Open-era record, began with a nothing-to-see-here 6-2, 6-0 victory over 77th-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia in all of 42 minutes.

Not that she wished it had been more of a workout.

“It was a little short for me, but I think in my career, if I don’t have it by now, I need to look into something different. So I’m OK – I’m OK with that,” said the top-seeded Williams, who took the last 10 games after a so-so start.

What happened earlier on Day 3 was more surprising – and perhaps just as significant for the defending champion: Two of the top five seeded women exited the clay-court tournament.

No. 3 Angelique Kerber, who upset Williams in the Australian Open final in January, lost to 58th-ranked Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. And No. 5 Victoria Azarenka, one of the only other two women who defeated Williams this season, bowed out in the first round, too, stopping because of an injured right knee while trailing 4-0 in the third set against 118th-ranked Karen Knapp of Italy.

Williams could have faced Azarenka in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and Kerber in the semifinals.

But Azarenka’s knee buckled in the sixth game of the second set, and she started grimacing and limping. After the first point of the next game, she went to the sideline and requested medical attention, which Knapp didn’t think was fair.

“I don’t want to say anything bad about her,” Knapp said, “but we all know how she is.”

Azarenka managed to pull out the second set, but she eventually decided not to continue.

“I started to feel a sharp pain in my knee. I’ve had an injury there before, a while ago, but it hasn’t been a problem until today,” Azarenka said, explaining: “It got worse as the match went on.”

Kerber, a lefty, got treatment for her left shoulder, which has been bothering her lately.

“That was, for sure, not my best tennis,” she said.

In the six major tournaments before this one, Williams went 39-2, with the only losses coming against Kerber and No. 7 Roberta Vinci, who ended the American’s try for a calendar-year Grand Slam at the 2015 U.S. Open but is done in Paris after losing Monday.

The rain that played havoc with the schedule over the first two days was nowhere to be found Tuesday, although the chill remained, and Williams wore leggings under her skirt and a zipped-up, long-sleeved top to shield her from temperatures that hovered around 60 degrees (15 Celsius).

“I don’t like playing in cold weather,” said Williams, who compiled 25 winners and five unforced errors, “but everything felt pretty good.”

Her older sister, No. 9 Venus, also won in straight sets, avoiding a second consecutive first-round Grand Slam loss – and a second consecutive first-round French Open loss. She spent a lot more time on court, needing nearly two hours to get past 82nd-ranked Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4).

The top-seeded man, Novak Djokovic, was not tested at all, defeating 95th-ranked Yen-hsun Lu 6-4, 6-1, 6-1. And Rafael Nadal was so at ease in a 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 victory over 100th-ranked Sam Groth that the nine-time French Open champion allowed himself a smile after a dazzling, back-to-the-net, through-the-legs passing shot winner.

No. 2 Andy Murray was never that at peace during his struggle of a match, which was suspended because of darkness Monday night in the fourth set.

Murray lost the opening two sets against 37-year-old Radek Stepanek, a qualifier from the Czech Republic who was the oldest man in the field, then twice was two points from losing while serving down 5-4 in the fifth on Tuesday.

“Today was pretty, you know, stressful,” said Murray, who engaged in his usual mix of gesticulating and grousing.

Stepanek, meanwhile, was having the time of his life, mixing confounding drop shots with net rushes, and motioning to the crowd for more support.

In the end, though, Murray eked out a 3-6, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3, 7-5 win. He’ll be scheduled to play for a third consecutive day on Wednesday.

“Obviously being so close, it’s always tough to absorb,” Stepanek said, “but to play on such a stage, in front of such a crowd, it’s been a pleasure.”

 

Nadal, Muguruza win ITF player of the year awards

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LONDON — Rafael Nadal and Garbine Muguruza have won the International Tennis Federation’s player of the year awards.

At 31, Nadal becomes the oldest ITF men’s world champion after a season in which he won a 10th French Open and a third U.S. Open.

The Spaniard also became the oldest player to finish the year at No. 1 since the ATP rankings began in 1973.

Muguruza dropped only one set en route to her first Wimbledon title and finished the year at No. 2 behind Simona Halep.

“Becoming ITF world champion in such a competitive year is amazing for me,” said Muguruza, who is also Spanish. “(Nadal) is a great role model for all of us, so it is a great moment for tennis in Spain.”

Kuznetsova out of Australian Open after left wrist surgery

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova has withdrawn from next month’s Australian Open after having surgery on her left wrist.

Tennis Australia on Friday said No. 12-ranked Kuznetsova and China’s Sasai Zheng, with a right knee injury, were the only players ranked in the top 100 who are confirmed as not playing the Jan. 15-28 tournament at Melbourne Park.

Serena Williams, who was pregnant while winning the 2017 Australian Open title and gave birth to her first child in September, “is anticipated to return,” Tennis Australia said.

Williams could equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles with another win at Melbourne Park. Serena Williams’ ranking has dropped to No. 22 during her break from the tour.