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Defending champ Serena Williams at Wimbledon ready to play

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LONDON – Top-ranked Serena Williams hasn’t won a Grand Slam since Wimbledon a year ago, but the 21-time major champion appeared confident about her chances of retaining the title on the eve of the tournament.

“Honestly, I don’t feel any pressure,” said Williams, keeping her answers short at a pre-tournament news conference Sunday. “I feel good and confident.”

Williams surprised many by failing to win any of the last three Grand Slam tournaments.

She fell to Roberta Vinci of Italy in the 2015 US Open semifinal, Angelique Kerber of Germany in the 2016 Australian Open final and Garbine Muguruza of Spain in the French Open final earlier this month.

Instead of bemoaning those losses, however, Williams prefers to focus on coming back stronger.

“I think it’s important to learn from every loss that you have,” she said. “I think, in particular, throughout my whole career (I) have been able to learn a lot to come back a much better player.”

Williams enters Wimbledon maintaining her No. 1 ranking for what will be an impressive 300th week at the top.

Nevertheless, Muguruza, Kerber, Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep are all positioned to oust Williams from the top spot by the end of Wimbledon.

Williams will play 148th-ranked qualifier Amra Sadikovic of Switzerland, a player she admits knowing nothing about, in the first round on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t matter who I play,” she said. “It doesn’t matter to me.”

When she captured her sixth Wimbledon trophy last year it capped the second time in her career she held all four Grand Slam titles in a non-calendar year. She first achieved that distinction in 2002-03.

“It was a great accomplishment to win four Grand Slams in a row twice in my career,” Williams said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s really awesome.”

Like Williams, two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic arrived at Wimbledon without having played a grass court tune-up tournament.

Where the two don’t agree is in their attitude: Williams insists she feels no pressure to perform this fortnight, while Djokovic believes it’s impossible to escape those expectations.

“It’s always present. Pressure is part of what we do,” he said. “It’s inevitable to face this kind of sensation as a top player, being expected to do well and to go as far as last four at least in the tournament, or finals.”

Djokovic starts his campaign for a fourth Wimbledon trophy by taking on British wildcard James Ward in a first meeting between the two.

As tradition dictates, Djokovic, as the men’s defending champion, will open the Centre Court competition.

“It’s going to be the first match on the untouched grass,” Djokovic said. “That’s probably one of the most special tennis matches that you get to experience as a professional tennis player.”

Djokovic understands the emotions behind simultaneously holding all four Grand Slam titles, which he achieved upon winning his first career French Open title earlier this month.

Last year, Williams had a chance to win a calendar Grand Slam, but came up short at the US Open.

This year, Djokovic remains in contention to be the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to achieve a calendar Grand Slam having already won the Australian and French Opens.

Williams, for one, says Djokovic could be the player to get the deed done.

“He has every opportunity to do it,” she said. “I think he’ll get it easy. So he should be fine.”

That said, Williams is most interested in matches finally getting underway at this year’s edition of the tournament.

“I’m definitely ready to start playing at this point,” Williams said. “I’m kind of over practicing every day for two hours, then going to the gym for some time.”

Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping tournaments like Federer

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MONACO (AP) For now, Rafael Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping any major tournaments the way Roger Federer has been sitting out the French Open.

The veterans are back at the top of world tennis, with Nadal needing to win the Monte Carlo Masters this week to avoid losing his top ranking once again to Federer in their seemingly eternal battle for tennis supremacy.

For the second consecutive season, the 36-year-old Federer is skipping the entire clay-court season in order to be at his best on grass.

After coming back from injury to win the Australian Open last year, Federer skipped the clay-court season, won Wimbledon, and retained his Melbourne crown to extend his record tally to 20 majors.

The Swiss star is keeping his aging body fresher by playing a bit less – avoiding Nadal on clay at Roland Garros or elsewhere – and it is working for him.

But Nadal still thinks he can play a full schedule.

“There (are) tournaments that I can’t imagine missing on purpose, because (they are) tournaments that I love to play,” Nadal said on Wednesday. “I don’t see myself missing Monte Carlo on purpose. I don’t see myself missing Wimbledon on purpose, or the U.S. Open, or Australian, or Rome. These kind of events, I don’t see missing (them).”

The 31-year-old Spaniard recently returned from a right hip injury which forced him to retire during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

With his 32nd birthday coming up on June 3 – during the French Open – the 16-time Grand Slam champion accepts he may think differently when he gets closer to Federer’s age.

“Of course, when you get older, you need to adjust a little bit more the efforts and the calendar. But for me (it) is difficult to say I don’t play, for example, grass, or I don’t play hard (courts),” Nadal said. “(It) is not in my plan, but I can’t say `never’ because I cannot predict what’s going to be in the future.”

Nadal is chasing an 11th title at both Monte Carlo and Roland Garros, which begins on May 27.

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

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Thiem reaches third round at Monte Carlo

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MONACO — Dominic Thiem saved a match point and beat Andrey Rublev of Russia 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

Rublev was serving for the match at 5-4, 40-30 but hit a forehand narrowly wide. Fifth-seeded Thiem broke him with backhand pass down the line and held for 6-5.

The Austrian was 15-40 up on Rublev’s serve and clinched victory on his first match point, when Rublev double-faulted with a weak serve into the net.

“I was 10 centimeters from being out of the tournament,” a relieved Thiem said. “But I’m happy that I played two hours and 40 (minutes).”

Thiem has reached the French Open semifinals for the past two years. He next meets 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic or Borna Coric of Croatia, who play their second-round match on Wednesday.

“I’m looking forward to watching Djokovic and Coric in front of the TV, and then playing the winner on Thursday,” Thiem said.

In the second round later Tuesday, fourth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria faced Pierre-Hugues Herbert and seventh-seeded Lucas Pouille played Mischa Zverev.

In remaining first-round play, there were wins for Gilles Simon of France, Marco Cecchinato of Italy and Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.