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Nadal knocked out at Cincinnati, Steve Johnson moves up

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MASON, Ohio —¬†Right from the start, Rafael Nadal was running on empty.

Nadal showed the effects of his long layoff from a wrist injury Thursday, losing to Croatia’s Borna Coric 6-1, 6-3 at the Western & Southern Open. The 30-year-old Spaniard has a lot of work to do before the U.S. Open.

He was sluggish and well off the mark on his shots Thursday and had a trainer visit between games to check his shoulder and elbow, which were feeling the effects of a lot of tennis at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and two days in Cincinnati’s heat and humidity.

“Too tired,” he said. “Elbow, shoulder. Two and a half months without competing and especially without practicing, and to do what I did in the Olympics and come here – too much.”

The 19-year-old Coric reached the quarterfinals of a Masters tournament for the first time and ended his streak of 10 straight losses against Top 10 opponents.

The upset left only one member of the Big Four still in the running.

Defending champion Roger Federer and top-ranked Novak Djokovic are missing the tournament because of injuries. Andy Murray is playing, but feeling the effects of a grueling week in Rio de Janeiro where he won the gold medal Sunday. Along with Nadal, those four have combined to win 54 of the last 58 Masters events.

Nadal missed two months because of an injured left wrist and returned to the courts in Rio, where he lost in the semifinals and won the doubles title. The lack of matches showed in Cincinnati: Nadal double faulted five times and had 27 unforced errors. Coric surged ahead 4-0 in the second set and closed it out in an hour and 11 minutes.

Steve Johnson also advanced to the quarterfinals on Thursday and put himself in position to become the top American in the ATP rankings heading into the U.S. Open.

Johnson beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 7-6 (6) and raised his index finger in celebration. He’ll move into the ATP’s top spot next week, knocking John Isner out of the slot that he’s held every week since July 29, 2013. Isner lost in the second round in Cincinnati.

“Hasn’t sunk in yet,” Johnson said. “I just found out. So it’s an honor, it really is. John has held that spot for a while, and I’m just glad that there are a bunch of Americans pushing toward the top.”

Second-seeded Stan Wawrinka wasted a chance to take advantage of the wide-open draw on Thursday, losing to Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-4. Wawrinka smacked his racket on the ground as he fell behind in the first set, the start of a frustrating match overall. Tied 3-3 in the second set, Wawrinka committed two unforced forehand errors and Dimitrov got the break he needed to take control.

Wawrinka had one of those few Masters titles that wasn’t claimed by the Big Four, winning in Monte Carlo in 2014.

In the women’s bracket, Karolina Pliskova became the first woman to reach the quarterfinals, defeating Misaki Doi 7-5, 6-3. Doi was a “lucky loser” who replaced defending champion Serena Williams when she withdrew with an inflamed shoulder on Monday.

Second-seeded Angelique Kerber moved into the quarterfinals with a 7-6 (3), 6-4 win over Barbora Strycova. She’ll end Williams’ streak of 183 consecutive weeks at No. 1 if she wins the tournament.

AP freelance writer Mark Schmetzer contributed to this report.

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.