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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.

Azarenka aims to come back in time for Wimbledon

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MOSCOW — Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka says she is planning to return to competition before Wimbledon.

Azarenka, who was ranked No. 1 for seven months in 2012 and 2013, went on a break last July to have her first child. She had previously been targeting a return at the July 31-Aug. 6 Bank of the West Classic in California.

In a statement on Twitter, the Belarusian says “my training has been progressing well and I feel ready to start competing,” adding that she plans “to play one of the grass court events prior to Wimbledon.”

Wimbledon starts July 3.

Azarenka won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013, and has twice reached the Wimbledon semifinals.

Djokovic announces Agassi will coach him at French Open

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ROME — Novak Djokovic is joining forces with Andre Agassi in an effort to return to No. 1.

Djokovic announced Sunday that Agassi will coach him at the French Open, which starts next Sunday.

“I spoke to Andre the last couple weeks on the phone, and we decided to get together in Paris,” Djokovic said. “So he’s going to be there. We’ll see what (the) future brings.

“We are both excited to work together and see where it takes us. We don’t have any long-term commitment. It’s just us trying to get to know each other in Paris a little bit,” Djokovic added. “He will not stay the whole tournament. He’s going to stay only to a certain time, and then we’ll see after that what’s going to happen.”

The second-ranked Djokovic split with longtime coach Marian Vajda and two other team members – fitness coach Gebhard Phil Gritsch, and physiotherapist Miljan Amanovic – at the start of the month.

Agassi, who retired in 2006, won eight Grand Slam titles.

Djokovic has won 12 Grand Slams.

“Andre is someone that I have tremendous respect for as a person and as a player,” Djokovic said. “He has been through everything that I’m going through. On the court he understands the game amazingly well. I am enjoying every conversation that I have with him.

“But also, on the other hand, he’s someone that nurtures the family values, philanthropy work. He’s a very humble man, is very educated. He’s a person that can contribute to my life on and off the court a lot. I’m very excited to see what is ahead of us.”

The pairing is the latest in a series of top players working with former standouts, from Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya, and Kei Nishikori and Michael Chang.

Djokovic was coached by Boris Becker the last three seasons, but they split last year.

Vajda started working with Djokovic in 2006.

Djokovic lost his No. 1 ranking to Andy Murray last year after a slump in form following his French Open triumph.

He lost in the third round at Wimbledon, his earliest defeat in a Grand Slam in seven years, lost in the first round at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, reached the final of the U.S. Open, and lost early again at the Australian Open.

Djokovic finished 2016 at No. 2, his current ranking. He’s won only one of his last 11 tournaments.

While Agassi has not coached a top player before, Djokovic said his record as a player and spokesman of the game was enough to convince him.

“He’s a legend of our sport,” Djokovic said. “He’s made a mark in this sport forever. He’s won everything there is to win in tennis.

“He was a revolutionary player because he had this charisma, he had this approach to tennis and to life that was quite different from others. That’s why he was so interesting.”

Agassi has already been offering advice on the phone.

“He’s been definitely following up closely all the matches, the big matches, especially on the TV,” Djokovic said. “So he knows players, he knows everyone that I was playing against in (the) last couple of weeks, so we talked before every match.

Djokovic added, “I already feel like we are very kind of close to each other and creating this nice vibe.”