Djokovic, Williams set as betting favorites on odds to win U.S. Open

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With Novak Djokovic, there is a question of motivation now that the chance of a calendar-year Grand Slam is long gone.

Djokovic and Serena Williams, respectively, have the top odds on the men’s and women’s champion boards heading into the U.S. Open. The last Grand Slam of the tennis season begins on Monday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York.

On the men’s board, Djokovic is listed at even odds, with Andy Murray nipping at his heels at +180 by virtue of winning Wimbledon and the Olympic gold medal.

Since his third-round loss at Wimbledon, Djokovic has also had early exits in both singles and doubles at the Olympics. The flip side of that is Djokovic has played only nine singles matches in three months, meaning he should be fresh.

For his part, Murray has a chance to finish the season with appearances in all four major finals, plus the Olympics. The Scottish star might need help against Djokovic, whom he is 1-4 against in their last five matches on hard courts.

Beyond the big two, there is a big drop down to heavy-serving Canadian Milos Raonic at +1200 on the tennis odds. Juan Martin del Potro and Stan Wawrinka are both at +1600, while Marin Cilic and Rafael Nadal are each listed at +2000.

Raonic, whose serve is in a class of its own, is seeded fifth. That creates the possibility of a semifinal showdown against Djokovic, whom he is 0-7 against in his career. Cilic is also an intriguing darkhorse. He won the 2014 title but didn’t encounter Djokovic, and was a 2015 semifinalist.

Williams, at +120, is alone at the top of the women’s champion board, with No. 2 seed Angelique Kerber, No. 3 Garbine Mugurza and No. 5 Simona Halep each listed at +800. Promising young American Madison Keys, who is seeded eighth, is listed at +1400.

Halep is only 1-7 in her career against Williams, but the win was on a hard surface at the Indian Wells tournament. Mugurza is 2-3 against Williams, but each win came on clay. The tournament is Williams’ to lose.

Roberta Vinci, Williams’ nemesis in the 2015 semifinal, is listed at +15000 on the tennis betting lines. That upset came in Vinci’s only trip beyond the fourth round of a major.

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.