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Djokovic under threat from Murray heading into Paris Masters

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PARIS — Novak Djokovic heads into the Paris Masters with his No. 1 ranking under serious threat from Andy Murray, and in the rare position of being second favorite.

Djokovic is looking to win the tournament for the fourth straight year and fifth time overall. But he has been in erratic form over the past few months and is not playing with the confidence he showed here last year, when he crushed Murray 6-2, 6-4 in the final.

On current form Murray has the edge, and the second-ranked Scot can overtake Djokovic if he wins and the Serb doesn’t reach the final.

“You’ve got to give (Murray) credit for what he’s done in the last three or four months, the second part of the year is quite incredible,” Djokovic told reporters Sunday on the eve of the tournament. “He’s playing maybe the best tennis he’s ever played, very consistent, very strong. He definitely deserves to be in the position of being No. 1 at the end of the year. But that doesn’t just depend on him.”

Djokovic guarantees to keep No. 1 if he reaches the final, and Murray is not overly optimistic of knocking him off his perch.

“Obviously he could win the event and, if I lose in the first round, then I am a long way from being No. 1,” said Murray, who trails Djokovic 10-24 in career matches. “I’ve never won (the Paris Masters) before, so to just expect that you’re going to win the tournament would be silly.”

Murray won the Erste Bank Open in Vienna on Sunday for his third straight tournament win and career-high seventh of the year.

“In some other years, a year like this would easily (have) been enough to be No. 1 in the world,” Murray said. “But I am obviously getting closer.”

Murray, who has a first-round bye, will start his tournament against Fernando Verdasco or Feliciano Lopez.

Like Murray, Djokovic also has seven titles this year, matching his tally from 2013 and 2014, but will fall short of the 11 he won in an utterly dominant 2015.

The 29-year-old Djokovic owns a record 30 Masters titles. He is a 12-time Grand Slam champion and has won all four majors.

But after winning the elusive French Open for the first time in June, his form evaporated.

“Winning the French Open brought a lot of joy to me, but on the other hand has taken away a lot from me,” he said. “I felt a little bit exhausted, I must say, and maybe less motivated. So I had to rediscover that feeling of being on the court and pushing myself.”

He lost in the third round at Wimbledon to American Sam Querrey and in the first round to Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina at the Olympic Games.

Although Djokovic won the first set in the U.S. Open final, Stan Wawrinka rallied to beat him.

At the Shanghai Masters two weeks ago, Djokovic lost 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals to Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, an opponent he had beaten in five previous meetings.

“The last couple of months were not easy,” Djokovic said. “Mentally I just had to redefine my goals, things that are happening on and off the court.”

Djokovic clearly needed to gather his thoughts.

“It’s important to take time,” he said. “Really understand what the next step is going to be, professionally, privately.”

He feels much better now.

“I feel great and rejuvenated, very happy to be back in the city where I have wonderful memories,” he said. “It gives me a lot of emotions and butterflies in my stomach when I think about the last time I was here.”

Djokovic, who also won here in 2009, faces either Nicolas Almagro of Spain or Gilles Muller of Luxembourg in the second round.

Milos Raonic, who also has a first-round bye, is still feeling the effects of ankle injury that forced him to withdraw ahead of his China Open semifinal three weeks ago.

“It’s a partial tear,” said the big-serving Canadian. “It’s still a little bit of an issue … I tape it up to limit how much my ankle can move.”

Associated Press writer Eric Willemsen in Vienna contributed to this report.

Kasatkina upsets Venus Williams to reach Indian Wells final

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) Daria Kasatkina upset Venus Williams 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 in a nearly three-hour baseline struggle to reach the final of the BNP Paribas Open on Friday night.

Kasatkina was two points from defeat, trailing 4-5 and 0-30 in the third set when Williams committed four straight errors as the 20-year-old Russian tied it 5-all.

Williams won just two more points as Kasatkina took the last two games to close out the match in 2 hours, 48 minutes. Kasatkina dropped her racket near the baseline and covered her face with her hands as she walked to the net.

After shaking hands, Kasatkina pumped her fists and shook her head slightly as if in disbelief at beating the 37-year-old American and advancing to the biggest final of her young career.

Top-ranked Simona Halep took on Naomi Osaka, a 20-year-old from Japan, in the other semifinal.

After losing the first set, Kasatkina was visited by her coach on court. Philippe Dehaes told her, “She’s 37, you’re 20. Make her work a lot.”

When she wasn’t trading shots from the baseline, a nervy Kasatkina fooled Williams with drop shots, including two that landed just over the net near the sideline. The Russian tossed up lobs over the 6-foot-1 American – some worked, some didn’t, but she was undeterred.

There were 14 service breaks in the match.

Williams rallied from 3-1 down to win the first set. She trailed 3-1 again in the second and tied it 3-all when Kasatkina was broken on a double fault.

Kasatkina won the last four games in a row to take the second set. The players dueled through eight deuces in an epic eighth game, with the Russian turning back six break points against her. Williams pulled a forehand wide to lose the game.

Kasatkina’s coach visited her again before the third set.

“You go for it?” he asked her.

“Sure,” she replied, and they slapped hands.

Williams served a love game to go up 5-4. She led love-30 on Kasatkina’s serve in the next game before her forehand deserted her.

Williams double-faulted twice in a row to drop serve and trail 6-5. Kasatkina won on her second match point when Williams netted a backhand.

Kasatkina now owns a 2-1 record against Williams, who won 10-8 in the third round at Wimbledon in 2016.

Juan Martin del Potro defeated No. 31 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, and Milos Raonic beat 18th-seeded American Sam Querrey 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 to reach the men’s semifinals.

More AP tennis coverage:

Maria Sharapova withdraws from Miami with forearm injury

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from the Miami Open that begins next week because of a left forearm injury.

Sharapova announced the decision on Friday. She’ll be replaced in the main draw by American Jennifer Brady.

Sharapova lost in the first round at Indian Wells last week and in the third round of the Australian Open in January. She returned to the tour last year after a 15-month doping ban.

The women’s field includes eight-time Key Biscayne champion Serena Williams and No. 1-ranked Simona Halep. The men’s field includes defending champion Roger Federer and six-time Key Biscayne champ Novak Djokovic.