Berdych beats Sousa to reach 3rd round at Paris Masters

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PARIS (AP) Tomas Berdych avoided another early exit by beating Joao Sousa 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 on Tuesday to reach the third round of the Paris Masters.

At 4-4 in the deciding set, Berdych trailed 15-40 and saved two break points.

Although Berdych won the Shenzhen Open in China last month, the Czech player’s form dropped sharply with first-round exits at the Japan Open and the Erste Bank Open in Vienna. In between, there was a second-round loss at the Shanghai Masters.

Losing so many ranking points forced Berdych out of the top 10 for the first time since reaching the 2010 Wimbledon final. It also leaves him needing to reach the semifinals in Paris to have a chance of qualifying for the season-ending ATP finals in London – a difficult task considering he could face Andy Murray in the quarterfinals.

“If you don’t play your best, you don’t really deserve to be there,” Berdych said. “Luckily, I’m healthy. Who would have said that I’d be answering questions about London when I was in the hospital in Cincinnati? This is a nice bonus.”

Berdych was referring to the appendicitis that forced him out of this year’s U.S. Open.

Even though his play looked patchy at times against Sousa, at least his serving was strong with 14 aces, including a couple of booming ones on second serve.

Berdych is hopeful that working with coach Goran Ivanisevic – the big-serving Croat who won Wimbledon in 2001 – will help improve his game.

“I like his approach and how he tries to simplify things for me,” the 31-year-old Berdych said. “Hopefully I can get to the point where I can start to use his experience in all the big matches he’s played.”

Berdych, the 2005 Paris Masters champion, will next face either 10th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut or Gilles Simon.

Seven players are vying for the two remaining spots in London.

Dominic Thiem and Marin Cilic, who won the Swiss Indoors on Sunday, held the last two places before this week. David Goffin, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Lucas Pouille and Bautista Agut are the other contenders playing in Paris.

John Isner had 14 aces as he reached the second round by beating Mischa Zverev 7-6 (8), 6-4. Isner saved the only break point he faced in the first set and broke Zverev’s serve early in the second.

Isner will next play 15th-seeded David Ferrer, who has beaten the big-serving American seven times in eight meetings. Isner’s only win, however, was in the quarterfinals in Paris five years ago.

Also in the first round, Jack Sock beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-2, 7-6 (3); Feliciano Lopez defeated Pierre-Hugues Herbert 7-6 (3), 6-4; Nicolas Mahut beat Martin Klizan 4-6, 6-4, 6-3; and Viktor Troicki saved two match points before defeating Adrian Mannarino 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (5).

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.”