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Andy Murray beats John Isner to win Paris Masters title

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PARIS —¬†Andy Murray celebrated his rise to No. 1 by beating American John Isner 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-4 Sunday to win the Paris Masters for the first time.

It was his career-best eighth title this season, his 14th in Masters overall, and ended Isner’s bid for a first Masters title.

Murray, who officially replaces Novak Djokovic at the top of the rankings on Monday, now leads Isner 8-0 in their career meetings, dating back to their first match at the Australian Open six years ago.

He recently beat Isner 6-1, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the Erste Bank Open in Vienna, but this was a very different match and thoroughly contested by the big-serving American.

“John played unbelievable tennis,” Murray said on court, moments after his win. “We played last week and the difference was huge.”

Using 18 aces and hitting plenty of inside-out winners on his massive forehand, Isner generated considerable pressure.

But he was also erratic, wasting six break points overall.

In the second set, he was 4-3 ahead and 40-0 up on Murray’s serve, but again failed to punish the Briton – last year’s runner-up to Djokovic.

But in a rare dip, Murray double-faulted during the tiebreaker and Isner profited to take the set.

Isner saved break points on his first two service games of the third set, hanging on as Murray restored his superiority.

Then, serving to stay in the match, the 2.08-meter American double-faulted to trail 0-30. He won a tough first point and then hit yet another ace to make it 30-30.

Isner sank a difficult volley into the net, giving Murray a first match point. With Isner on second serve, Murray dominated a brief rally, pinging a pass down the line that Isner patted into the net with the ball close to his body.

It was a hard-fought victory and Isner stood with his head down at the net, waiting to congratulate Murray.

Murray has won four consecutive tournaments, taking his career tally to 43.

Next up is the season-ending ATP finals in London, beginning next Sunday.

Murray will cross the English Channel to try and take the title there, having secured his top ranking here.

“This has been an incredible journey to get to the top of the rankings,” Murray said, thanking his family back home. “I’ll keep working hard to get better.”

The 31-year-old Isner, playing in the third Masters final of his career, ends the year without a title.

He lost his other final this season to Australian Nick Kyrgios at Atlanta, Georgia, in August.

Some small consolation is that he finishes the year with the most aces: 1,159 – the fourth time he has achieved this.

Murray broke Isner twice, the first time to move 4-2 up in the first set.

Isner fought back, a booming forehand winner giving him two break points in the seventh game.

Murray saved the first one with a lob – an achievement against such a tall player – and volley. He rescued the second by pushing Isner back and forcing an unforced error.

Serving for the first set, Murray won the first point with an extraordinary backhand retrieve from a speedy Isner forehand that he somehow turned into a cross-court winner.

“That was pretty spectacular from him,” Isner said. “He always clamps down on me when I have a bit of an opening. He’s a match for everyone, especially me.”

In the second set, Isner got a deserved ovation in the eighth game when he won a 20-stroke rally.

Showing nimble footwork that belied his size, he traded shots with Murray, winning the point with a superb drop shot and then a forehand winner from Murray’s retrieve.

Isner was playing his best tennis of the match and had Murray 0-40 down.

Murray recovered but gave Isner another chance at deuce.

Isner sent a forehand slightly too long and just about restrained himself from smashing his racket. That, and other missed chances, summed up his match.

“It was very close and I had a few opportunities,” said Isner.

“My game is the best it’s been all year. There’s no question about that,” he said. “It’s important to take that into the offseason and do the right things.”

Raonic withdraws from Miami Open with hamstring injury

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Milos Raonic has pulled out of the Miami Open after aggravating a right hamstring injury that sidelined him for nearly a month.

The No. 3-seeded Raonic withdrew before Sunday’s match against American qualifier Jared Donaldson, who advanced to the fourth round.

Raonic said his injury became progressively worse after his opening match, his first since Feb. 25. He expects to be sidelined at least two weeks and perhaps longer.

The Canadian said he hasn’t made it through an entire tournament healthy since Wimbledon last July.

Nadal advances to start bid for first Key Biscayne

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Rafael Nadal’s first fist pump Friday followed his second point in the Miami Open, when he kissed a forehand off the sideline to win a long rally.

He accompanied the celebratory gesture with a skip in his step and then hit the accelerator, holding every service game to beat Dudi Sela 6-3, 6-4.

Thus began Nadal’s latest bid to win Key Biscayne.

“A lot of big motivation,” he said.

He’s playing the tournament for the 13th time and has never won it, although he was the runner-up in 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2014. At 0 for 12, it’s Nadal’s longest drought at any event, and perhaps the most glaring gap in the 14-time Grand Slam champion’s resume.

Does it bug him? He won’t admit to any frustration, but lets slip that he still remembers the exact score when he was two points from the title in the third set versus Novak Djokovic.

That was six years ago.

“Against Novak – 6-5, 15-30,” Nadal said. “It didn’t happen.”

The Spaniard has always enjoyed the atmosphere in Miami, where Latin fans give him enthusiastic support, and he likes the tournament’s hard courts. He’s simply overdue.

“I’m trying my best every year,” Nadal told the stadium crowd after dispatching Sela. “I’ve been very close four times. I will try to give myself another chance.”

Nadal is 15-4 this year and pleased with his play. He lost to Roger Federer in the Australian Open final, and again in the fourth round at Indian Wells last week.

Against Sela, Nadal served well, erased the only two break points he faced and overcame the occasional errant groundstroke on a windy afternoon.

“It was very difficult to find the right feelings,” Nadal said. “These kind of days, what you have to do is try to win. That’s what I did, and I’m happy with that.”

Making Nadal’s title bid easier will be the absence of six-time champion Djokovic and two-time champion Andy Murray, both out with elbow injuries.

But No. 3-seeded Milos Raonic is back. He won in his first match since Feb. 25, beating Viktor Troicki 6-3, 7-5. Raonic had been sidelined by a right leg injury.

“I’ve prepared the best I can for this tournament,” Raonic said. “I’m not necessarily in the best position right now, but fortunately it’s a long tournament. Doesn’t mean things can’t change and I can’t get better throughout this event.”

No. 2 Kei Nishikori beat Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-3. No. 7 Marin Cilic lost to Jeremy Chardy 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

In women’s play, Elena Vesnina made a quick exit only five days after winning the biggest title of her career. Seeded 13th, Vesnina lost her opening match to wild card Ajla Tomljanovic 3-6, 6-4, 7-5.

Vesnina beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Indian Wells final.

In a match that took two days because of rain, No. 6 Garbine Muguruza rallied past Christina McHale 0-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4. No. 3 Simona Halep beat Naomi Osaka 6-4, 2-6, 6-3. American qualifier Taylor Townsend eliminated No. 25 Robert Vinci 6-3, 6-2.