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Serena Williams wins opening match in Auckland

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) Serena Williams mixed flashes of form and occasional bouts of frustration as she ended four months on the sidelines with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Pauline Parmentier on Tuesday in the first round of the ASB Classic.

Top-seeded Williams had to wait an extra day to make her first appearance of 2017 because rain forced the postponement of her first-round match on Monday.

It was wind rather than rain that troubled Williams on Tuesday as a swirling breeze on the open-air center court at the Auckland Tennis Center made it difficult to serve.

She took 74 minutes to beat No. 69-ranked Parmentier, serving eight aces – including one on match point – but also prolonging the match with a series of unforced errors, including four double-faults.

“This wind was getting to me,” Williams said. “It’s like every day I’ve practiced here there’s been no wind and today I play and it’s real windy, so it was fun. It wasn’t fun, actually, it was interesting.”

Williams made a shaky start, dropping serve in an opening game before Parmentier held her own serve to love. But she seemed to find some form and confidence in the third game which included a booming winner from a crosscourt forehand.

Williams broke Parmentier’s serve in the sixth and eighth games and held comfortably, serving out the set in only 29 minutes.

There were signs of frustration from Williams as the wind picked up and she struggled to put her first serve in play. When she did, she won 80 percent of first serve points.

She also found herself out of position to play convincing groundstrokes as the wind carried the ball away from her racket. Williams’ backhand especially suffered, though she looked to move around the court freely.

She broke Parmentier in the third game of the second set, then immediately lost her own serve. Williams struggled to hold serve in the sixth game, saving three breakpoints, but she signaled her intention to finish it off quickly with two powerful winners which allowed her to break again in the seventh game.

Only two main draw matches were completed on the rain-interrupted first day. In other matches Tuesday, Venus Williams was set to play New Zealand wildcard Jade Lewis and former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki was against Nicole Gibbs.

Serena Williams at No. 1 despite not playing since January

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Serena Williams is briefly back at No. 1 in the WTA rankings, despite not playing a match since January. She also plans to take the rest of 2017 off because she is expecting a baby.

Thanks to a calendar quirk, Williams moved up one spot Monday from No. 2, swapping places with Angelique Kerber.

The return to No. 1 , which gives the 35-year-old American her 317th week there, comes less than a week after Williams let the world know via Snapchat that she is pregnant. The baby is due in the fall, and spokeswoman Kelly Bush Novak says Williams will take the rest of this season off and intends to return to the tour next year.

 

Rafael Nadal beats Albert Ramos-Vinolas to win 10th Monte Carlo Masters

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MONACO (AP) Defending champion Rafael Nadal easily beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-1, 6-3 in an all-Spanish final on Sunday to win the Monte Carlo Masters for the 10th time and clinch the 70th title of his career.

It was Nadal’s first title of the season, having lost his previous three finals – two of those to Roger Federer.

Nadal faced little opposition on his way to becoming the first player to win 10 tournaments at the same venue in the Open era, and the first to reach 50 on clay. He was previously level on clay titles with Argentine Guillermo Vilas.

“When I came here for the first time (in 2003) I reached the third round after coming through the qualifiers,” Nadal said. “Ten titles is something I never dreamed of. See you next year.”

The only final the 30-year-old Nadal has lost at Monte Carlo was to Novak Djokovic in 2013.

Ramos-Vinolas never looked like posing a threat.

Appearing in his first Masters final, the 15th-seeded Ramos-Vinolas saved three break points in his first service game and was 0-40 down in his next. Nadal served out the set in 30 minutes with an ace.

Nadal’s 29th Masters title moves him one behind Djokovic’s record. He will also have his sights set on a 10th title in Barcelona next week – Nadal’s previous career title was there, almost one year ago.

Since then, Federer has beaten him in finals at the Australian Open and the Miami Masters, either side of a win for big-serving American Sam Querrey at Acapulco, Mexico. Federer also beat Nadal in the fourth round at Indian Wells, but the 18-time Grand Slam champion skipped Monte Carlo this year.

Ramos-Vinolas had lost his two previous matches to Nadal in straight sets – both in Barcelona. He competed better in the third set, holding to love in the seventh game to provoke sympathetic applause, but a second career title never looked realistic.

Ramos-Vinolas saved two match points after matching Nadal’s aggression, but a poor unforced error gave Nadal a third match point and Ramos-Vinolas double-faulted to lose in 1 hour, 16 minutes of a one-sided contest.

Nadal’s celebrations were somewhat muted, and he gave Ramos-Vinolas a sympathetic pat on the back. Nadal tilted his head back and put both hands on his head as his achievement began to sink in, while his opponent buried his head into a towel.

He never really stood a chance against the player widely considered the greatest ever on clay.

Nadal’s 70 titles are three better than Djokovic, who is a year younger. Nadal is fifth on the all-time list, but seven behind John McEnroe. Further ahead, the 35-year-old Federer has 91; Ivan Lendl 94 and Jimmy Connors is a long way away with 109.

Nadal watched smiling as each of his Monte Carlo trophy presentations over the years was played on the big screen.

The first photo, of him raising the trophy in 2005 as a distinctly shy 18-year-old who was taking tennis by storm, made Nadal laugh.

There was nothing amusing for his opponents.

He won every year after that – including the next three finals against Federer, who could never crack him on clay. Djokovic did, in the 2013 final. Stan Wawrinka won in 2014 and Djokovic again in 2015, comfortably beating Nadal in the semis.

Nadal looked emotional when the Spanish national anthem was played.

His first appearance in Monte Carlo was as a 16-year-old in 2003, when he beat Slovak Karol Kucera in the first round. That win was impressive enough, but he then stunned the tennis world by knocking out defending French Open champion Albert Costa in a second-round match that finished as night was falling.

It was the start of Nadal’s stellar career on clay.

He will be among the favorites at the French Open this year, which was the last of his 14 Grand Slam wins in 2014.

Nadal will be hunting for a 10th title at Roland Garros, too.