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Djokovic beats Murray to successfully defend Qatar title

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) Novak Djokovic successfully defended his Qatar Open title by beating top-seeded Andy Murray 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in the final on Saturday.

The dramatic match showcased the best of men’s tennis for 2 hours, 54 minutes. Djokovic needed four match points – three in the second set and one in the third – to prevail. He was also fortunate not to be defaulted for accidentally hitting a woman in the stands with a ball hit in anger.

“Best scenario I could ask for for beginning of the season,” Djokovic said.

“Playing all five matches in this tournament and then three hours against No. 1 of the world, (my) biggest rival, and winning in a thrilling marathon match is something that definitely can serve as a positive incentive for what’s coming up in Australia.

“It’s only the beginning of the season, so we had a little laugh at the net actually about it. We both felt like if every match we’re going to play against each other is going to be this way this season, we’re going to have a fun time.”

Murray’s loss ended his 28-match winning streak that dated to Sept. 18.

Djokovic had three match points in the 10th game of the second set, but couldn’t prevent Murray from making it 5-5 and eventually winning the second set.

Murray finally capitalized on his fourth break point – second in that 10th game – with an inside out forehand winner.

Despite going up 0-30, Murray wasn’t able to come up with the same magic when Djokovic served for the match a second time at 5-4 in the third set. Murray also failed to take advantage of a break point in the sixth game of the set.

“Physically, it was a good test to start the year,” Murray said. “My body feels all right just now, so that’s positive.

“Still think there are things I can do better. I wasn’t that clinical on break points this week, which maybe that comes with playing a few more matches.”

Djokovic’s frustration got the better of him twice, which caused umpire Carlos Bernardes to hand the Serb two warnings, including the loss of a point on the second warning.

The second warning resulted when Djokovic smashed his racket in frustration at 40-30 to end the 11th game of the second set prematurely.

The first warning came in the sixth game of the first set. Annoyed at losing a point, Djokovic angrily smacked a ball to the ground that accidentally flew into the stands and hit a woman. While that could have resulted in a default, Bernardes just issued Djokovic a warning.

“I definitely didn’t want to hit the ball at anybody,” Djokovic said. “Just happened. Fortunate not to get a bigger fine. I have to be more careful I guess. I accept that I made a mistake. It was not intentional at all.”

The top-ranked Murray has lost all 20 matches he’s played against Djokovic when he’s lost the first set.

Overall, Djokovic held a 25-11 career record over Murray.

“Playing against Andy, somehow it feels like playing the mirror image of (me) because we have very similar styles of game,” Djokovic said. “I can’t recall out of the 35-plus matches how many were kind of one-sided really. Most of the matches we play it’s always going down to the very last few points to decide the winner.”

Murray won their last encounter 6-3, 6-4 in the ATP Finals in November. That victory catapulted Murray ahead of Djokovic to the year-end No. 1 ranking for the first time.

Petra Kvitova to play at French Open

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PARIS —¬†Only two months after picking up her racket for the first time following a knife attack at her home, Petra Kvitova will be playing at the French Open.

The two-time Wimbledon champion said Friday she will make her comeback at Roland Garros, although she still lacks power and strength.

“I knew this day would come,” said Kvitova, who was attacked by an intruder last year. “I’m really happy that really here, the dream comes true.”

Kvitova has missed all season while recovering from surgery on her racket-holding left hand. She sustained damage to the tendons in her left hand, along with injuries to all five fingers and two nerves, during the attack.

Doctors initially thought she would need more time before returning to tennis. But Kvitova’s recovery was faster than expected and she said last month that she was signing up for the French Open, which begins Sunday, in hopes of being able to compete.

“It wasn’t easy, but I’m happy that I work through this and I can play tennis and I can be in the draw,” she said.

Kvitova, who won the Wimbledon title in 2011 and 2014 and climbed as high as No. 2 in the WTA rankings, was not allowed to speak about the attack itself because a police investigation is still ongoing. However, she spoke about the anxiety associated with her dreadful experience.

“I didn’t sleep well the days after, but I wasn’t really staying alone,” she said. “From the beginning I was really feeling really weird when I went in the city or somewhere. I was always staring to the guys and looking if there are no strangers there. But with the time, it’s better.”

Kvitova also provided details on the intense rehabilitation process that preceded her “last-minute” decision to try her luck in Paris.

“I worked very hard behind the scenes,” she said. “From the beginning I had this hand in a splint for two months, and even then I was practicing every day, always putting the splint away and trying to make this scar softer. So from the second day after surgery I started to work with that, which was kind of easy, just passive work with the fingers. I couldn’t move them.”

Kvitova got rid of the splint after two weeks and started to move her fingers slightly. She said she can’t still move them completely.

Kvitova also consulted with a hand specialist in the French city of Grenoble every month and she started practicing with a racket at the end of March.

“I hit a few forehands with soft balls from the net, and it felt very, very weird,” she said. “I didn’t really have touch in the hand for holding the racket. I’m happy that I didn’t have to change any techniques or something. Everything seems OK. Of course the hand doesn’t have that power and the strength yet, but I’m working on it. Hopefully one day will be everything perfect.”

Kvitova will open her campaign on the red clay against 86th-ranked Julia Boserup. She is making her ninth appearance at Roland Garros, where she reached the semifinals in 2012.

“Not many people believe that I can play tennis again. So I’m happy that I can play,” Kvitova said. “I actually already won my biggest fight. I stayed in life and I have all my fingers.”

Nishikori saves three match points in Geneva Open QF win

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GENEVA — Kei Nishikori saved three straight match points in the deciding set before outlasting Kevin Anderson 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6) in the Geneva Open quarterfinals on Thursday.

The second-seeded Nishikori was serving at 4-5, 0-40 before rallying to beat the 62nd-ranked South African, who fired 14 aces without allowing any by his opponent.

Nishikori also trailed in the tiebreaker before creating a second match-point chance with a forehand crosscourt service return for a winner. He clinched with a forehand winner off a looping net-cord ball.

The No. 9-ranked Japanese player will face 33rd-ranked Mischa Zverev of Germany in the semifinals on Friday.

The Russian-born Zverev, who came through qualifying, beat fifth-seeded Steve Johnson of the United States 6-4, 7-5.