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Former No. 1 Wozniacki beats Olympic champion Puig

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SYDNEY (AP) Former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki stepped up her preparations for the Australian Open with 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 win over Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig at the Sydney International on Monday.

Wozniacki, who finished back-to-back years at No. 1 in the rankings in 2010 and `11, has never won a major and is determined to make up for a first-round exit at the Australian Open last year.

Puig rallied to win the second set and force a decider but Wozniacki took an early break and held her composure to serve out after 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Third-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, last year’s WTA Finals champion and a finalist at the Australian Open in 2014, opened in Sydney with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Laura Siegemund, advancing along with No. 6-seeded Johanna Konta and No. 9 Roberta Vinci.

Americans Christina McHale and CoCo Vandeweghe had wins over seeded players, with McHale beating No. 4 Kateryna Bondarenko 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 and Vandeweghe leading 6-2, 4-0 when No. 8 Elena Vesnina retired from their match.

Australian hope Sam Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, had another first-round defeat, losing 6-3, 6-1 to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in 63 minutes.

In late results, Daria Gavrilova beat Donna Vekic 6-3, 7-6 (1) and Duan Yingying had a 7-5, 3-6, 6-0 win over Irina Falconi.

On the men’s side, fifth-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber beat Fabio Fognini 6-4, 6-4, Matthew Barton beat Kyle Edmund 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) and Daniel Evans had a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over Thiago Monteiro.

At the Hobart International, Andrew Petkovic opened with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Nicole Gibbs and No. 11 Johanna Larsson beat Kristyna Pliskova 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-1. Lucie Safarova also advanced, while former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone lost to Jana Jett and No. 7-seeded Kristina Mladenovic was beaten by Elise Mertens.

At Auckland, New Zealand, seventh-seeded Steve Johnson overcame an early struggle in a match of contrasting styles to beat Stephane Robert of France 6-4, 6-3 in the opening round of the ASB Classic.

Johnson struggled to bring his heavy serve to bear at the start of the match and quickly found himself a break down at 3-1 in the first set. He also took time to find his feet against Robert who troubled him with his softer groundstrokes, deft touches and his thread-the-needle passing shots.

“At the start of the year you don’t have much momentum and you try to figure out your game again and how everything works,” Johnson said. “He came out and played a great game.

“I was in a lot of games on his serve in the first so I just sort of hung around and then fortunately got a break in the second and held onto my serve.”

The match pivoted on eighth game when Johnson was finally able to draw level on his sixth breakpoint chance. He then began to serve more confidently, taking the ninth game with his sixth ace of the match and breaking Robert again to end the set.

Sixth-seeded Feliciano Lopez rebounded to beat No. 1,035-ranked local wild-card entry Michael Venus 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Also advancing were Jiri Vesely, who won his only ATP title to date in Auckland in 2015, and Robin Haase.

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.