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Fall in rankings has Federer seeded 17th at Aussie Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — A long injury layoff and a fall in the rankings have created a tough draw for 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer at the Australian Open.

Federer slipped to No. 17 in the rankings this week after Grigor Dimitrov won the Brisbane International and moved up to No. 15.

The Australian Open tends to stick with the rankings when its seeds 32 players in each of the men’s and women’s 128-player singles draws, meaning the 35-year-old Federer gets less protection than usual and could potentially face a top 10 player as soon as the third round.

The seedings were confirmed by Australian Open organizers on Thursday, on the eve of the draw for the season-opening major which begins Monday in Melbourne.

Federer has won the Australian Open four times, his first in 2004, and also reached the final in 2009, but he hasn’t won the title here since 2010.

He spent six months out of action last year following surgery on his left knee and finished 2016 at No. 16, ending a year in which his record run of 65 Grand Slam appearances ended when he couldn’t contest the French Open. He also missed the U.S. Open.

He returned to action at the international mixed teams exhibition at the Hopman Cup in Perth last week.

As expected, No. 1-ranked Andy Murray is the top seed ahead of six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic in the men’s draw and Angelique Kerber, the reigning Australian and U.S. Open champion, is the top seed in the women’s draw ahead of six-time champion Serena Williams, who is seeded No. 2.

Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic is No. 3 in the men’s seedings, and U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, Gael Monfils, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych round out the top 10.

Nishikori, who lost the Brisbane final in three sets to Dimitrov last Sunday, said having Federer sitting lower in the list of seeds was bad for his rivals but good for the event.

“It’s not the best news for us, for sure. It’s a bit tough,” he said Thursday. “Rafa is also No. 9. We might have to play Rafa and Roger really soon in the draw.

“It’s not the best if you play, but it’s great for the fans.”

Following Kerber and Williams in the list of top 10 women’s seeds are Agnieszka Radwanska, Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova, Dominika Cibulkova, Garbine Muguruza, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Johanna Konta and Carla Suarez Navarro.

6-time champ Djokovic loses at Miami Open to Benoit Paire

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Novak Djokovic’s 16-match Key Biscayne winning streak ended, and his struggle to overcome a bothersome right elbow continued.

Djokovic lasted barely an hour at a tournament he has won six times, losing his opening match Friday in the Miami Open to Benoit Paire, 6-3, 6-4.

The defeat was Djokovic’s third in a row. He returned from a six-month injury absence at the Australian Open and lost in the fourth round, and was upset two weeks ago at Indian Wells by Taro Daniel, a 109th-ranked qualifier.

Against the 47th-ranked Paire, Djokovic dropped serve four times, returned poorly and had difficulty anticipating his crafty opponent’s drop shots.

In women’s play, Naomi Osaka’s breakthrough winning streak ended with a loss to No. 4-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-2. Osaka said began feeling ill before the match but didn’t want to retire after upsetting eight-time champion Serena Williams in the first round.

The 20-year-old Osaka is ranked a career-high 22nd and won her first career title last week at Indian Wells.

Djokovic sat out the last half of 2017 because of problems with his racket-swinging arm, saying it had been bothering him for more than a year. He was sidelined again after this year’s Australian Open and said he had a “small medical intervention” on his elbow.

The 12-time Grand Slam champion didn’t seem to favor it against Paire, but his shots lacked their usually snap and sometimes were awkwardly struck, including the last two on match point.

In the first set Djokovic served with a chance to reach 5-all, but from 40-0 he lost five consecutive points and the set. Another dismal stretch came when he was broken at love in the final game of the match.

The loss was Djokovic’s first at Key Biscayne since 2013. He missed last year’s Miami Open but won the title three consecutive years in 2014-16.

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Top-ranked Halep wins tough 3-setter in Miami

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Top-ranked Simona Halep of Romania struggled to post a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 second-round win over French lucky loser Oceane Dodin at the Miami Open on Thursday.

In the first career meeting between the players, Halep allowed the 98th-ranked Dodin to break her serve on six of seven opportunities she presented in the match, which lasted more than two hours.

Halep broke Dodin’s serve for the seventh time at 4-4 in the third set before closing it out.

Halep played in her third career Grand Slam final at the Australian Open in January, but has yet to secure a Grand Slam trophy.

Halep’s best Miami Open was reaching the 2015 semifinals.

Also Thursday, former No. 1 Angelique Kerber of Germany advanced to the third round with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Johanna Larsson of Sweden.

Kerber is 19-4 this year and has reached at least the quarterfinals of all five tournaments she’s played.

Kerber, the 2016 Australian Open and U.S. Open champion, won her first tournament since that U.S. Open at Sydney in January. She also reached the Australian Open semifinals.