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Pliskova, Konta continues winning runs in Australia

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) U.S. Open finalist Karolina Pliskova has carried her title-winning form in the warmup tournament into the season’s first major, dropping just four games en route to the third round at the Australian Open.

Pliskova was leading 6-0, 4-0 against Anna Blinkova in the second round on Thursday before the 18-year-old Russian qualifier, ranked 189th, held serve and later held up her arm to acknowledge the cheers from the crowd. Fifth-seeded Pliskova finished off the 6-0, 6-2 in less than an hour – she won her first-round match 6-2, 6-0.

“It’s always good to be in the zone,” said Pliskova, who won the Brisbane International title earlier this month. “It can always be a bit better.”

Pliskova has reached the third round for three straight years at Melbourne Park, which equaled her best previous run at a Grand Slam until she reached the final in New York last September. She beat Serena Williams in the semifinals at the U.S. Open before losing to Angelique Kerber.

“I’m feeling pretty good on the court, confident,” she said. “Also, people are talking I have a good chance to win a Grand Slam, but we are just in third round, so let’s see.”

She will next play Jelena Ostapenko, who beat No. 31 Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 6-1.

Johanna Konta, who made a surprising run to the semifinals in her debut Australian Open last year before losing to eventual champion Kerber, advanced to the third round with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Naomi Osaka.

Konta, voted the WTA Tour’s most improved player of 2016 after moving from 48th to 10th in the rankings, opened the season by winning the Sydney International title last week.

Konta will next play former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki, the U.S. Open semifinalist last September. Wozniacki was broken while serving for the match against Donna Vekic, but immediately broke back at love to win 6-1, 6-3.

WTA Finals winner Dominika Cibulkova held off Hsieh Su-wei 6-4, 7-6 (8) and will next play No. 30 Ekaterina Makarova, who was leading 6-2, 3-2 when Sara Errani retired because of a leg injury.

No. 21 Caroline Garcia beat Oceane Dodin 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4.

In men’s second-round matches, No. 18 Richard Gasquet beat Carlos Berlocq 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 and No. 32 Philipp Kohlschreiber beat Donald Young 7-5, 6-3, 6-0.

No. 30 Pablo Carreno Busta had a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 win over Kyle Edmund to move into a third-round match against either six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic or Denis Istomin.

Andy Murray returned to the practice court for an afternoon hitting session under the scrutiny of coach Ivan Lendl, allaying concerns about his injured right ankle. Top-ranked Murray, a five-time runner-up at Melbourne Park, twisted his ankle and tumbled to the court during the third set of his otherwise routine second-round win on Wednesday night.

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.