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Defending champ Kerber advances to 4th round vs Vandeweghe

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Angelique Kerber had a straight-sets win for the first time in her first Australian Open title defense, starting her 6-0, 6-4 third-round victory with an eight-game streak against Kristyna Pliskova on Friday.

Top-ranked Kerber beat the other Pliskova twin, Karolina, in the final of the last U.S. Open to capture her second career Grand Slam title. Her first was here at Melbourne Park 12 months ago.

Kerber marked her 29th birthday on Wednesday with a second-round win over fellow German Carina Witthoeft, but said she didn’t celebrate much between matches and hoped to do more at the end of the tournament.

She’ll next play 35th-ranked CoCo Vandeweghe, who reached the fourth round in Australia for the first time with a -4, 3-6, 7-5 win over 2014 semifinalist Eugenie Bouchard.

“It will be tough,” Kerber said. “I’m ready. I’m feeling good. I’m loving to play on this court.”

Eighth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova was broken in the second and third sets when serving for the match before finally beating former No. 1-ranked Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 5-7, 9-7 in a 3-hour, 36-minute match.

Two-time major champion Kuznetsova will next play No. 24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who beat No. 11 Elina Svitolina 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

Vandeweghe recovered from an early break in the third set in a tense win over Bouchard, who was ranked as high as No. 5 in 2014 when she reached the semifinals in Australia and France and the final at Wimbledon.

Vandeweghe converted her only break-point chance to take the first set but Bouchard leveled the match with two breaks in a dominant second set.

The 22-year-old Canadian broke to open the third set and appeared to be in control until Vandeweghe changed her approach.

“She started playing better and I got a little passive in my game plan and executing it – I was able to turn it around thankfully,” Vandeweghe said.

After holding in the key eighth game of the third set, when she saved four break points in a game that went to deuce eight times, Vandeweghe had the benefit of serving first with no tiebreakers in the deciding set.

She easily held for a 6-5 lead and then, after Bouchard had a game point, went on a roll to close with a big backhand winner on her first match point.

Vandeweghe has reached the quarterfinals and the fourth round in the last two years at Wimbledon, but her run to the third round in Australia in 2016 was her best at any major not played on grass.

“It’s just another opponent on the way to achieving my goal,” Vandeweghe said of her win. “Anyway I could get it done – I just wanted to get the result. Achieved my goal.”

Vandeweghe’s new doubles partner, Martina Hingis, cheered her on throughout the match. Afterward, the American joked that Hingis might scold her for playing “too long to be fresh for the doubles.”

Bouchard has been gradually improving her ranking in recent months. She hasn’t gone past the third round of a Grand Slam tournament since slipping and falling in the locker room during the 2015 U.S. Open

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.

Serena Williams loses in first round at Miami Open to Osaka

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Serena Williams lost in the first round of the Miami Open on Wednesday, still rusty in her return from pregnancy and unable to overcome a tough draw against Naomi Osaka, who won 6-3, 6-2.

The 20-year-old Osaka, who earned her first career title Sunday at Indian Wells, showed no signs of letup and overpowered the erratic Williams. Osaka had the stronger serve, and in rallies wore down Williams working her from side to side.

The matchup worthy of a final came about because both players are unseeded. Osaka is ranked a career-best 22nd, while Williams’ ranking is 491st after her layoff of more than a year.

Another new mother and former No. 1, three-time Key Biscayne champion Victoria Azarenka, defeated Catherine Bellis 6-3, 6-0.

Williams has endured a first-round defeat only four other times, most recently at the 2012 French Open. The latest loss came at a tournament she has won a record eight times and considers her hometown event.

The match was the last for Williams at Key Biscayne, 90 miles south of her home in Palm Beach Gardens. The tournament is moving next year to the Miami Dolphins’ stadium, and Williams helped with the ceremonial groundbreaking Monday.

After her defeat, she left without speaking to the media.

Because of Williams’ ranking, she entered the draw as a wild card, and looked the part. She was a step slow to balls in the corners and often late with her swing, while she put barely half her first serves in play.

Osaka, who has both American and Japanese citizenship and lives in Fort Lauderdale, was playing her idol for the first time but didn’t seem a bit fazed. She improved to 14-4 this year.

Things may get tougher for her in the second round, when she’ll face No. 4-seeded Elina Svitolina.

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