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Nadal holds off Zverev to reach 4th round at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia —¬†Rafael Nadal held back time, for one tournament at least, when he rallied for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-2 win over German teenager Alexander Zverev to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open.

The 14-time major winner is on the comeback after an extended injury layoff, yet he finished stronger in the 4-hour, 6-minute match on Rod Laver Arena as Zverev tightened up with cramping and nerves.

“I enjoyed a lot this great battle. I was losing the last couple of times in the fifth set and I said to myself, today’s the day,” said ninth-seeded Nadal, who had lost eight of the previous nine times he’d trailed 2-1 in a best-of-five set match.

His 30-year-old legs, conditioned by 236 Grand Slam matches, carried him all the way.

Zverev’s creative shot-making in the first set and during the tiebreaker in the third gave the 19-year-old a confident start. But Nadal, the champion here in 2009, didn’t let him get too far in front.

In an exchange of breaks in the fifth set, Nadal broke to open, then dropped his own serve, before breaking Zverev again.

Nadal attributed his comeback to two important things.

“Well, fighting – and running a lot,” he said. “I think you know, everybody knows how good Alexander is – he’s the future of our sport and the present, too.”

Nadal, who had two months off with an injured left wrist at the end of 2016, will get another veteran next – either Philipp Kohlschreiber or Gael Monfils.

In another gripping five-setter, but on an outside court, wild-card entry Denis Istomin followed his upset win over defending champion Novak Djokovic with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory over Pablo Carreno Busta.

No. 8 Dominic Thiem beat Benoit Paire 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 to set up a fourth-round match against No. 11 David Goffin, who ended Ivo Karlovic’s run 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

Serena Williams reached the fourth round without dropping a set, staying on course in her bid for a record 23rd Grand slam title.

Williams beat fellow American Nicole Gibbs 6-1, 6-3 and didn’t face a break point until she was serving for the match.

Dropping serve in that game was her only lapse in a match that then extended just beyond the hour – to 63 minutes to be precise.

“I don’t have anything to prove in this tournament here. Just doing the best I can,” Williams said. “Obviously I’m here for one reason.”

Williams started the tournament with difficult assignments in the first two rounds, but also got through those – against Belinda Bencic, with a career-high ranking of 7, and Lucie Safarova, a French Open finalist in 2015.

“She makes the court feel very, very small,” Gibbs said. “I was definitely feeling a lot of tension from early on in the match and it was showing in my serve and my forehand. I was catching the net a lot – the net felt 10 feet high today.”

Williams will next play No. 16 Barbora Strycova, who beat No. 21 Caroline Garcia 6-2, 7-5.

Ekaterina Makarova led by a set and 4-0 but had a mid-match fade, needing three sets and almost three hours to finally beat WTA Finals champion Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-3.

“An amazing fight,” Makarova said of her first win over sixth-seeded Cibulkova, the 2014 finalist at Melbourne Park. “I got, to be honest, a bit tight at 4-0 in the second set. But I’m still here.”

She’ll now take on last year’s semifinalist Johanna Konta, who beat former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-1, in a rematch of their fourth-round encounter here last year.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni continued her unlikely run with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over Maria Sakkari, and so did American qualifier Jennifer Brady.

Before this week, the 34-year-old Lucic-Baroni hadn’t won a match at Melbourne Park since her debut at the Australian Open in 1998. The 19-year gap in between match wins at a Grand Slam tournament broke the record set by Kimiko Date-Krumm.

Lucic-Baroni, a semifinalist at Wimbledon in 1999, next plays No. 116-ranked Brady, who had never played in the main draw of a major before she qualified for this week.

The 21-year-old American had a 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over 14th-seeded Elena Vesnina on Show Court 2.

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.