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Djokovic rallies to beat Del Potro in Acapulco

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MEXICO CITY — Novak Djokovic rallied to beat Argentinian Juan Martin Del Potro in three sets 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 early on Thursday to advance to the Mexican Open quarterfinals.

Djokovic, playing in his first tournament since his shocking loss in the second round of the Australian Open, struggled to beat Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open winner, who ousted the Serbian 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2) in the first round of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

It was the first match between them since.

“Every time you play against Delpo, there’s a lot of tension, emotions and quality of play,” Djokovic said. “I’m happy I was able to beat him this time.”

The 29-year-old Serbian, ranked No. 2, suffered an unexpected loss to Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin on the Australian Open.

Djokovic, making his debut in Acapulco, was losing 4-3 in the third set, but he broke Del Potro twice and was able to preserve his serve to get the victory.

The Serbian star will play against Australian Nick Kyrgios, who qualified with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over American Donald Young.

Spaniard Rafael Nadal routed Italian Paolo Lorenzi 6-1, 6-1 earlier to move on to the next round. Nadal won the tournament in 2005 and 2013 and has a 12-match winning streak in the event.

“Unfortunately, I will lose eventually,” Nadal said. “But the harmony with the crowd and the court is amazing. With all of the support from the people, it gets easier.”

The 30-year old Spanish star will face Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka, a 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 winner over Australia’s Jordan Thompson.

Nadal is playing in his first tournament since losing to Roger Federer in the Australian Open final.

“I played a complete match today and I*m feeling great after a month without playing,” Nadal said.

Another player on a winning streak in Acapulco is defending champ Dominic Thiem, who downed Adrian Mannarino of France, 7-5, 6-3, to reach the quarterfinals.

It was the Austrian’s seventh consecutive win of the season and also his seventh in Mexico.

Thiem, who won his eighth career title last week in Rio de Janeiro, will play American Sam Querrey, who beat fifth-seed David Goffin 6-2, 6-3 of Belgium.

Querrey served seven aces and finished off Goffin in just over an hour. Goffin, 11th in the ATP rankings, was coming off a strong performance in Rotterdam, where he lost the final to Jo-Wilfred Tsonga.

Croatia’s Marin Cilic also beat countryman Borna Couric 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals for the second tournament in a row. He will play American Steve Johnson, a 7-6 (5), 6-3 winner over countryman Ernesto Escobedo.

On the women’s side, Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig, the fourth seed, beat Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova 6-4, 6-4. Also, the Ukraine’s Lesia Turenko led Julia Goerges 6-1, 2-0 when the German retired. Croatian Ajla Tomljanovic also retired from her match against Belgian Kirsten Flipkens, who was winning 7-5 after the first set.

In a match between Americans, Christina McHale beat Taylor Townsend 6-1, 7-6 (5), and third-seeded Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia advanced with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over American Madison Brengle.

France’s Pauline Parmentier beat eighth-seeded Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, and Kristina Mladenovic, from France, defeated Heather Watson, from Britain 7-6(4), 6-7(5), 7-5 in a match that lasted 3 hours, 32 minutes – four minutes shy of the longest WTA match of the year.

Venus ready for return WTA Finals

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SINGAPORE (AP) Venus Williams returns to the year-end WTA Finals for the first time since reaching the 2009 final, and the fifth time overall, starting on Sunday in Singapore.

Williams joins top-ranked Simona Halep of Romania, second-ranked Garbine Muguruza of Spain, third-ranked Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic, fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, sixth-ranked Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, seventh-ranked Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia and ninth-ranked Caroline Garcia of France.

They’re all pretty special,” said Williams, of her career appearances in the year-end competition. “It’s the end of the year. Only Top 8 get here. It’s definitely something well earned.”

At 37-years-old, Williams is the third oldest player to qualify for the year-end championships behind a 39-year-old Billie Jean King in 1983, and a 38-year-old Martina Navratilova in 1994.

Williams is the oldest player in this draw with 27-year-old Wozniacki the next oldest.

Having played since 1995, Williams has seen the women’s game advance, saying: “The competition is so much greater. It’s a beautiful change, in fact.”

In 2008, Williams won the WTA Finals title, going 3-0 in the round-robin, and defeating Vera Zvonareva of Russia in the final.

She was also was a semifinalist in her first two appearances in the finals, in 1999 and 2000.

Williams reached two Grand Slam finals this season at the Australian Open, where she lost to what turned out to be an already pregnant younger sister, Serena, and at Wimbledon, where she fell to Muguruza.

Every player but Garcia has a possibility of playing themselves into the year-end No. 1 ranking depending on their result this week. Williams has ranked No. 1 for 11 weeks of her career.

In the round-robin, Williams is situated in the White Group with fellow big-hitters Muguruza and Pliskova, who both ranked No. 1 at some time during this season, and French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

Williams opens the competition against Pliskova on Sunday. The two are tied at one match apiece in their head-to-head.

She holds a 3-2 winning record over Muguruza and is 1-0 over Ostapenko.

“I think my group is more aggressive style players in the group and the other one is more defending,” Pliskova said. “I just like to play better these players.

“I start with Venus tomorrow, so I beat her once from match point and once I lost very close match. This one is open.”

Goerges ends 6-year title wait with victory at Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Julia Goerges ended her six-year wait for another WTA singles title Saturday with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Daria Kasatkina in the Kremlin Cup final.

Goerges cruised to victory against her Russian opponent, who was ranked one place below her at 28th.

The German swept the first five games of the first set before Kasatkina could even get on the board.

Kasatkina put up more resistance at the start of the second, forcing three break points in Goerges’ first service game, but couldn’t convert them and was broken next game.

Goerges is now 3-7 in career singles finals, with her last title in Stuttgart in 2011. Before Saturday’s match, she had lost six straight finals, including three in the space of two months this summer.