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Murray wins his first title of the year in Dubai

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Andy Murray captured his first title of the year and became the first British man to win the Dubai Tennis Championships in its 25-year history when he defeated Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 6-2 on Saturday.

This was Murray’s seventh final in his last eight tournaments, and 14th in his last 16 dating to last May in Madrid.

The only two tournaments he failed to make the final in that period were the 2016 U.S. Open and 2017 Australian Open.

“It’s been a great run. Can’t complain about much,” Murray said.

“Giving yourself a lot of matches gives you confidence to go into those big events (Grand Slams).”

Dubai was the first tournament Murray’s played since he lost in the Australian Open fourth round. Since that defeat he’s been recuperating from a bout with shingles.

“After the break that I have had, to get five matches in, six if you include the doubles, in six days is a really positive thing physically,” he said.

The top-ranked Murray, who was a Dubai finalist in 2012, improved his career record to 13-1 over Verdasco.

The first three games were service breaks as the players attempted to find their range in the final.

Verdasco had the service break until the Spaniard was broken by Murray in the sixth and then the eighth games to take the first set.

Murray broke Verdasco’s serve twice in the second set, in the third game with a forehand winner, and in the seventh on a third break point.

The 35th-ranked Verdasco, a former top-10 player, has never beaten a No. 1-ranked player in 12 career attempts.

“He pushes you,” Verdasco said. “At the same time, I didn’t really feel, of course, as comfortable or hitting the ball as clean as days before.”

Murray became the fourth player this year to win a title having saved match points en route to the title. He faced a career high seven match points in defeating Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarterfinals.

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.