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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.

Elina Svitolina could miss Wimbledon with foot injury

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BIRMINGHAM, England — Elina Svitolina was eliminated in the second round of the Aegon Classic on Thursday, losing to Italian qualifier Camila Giorgi 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 in the second round.

Svitolina, a 22-year-old Ukrainian who recently broke into the top 10, said a foot injury could force her to skip Wimbledon.

“There is a question about it,” Svitolina said. “I will talk with my physios. The season is very long and I must look at the bigger picture.

“The heel feels painful and is very sensitive. I am disappointed I am out of the tournament but I am not disappointed with my performance, because I could not show even 50 percent. Also the court was slippery which is bad for the foot.”

Giorgi will next face Ashleigh Barty in the quarterfinals.

The Aegon Classic originally boasted seven of the world’s top 10 players, but four withdrew with injuries. It has now lost the two top seeded players who started the tournament, Svitolina and Dominika Cibulkova.

Marin Cilic through to quarterfinals at Queen’s Club Championships

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LONDON — Marin Cilic avoided becoming the latest seeded player to depart early at Queen’s by beating Stefan Kozlov 6-0, 6-4 Thursday and advancing to the quarterfinals at the Wimbledon warm-up event.

The fourth-seeded Cilic is the top player left following the first-round exits of Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic – the top three seeded players. Fifth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is also out.

Cilic, the 2012 champion at Queen’s, lost only 10 points in the first set and didn’t face a break point in the match against the 19-year-old Kozlov.

“At a tournament like this, we have so many great grass-court players,” Cilic said of the slew of upsets so far at Queen’s. “Considering it’s also one of the first weeks on grass, it’s always very tricky.”

Cilic will play another American, Donald Young, in the last eight.