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Steve Johnson wins U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship

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HOUSTON — Steve Johnson fought through late cramps to win the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship, beating Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (5) on Sunday at River Oaks Country Club.

The 27-year-old Johnson won his second ATP Tour title, and became the seventh American to win the event since it moved to Houston in 2001. He also won a grass-court title last summer in Nottingham, England.

Johnson was hobbled by cramps serving at the end of the third set, but – coaxing a backhand return error from Bellucci on a serve he barely hit – was able to get off the court and receive a brisk right-thigh massage from an ATP trainer. Players aren’t allowed timeouts for cramps. Johnson appeared fine in the tiebreaker, the first to decide the championship in tournament history.

“I was in deep trouble. `This stinks.’ But sometimes you get lucky,” said Johnson, seeded fourth. “My body has physically run out of gas this week. Coming in from Australia (where the U.S. lost a Davis Cup quarterfinal last weekend), dealing with all the ups and downs, I was kind of behind the 8-ball.

“A lot goes into cramping. For me today, it was the nerves of trying to close out the title. I haven’t been there enough to feel very comfortable.”

Johnson beat two former champions, Fernando Verdasco (2014) in the quarterfinals and American Davis Cup teammate Jack Sock (2015) in the semifinals, to reach his third career final.

The 29-year-old Bellucci, seeded eighth, had won four three-set matches in four days before falling in the final. He was trying to win his fifth Tour title. The previous four had also come on clay.

“Both players were very tired in the third set and we were missing more shots than before,” Bellucci said. “I’m happy for my week but today I am disappointed. I (thought) I could win because I was a little better than him physically. He deserved it more than me.”

Johnson won NCAA singles titles for the University of Southern California in 2011 and 2012.

Sharapova loses to Rybarikova at Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Maria Sharapova was beaten by Magdalena Rybarikova 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the first round of the Kremlin Cup on Tuesday, ending her bid for a second title in two weeks.

Sharapova, who won the Tianjin Open two days ago, brought her usual power but lacked accuracy with some wild swings on key points.

“I felt fine physically, to be honest, especially after having played five matches in five days (in Tianjin). That was a big surprise,” Sharapova said. “Maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been … Maybe if this tournament hadn’t been in Moscow, I wouldn’t have played it.”

Sharapova was under pressure on serve from the start and saved six break points before finally being broken to 6-5. She responded by breaking Rybarikova, but Sharapova’s double fault at 4-3 in the tiebreaker handed the Slovakian the momentum to close out the set.

Rybarikova, seeded eighth, sealed the match after saving two break points to lead 5-4, then breaking Sharapova in the next game. Rybarikova will play Alize Cornet in the second round.

Six months after she returned from a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova is still trying to move back up the rankings from her current position of 57th. Her first tour appearance in Moscow in a decade drew a large and enthusiastic crowd despite taking place on a Tuesday afternoon.

Also Tuesday, seventh-seeded Julia Goerges beat Russian qualifier Polina Monova 6-0, 6-3 to set up a second-round meeting with Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.

In the men’s Kremlin Cup tournament, sixth-seeded Damir Dzumhur defeated Thomas Fabbiano 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.

Maria Sharapova wins her 1st title since doping ban

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TIANJIN, China (AP) Maria Sharapova won her first WTA title since returning from a doping ban after defeating Aryna Sabalenka to win the Tianjin Open on Sunday.

The Russian, a tournament wild card, overcame Belarusian teenager Sabalenka 7-5, 7-6 (8) despite trailing heavily in both sets.

Sharapova last won a title at the Italian Open in May 2015.

The former top-ranked player and owner of five major titles, including the 2006 U.S. Open, tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January 2016. That led to a 15-month doping ban, which expired in April.

“Such a special, special tournament, and victory for me, one that I’ll remember forever,” Sharapova said. “Sometimes you never know when it will all come together but it happened to me this week in Tianjin.”

Sharapova displayed resilience as she came from behind in both sets to overcome her 19-year-old opponent.

Sabalenka led 4-1 in the opener and 5-1 in the second before relenting to Sharapova’s greater big-match experience. It was Sharapova’s 36th WTA singles title.

The 30-year-old Sharapova played in her first Grand Slam tournament following the ban at the U.S. Open in August, where she reached the fourth round. Sunday’s result will lift Sharapova up to No. 57 in the world rankings.