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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.

Nadal cruises into Barcelona Open quarterfinals

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rafael Nadal cruised into the Barcelona Open quarterfinals by defeating fellow Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-1, 6-3 on Thursday.

The top-ranked Nadal converted on his second match point to clinch his 16th straight victory on clay and set up an encounter with Martin Klizan, who eliminated Novak Djokovic in the second round.

Nadal, coming off his 11th Monte Carlo title, has won 11 of his 12 ATP Tour matches this season, with the only loss coming from an injury retirement in the Australian Open quarterfinals.

He has won 40 consecutive sets on clay to extend his own record, and has won 33 of his last 34 matches on the dirt.

Nadal needs to win his 11th Barcelona title this week to retain his No. 1 ranking.

Klizan, the 140th-ranked Slovak who defeated Nadal in the quarterfinals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, reached the last eight by ousting veteran Feliciano Lopez 6-1, 6-4.

Second-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria defeated Malek Jaziri of Tunisia 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (8), while third-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria got past Jozef Kovalik of Slovakia 7-6 (5), 6-2.

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Djokovic falls to Klizan; Nadal advances

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BARCELONA, Spain — While Novak Djokovic struggles, Rafael Nadal keeps impressing.

Djokovic lost again on Wednesday, this time falling to 140th-ranked Martin Klizan 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 in the second round of the Barcelona Open.

Nadal, however, won again. He beat Roberto Carballes Baena 6-4, 6-4 for his 10th win in 11 ATP Tour matches this season.

Djokovic is trying to return to form after a lingering right elbow injury. He hasn’t made it past the last 16 in five tournaments this year.

The 12th-ranked Serb got off to a slow start against Klizan but rebounded to force a third set. He was then broken while trailing 4-3, allowing the Slovak to serve out for the victory.

“It’s a great feeling, amazing,” said Klizan, who had never beaten Djokovic in four previous matches. “I know that he didn’t play top tennis but a win is a win and I’m happy to be in the third round. I always play good tennis in Barcelona, I’m just enjoying it.”

Djokovic decided to play in Barcelona after losing to Dominic Thiem in the third round of the Monte Carlo Masters. He also lost in the second round in Miami and in Indian Wells, and failed to advance past the last 16 at the Australian Open.

Nadal, coming off his 11th Monte Carlo title, trailed early in his match but closed it out to reach the third round.

The top-ranked Spaniard has won 38 consecutive sets on clay, extending his own record. He has won 32 of his last 33 matches on the surface, including 15 straight.

Nadal will next face Guillermo Garcia Lopez of Spain, who defeated Kei Nishikori after the Japanese player retired because of an injury.

Nadal needs to win his 11th Barcelona title this week to retain his No. 1 ranking.

Earlier, second-seeded Grigor Dimitrov defeated Gilles Simon of France 6-2, 6-1, while third-seeded Thiem beat qualifier Jaume Munar 7-6 (8), 6-1.