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Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal advance to Madrid Open’s third round

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MADRID — Defending champion Novak Djokovic recovered from a 3-0 deficit in the third set to defeat Nicolas Almagro 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 and reach the third round at the Madrid Open on Wednesday.

Djokovic rallied in the final set by breaking Almagro to go up 6-5 and served out to earn his 15th win of the season in over two hours. The victory left Djokovic on track to play a semifinal against four-time Madrid champion and home-crowd favorite Rafael Nadal, who struggled in a 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4 win over a Fabio Fognini of Italy in just under three hours.

“I haven’t played bad, I played really bad,” Nadal said. “It was uncomfortable.”

Nadal will play Nick Kyrgios of Australia, who defeated Ryan Harrison of the United States 6-3, 6-3. The second-seeded Djokovic will play veteran Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, who got past Gilles Simon of France 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (3).

Djokovic cruised in the first set by breaking the 76th-ranked Almagro three times. The Spanish wild card entrant rallied in front of the home crowd in the second set, saving all four break points he conceded and breaking at 4-5 to eventually extend the match.

Almagro was two points away from going up 4-2 in the final set but was not able to capitalize on his chances.

It was an important opening-round win for the second-ranked Djokovic as he tries to turn his season around and regain his form going into the French Open later this month.

“When you’re not winning too many matches, you have to build the confidence level,” Djokovic said. “So to win the matches like this definitely helps confidence.”

Djokovic won in Doha to start the season but never made it past the quarterfinals in the following four tournaments he played. In his first clay-court tournament, in Monte Carlo, Djokovic was eliminated by David Goffin in quarterfinals.

“I’m still finding my way to that consistency level and quality of tennis that I’m looking for,” Djokovic said. “I’m aware that I’m not playing at my best, but I’m definitely believing in myself and the process. Eventually the game will come together. I can take a lot of positives from today.”

Djokovic had his playing time diminished this year because of an elbow injury. Wednesday’s match was his first since splitting with longtime coach Marian Vajda.

Nadal had a tough start against Fognini, needing to save 10 of 12 break points conceded to the Italian in the first set alone. Fognini served for the set at 5-4 but was not able to capitalize on his chance. He threw his racket on the ground three times in a row after losing a decisive point in the tiebreaker.

It was the 11th straight win for Nadal, and his tour-leading 30th victory for the year. The fifth-ranked Spaniard has won 22 of his last 24 sets.

“Even though I played really badly, my attitude has been very positive,” Nadal said. “My attitude and the will to win today’s match was there. My level of tennis was not so high today, but I managed to make it through.”

Nadal was coming off titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and had made it to three finals earlier in the year.

Fognini had three career wins over Nadal, including one in the 2015 U.S. Open, but had lost the last three in straight sets.

Fifth-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada defeated Gilles Muller of Luxemburg 6-4, 6-4, while sixth-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan recovered from a slow start to beat Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 1-6, 6-0, 6-4.

Nishikori, a finalist in Madrid in 2014, is playing in his first tournament since March. He withdrew from Barcelona last month because of a right wrist injury.

“In the beginning I wasn’t playing 100 percent,” Nishikori said. “But in the second and third (sets) I was feeling pretty good on the court, moving well, so I was very happy.”

Nishikori will play in the third round against Spaniard David Ferrer, who advanced after 10th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France withdrew before the match because of a shoulder injury.

Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic defeated Robin Haase of the Netherlands 7-6 (5), 6-3,

In the women’s draw, third-seeded Simona Halep of Romania defeated 16th-seeded Samantha Stosur of Australia 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

6-time champ Djokovic loses at Miami Open to Benoit Paire

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Novak Djokovic’s 16-match Key Biscayne winning streak ended, and his struggle to overcome a bothersome right elbow continued.

Djokovic lasted barely an hour at a tournament he has won six times, losing his opening match Friday in the Miami Open to Benoit Paire, 6-3, 6-4.

The defeat was Djokovic’s third in a row. He returned from a six-month injury absence at the Australian Open and lost in the fourth round, and was upset two weeks ago at Indian Wells by Taro Daniel, a 109th-ranked qualifier.

Against the 47th-ranked Paire, Djokovic dropped serve four times, returned poorly and had difficulty anticipating his crafty opponent’s drop shots.

In women’s play, Naomi Osaka’s breakthrough winning streak ended with a loss to No. 4-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-2. Osaka said began feeling ill before the match but didn’t want to retire after upsetting eight-time champion Serena Williams in the first round.

The 20-year-old Osaka is ranked a career-high 22nd and won her first career title last week at Indian Wells.

Djokovic sat out the last half of 2017 because of problems with his racket-swinging arm, saying it had been bothering him for more than a year. He was sidelined again after this year’s Australian Open and said he had a “small medical intervention” on his elbow.

The 12-time Grand Slam champion didn’t seem to favor it against Paire, but his shots lacked their usually snap and sometimes were awkwardly struck, including the last two on match point.

In the first set Djokovic served with a chance to reach 5-all, but from 40-0 he lost five consecutive points and the set. Another dismal stretch came when he was broken at love in the final game of the match.

The loss was Djokovic’s first at Key Biscayne since 2013. He missed last year’s Miami Open but won the title three consecutive years in 2014-16.

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Top-ranked Halep wins tough 3-setter in Miami

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Top-ranked Simona Halep of Romania struggled to post a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 second-round win over French lucky loser Oceane Dodin at the Miami Open on Thursday.

In the first career meeting between the players, Halep allowed the 98th-ranked Dodin to break her serve on six of seven opportunities she presented in the match, which lasted more than two hours.

Halep broke Dodin’s serve for the seventh time at 4-4 in the third set before closing it out.

Halep played in her third career Grand Slam final at the Australian Open in January, but has yet to secure a Grand Slam trophy.

Halep’s best Miami Open was reaching the 2015 semifinals.

Also Thursday, former No. 1 Angelique Kerber of Germany advanced to the third round with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Johanna Larsson of Sweden.

Kerber is 19-4 this year and has reached at least the quarterfinals of all five tournaments she’s played.

Kerber, the 2016 Australian Open and U.S. Open champion, won her first tournament since that U.S. Open at Sydney in January. She also reached the Australian Open semifinals.