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Nadal snaps winless streak vs. Djokovic to reach Madrid final

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MADRID — Rafael Nadal ended his seven-match winless streak against Novak Djokovic with a 6-2, 6-4 win that put him in the Madrid Open final again on Saturday.

Nadal overpowered Djokovic, and converted on his third match point to earn his first victory against the second-ranked Serb since the 2014 French Open final. Nadal had lost 15 straight sets against Djokovic, and won only one of the last 12 matches against him in four years.

It was another categorical win in what has been a superb season for the fifth-ranked Nadal, who will be trying to win his third straight title on Sunday. He can also tie Djokovic with 30 titles in Masters 1000 events.

It was Nadal’s 14th straight victory, and his tour-leading 33rd for the year.

The four-time Madrid champion will play the title game against Dominic Thiem of Austria or Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay.

It will be the Spaniard’s eighth final at his home tournament, and the first since losing to Andy Murray in 2015. Nadal last won in Madrid in 2014.

“I can’t be any happier,” Nadal said. “It means the world to me to make it to another final here in Madrid.”

Nadal has been playing some of his best tennis this year. He’s reached six finals this season and is coming off consecutive titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

“It was an important match for me because it meant continuing with the good dynamic that I’ve been carrying for several months,” Nadal said. “I knew that I had to play well. It’s true that he made some mistakes, but he fought until the end.”

Djokovic hasn’t reached a final since winning his first tournament of the year in Doha. This was his first semifinal since he won that title in January.

“I did try my best,” Djokovic said. “It wasn’t a very high quality of tennis from my side. Just his quality was very high. He managed to do whatever he wanted really, especially in the first set.”

Djokovic didn’t have to play the quarterfinal in Madrid because Kei Nishikori withdrew before the match because of a wrist injury. This was Djokovic’s first tournament since splitting with longtime coach Marian Vajda.

With Cristiano Ronaldo and Olympic great Nadia Comaneci watching courtside, Nadal was aggressive from the start, and had 20 winners, including seven off his backhand.

He conceded only two break opportunities to Djokovic, who converted one early in the second set. Nadal had six break chances, converting two in each set.

Nadal’s other titles in Madrid came in 2005, 2010 and 2013-14.

It was the 50th meeting between the two players, with Djokovic still ahead 26-24.

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.