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At French Open, del Potro gets lost off court, wins on it

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PARIS —¬†Back at the French Open for the first time since 2012, Juan Martin del Potro encountered a bit of trouble navigating the grounds, getting lost a few times as he walked around Roland Garros.

“I never find the place where I have to go,” he joked.

All seemed well once he made it out to Court 6 on Tuesday, though. There was del Potro, pounding those intimidating forehands and big serves and only showing signs of his years of wrist troubles when trying to hit his backhand while advancing to the second round with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory over qualifier Guido Pella in an all-Argentine matchup.

“He played better than me,” Pella summed it up.

Simple enough explanation for the result.

Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, is seeded 29th at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament he last entered five years ago, when he reached the quarterfinals.

Against Pella, he finished with 13 aces and nearly twice as many total winners, 33-17.

Of note: Only one of those winners for del Potro came off his backhand wing, the side he has more problems with after multiple operations on his left wrist. He is right-handed but uses both hands for his double-fisted backhands, which often are reduced to slices.

“He has a weakness,” Pella said. “I tried to find that weakness.”

Del Potro missed 2+ years’ worth of major tournaments because of three operations on his left wrist, returning to Grand Slam action at Wimbledon in 2016.

His comeback really showed progress at the Rio Olympics, when he stunned Novak Djokovic in the first round and wound up with a silver medal, losing to Andy Murray in the final.

“I was able to show today that my weak point, which used to be my weak point until recently – my backhand – has got better. I think his strategy was to force me into using the backhand, and he was able to see that it was no longer my weak point and that I was able to use my backhand quite well,” del Potro said about Pella, a Davis Cup teammate.

“But it’s true that sometimes I was a little upset, because I know that my backhand is not quite what it used to be.”

Clay has never been del Potro’s best surface – his power-based game is better suited to faster surfaces, such as hard courts – but he did reach the French Open semifinals in 2009 before losing to Roger Federer.

“That year,” del Potro said, “I thought it was my year.”

Now, at age 28, he takes things slowly, knowing he has room to improve as he tries to return to the upper reaches of his sport.

Del Potro will face Nicolas Almagro in the second round, with a potential matchup against No. 1 Murray in the third.

“I have adopted a sort of wait-and-see attitude. We’ll see,” del Potro said. “I try not to make things too complicated, and I try not to set long-term objectives. I really play match by match.”

 

Wozniacki beats Pavlyuchenkova for Pan Pacific title

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TOKYO — Caroline Wozniacki overwhelmed Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-0, 7-5 to retain her Pan Pacific Open title on Sunday.

The victory gives Wozniacki, also champion in Tokyo in 2010, her first title of the year. The Dane had lost all six of her previous finals in 2017.

“This was my seventh final of the year – it gets harder to get that last win,” said world No. 6 Wozniacki, who has now won at least one title every year since 2008. “I’ve been putting myself in a position to win all year. It was really important for me to stay focused and positive.”

Wozniacki had crushed world No.1 Garbine Muguruza 6-2, 6-0 in the semifinals and a similar score looked on the cards here Sunday.

“The court suits my game. She plays powerfully so it was important for me to make her move around early on. In the first set everything was going my way. In the second set she served better, so it was tricky for me to break.”

The first set lasted only 20 minutes as Pavlyuchenkova struggled to get a foothold.

“I was really disappointed in the first three games,” said the Russian. “I felt I was a bit unlucky and really believe if I had turned those points round and won the games, it may have been a different match. I was a little down on myself and missed more than I should.”

The Russian fought harder in a second set that went with serve until the 12th and final game.

Yet she failed to earn a break point in the match and appeared outclassed in her first Premier-level final since Moscow in 2015. Semifinal opponent Angelique Kerber was the only seed she faced this week before third-seeded Wozniacki.

“It’s disappointing to lose no matter which round it is, even more disappointing in the final,” said Pavlyuchenkova, who needed three sets to win all four of her matches en route to the final.

“I felt a little flat due to the previous matches. I didn’t have so much energy left.”

Federer beats Kyrgios as Europe wins first Laver Cup

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PRAGUE — Roger Federer rallied to beat Nick Kyrgios 4-6, 7-6 (6), 11-9 Sunday and clinch the new Laver Cup tournament for Europe on Sunday.

The three-day competition at Prague’s O2 Arena pitted a team of the best six European players against the top six from the rest of the world.

Seen by some as a tennis version of the Ryder Cup in golf, the inaugural Laver Cup was played on an unusual black hard court.

Rafael Nadal, Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem and Tomas Berdych also formed the European team, while Sam Querrey, John Isner, Jack Sock, Denis Shapovalov and Frances Tiafoe played for the world.

The tournament is to honor Rod Laver, an 11-time major champion who won two calendar-year Grand Slams.

Chicago will host it in 2018.