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Far from her best, Kvitova shows she still has it in Paris

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PARIS — There are at least two things that haven’t changed during Petra Kvitova’s six-month layoff. She remains a fierce competitor, and she still has her sense of humor.

The two-time Wimbledon champion’s comeback ended in the second round of the French Open on Wednesday after a close match against qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who recorded her best result at a major in nearly two years with a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) victory.

Kvitova, who was playing in her first tournament since she was injured in a knife attack at her home in December, threw her racket in frustration after she double-faulted on match point.

“I was mad,” Kvitova said.

A reporter then told the Czech player that her racket throwing might be a sign that she is already capable of tapping into her competitive instincts.

“I’m not sure. My father did not like it that I throw my racket, I think,” Kvitova replied.

Kvitova had missed all season prior to the French Open while recovering from surgery on her racket-holding left hand. She sustained damage to the tendons, along with injuries to all five fingers and two nerves, during the attack.

Doctors initially thought she would need more time before returning to tennis. But Kvitova’s recovery was faster than expected and she signed up for the French Open at the last minute.

In Paris, she managed to win her opening match but the gritty and experienced Mattek-Sands was too much of a hurdle.

“It’s weird. I mean, I’m disappointed, for sure. I came here to win the matches,” Kvitova said. “The fairytale ended. Now, in upcoming weeks, I think it will be business as usual. That’s what I’m looking forward to, just focusing on the tennis and on the game and everything what I do need to improve to my game.”

Kvitova will now quickly turn her focus to Wimbledon, where she won the title in 2011 and 2014, and hopes she will be able to play with less media pressure.

“Wimbledon should be much more relaxed afterwards,” she said. “I really am looking forward to being there. It’s a really great tournament for me. I have the best memories which I can have. I think that my game still suits on the grass, and I will do my best to be there.”

Mattek-Sands, a doubles champion at Roland Garros two years ago, is back in the third round of the French Open for the first time since 2013 and will next face Samantha Stosur.

The American with a punk rocker style – she plays in a shirt covered with cherries and wears long black socks – hadn’t won a main draw match in the last five Grand Slam tournaments.

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.