Defending champion Novak Djokovic loses to Dominic Thiem in French Open quarterfinals

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PARIS — Novak Djokovic’s French Open title defense ended with a surprisingly lopsided 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-0 quarterfinal loss to sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria on Wednesday.

A year ago, Djokovic became the first man in nearly a half-century to claim a fourth consecutive major championship and completed a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros. But his form has dipped considerably since then, and now he has gone four majors in a row without earning a trophy.

“It’s a fact that I’m not playing close to my best,” Djokovic said. “This is a whole new situation that I’m feeling.”

On Wednesday at a windy Court Suzanne Lenglen, Djokovic was out of sorts in so many ways, even before that 20-minute third set in which he won only 8 of 34 points. That was only the second time that Djokovic lost a final set by the score of 6-0 in his 937 career tour-level matches.

“It was not there for me today,” Djokovic said with a sigh.

He wasted two set points in the opener. By the end of the match, he wound up with nearly twice as many unforced errors, 35, as winners, 18. His backhand was particularly problematic.

Known for tremendous footwork and court coverage, the No. 2-seeded Serb even stumbled and tumbled to the court, his racket flying out of his hands, early in the second set. Djokovic was left on his knees, and soon he would be out of the tournament entirely.

“All in all,” Djokovic said, “it was decided, I think, in the first set.”

How unlikely was this result? Djokovic entered the day having won all five previous matches – and 11 of 12 sets – against Thiem, including in the French Open semifinals a year ago.

“It’s amazing for me,” Thiem said. “To beat him for the first time in the quarters of the French Open is a dream.”

Plus, Djokovic had appeared in a record six consecutive semifinals in Paris. But this continued what has become something of a 12-month downward slide for him since he finally grabbed ahold of the French Open championship he had so long sought.

Since then, though, the highlight for Djokovic was a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open. Otherwise, he lost his No. 1 ranking to Andy Murray and lost in the third round of Wimbledon, the first round of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and the second round of the Australian Open.

Along the way, he split with one of his coaches, Boris Becker, and then his other, Marian Vajda, along with other members of his entourage. Djokovic enlisted Andre Agassi for coaching help during Week 1 of the French Open, but Agassi had some prior commitments and so was gone by the time Djokovic faced Thiem.

The 23-year-old Thiem will face nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal next.

“You have to play the best guys round after round,” Thiem said. “It’s not getting easier on Friday.”

The other men’s quarterfinals scheduled for later Wednesday: 2016 runner-up Murray vs. No. 8 Kei Nishikori, and 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka vs. No. 7 Marin Cilic.

Thiem is a talented, up-and-coming player, to be sure, and he is the only man to beat Nadal in the Spaniard’s 23 matches on clay in 2017. That came in the quarterfinals of the Italian Open last month.

Earlier Wednesday, Nadal reached his record 10th French Open semifinal when No. 20 Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain retired from their match early in the second set because of an injured abdominal muscle he said began bothering him on a serve at 5-2 in the first.

Nadal led 6-2, 2-0 when Carreno Busta stopped.

Nadal has dropped only 22 games so far in the tournament, the fewest he has lost on the way to any of his 26 Grand Slam semifinal berths.

“I don’t know how many games I lost this year, but I really don’t care about this, no?” Nadal said. “I only care that I am in the semifinals.”

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.

Serena Williams loses in first round at Miami Open to Osaka

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Serena Williams lost in the first round of the Miami Open on Wednesday, still rusty in her return from pregnancy and unable to overcome a tough draw against Naomi Osaka, who won 6-3, 6-2.

The 20-year-old Osaka, who earned her first career title Sunday at Indian Wells, showed no signs of letup and overpowered the erratic Williams. Osaka had the stronger serve, and in rallies wore down Williams working her from side to side.

The matchup worthy of a final came about because both players are unseeded. Osaka is ranked a career-best 22nd, while Williams’ ranking is 491st after her layoff of more than a year.

Another new mother and former No. 1, three-time Key Biscayne champion Victoria Azarenka, defeated Catherine Bellis 6-3, 6-0.

Williams has endured a first-round defeat only four other times, most recently at the 2012 French Open. The latest loss came at a tournament she has won a record eight times and considers her hometown event.

The match was the last for Williams at Key Biscayne, 90 miles south of her home in Palm Beach Gardens. The tournament is moving next year to the Miami Dolphins’ stadium, and Williams helped with the ceremonial groundbreaking Monday.

After her defeat, she left without speaking to the media.

Because of Williams’ ranking, she entered the draw as a wild card, and looked the part. She was a step slow to balls in the corners and often late with her swing, while she put barely half her first serves in play.

Osaka, who has both American and Japanese citizenship and lives in Fort Lauderdale, was playing her idol for the first time but didn’t seem a bit fazed. She improved to 14-4 this year.

Things may get tougher for her in the second round, when she’ll face No. 4-seeded Elina Svitolina.

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