Djokovic beats Monfils to claim second title of season

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EASTBOURNE, England (AP) Novak Djokovic won his second title of 2017 on Saturday as he cruised to a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Gael Monfils in the Eastbourne International final.

The Serb remained unbeaten against Monfils on the ATP tour as he extended his head-to-head advantage over the Frenchman to 14-0 in one hour and 16 minutes.

Having ended a trophy-drought stretching back to the Qatar Open in January, Djokovic will begin his Wimbledon campaign on Tuesday full of confidence.

Earlier Saturday, third-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark 6-4, 6-4 to win the women’s event on England’s south coast.

Monfils’s attempt to end his losing streak against the world No. 4 was quickly blunted as he dropped serve in the opening game, before being broken again in the final game of the first set.

Despite his renowned retrieval skills, Monfils was unable to impose his return game as Djokovic made 87 per cent of his first serves during the opening set.

Monfils emerged with renewed intent for the second set, but Djokovic was able to summon the grit that has so often been lacking this season as he fought off three break points.

Equally familiar was the sight of Djokovic increasing his intensity as Monfils served to stay in the match at 4-5, taking victory at the first opportunity.

Pliskova claimed her third title of 2017 and ninth overall as she broke once in each set to defeat 2009 champion Wozniacki.

The Czech was a beaten finalist in this tournament on England’s south coast last year, losing to Dominika Cibulkova.

“I’m really happy I got the trophy this time,” Pliskova said. “I feel quite okay on grass … The serve is definitely my biggest weapon and, if it’s working, then it’s real trouble for the opponent.”

Sixth-seeded Wozniacki had her only break points of the match in the sixth game of the second set but let four opportunities slip by.

“I thought I played really well, I did what I could today,” Wozniacki said. “I had trouble getting the serves back, but it’s great preparation before Wimbledon.”

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.