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After injuries, Stephens plays 1st match of ’17 at Wimbledon

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LONDON (AP) Sloane Stephens hadn’t played a competitive match in nearly a year because of an injured left foot, so when she stepped on the grass of Wimbledon on Tuesday, simply being there was significant.

“Just getting on the court, I was relieved, I was happy, excited,” Stephens said. “I mean, all good emotions.”

Less than six months after foot surgery, Stephens returned to action with a 6-2, 7-5 loss to Alison Riske in an all-U.S. matchup in the first round at the All England Club.

Stephens was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon in 2013, back when she appeared to be a rising star in tennis, making at least the fourth round at six consecutive Grand Slam tournaments. She reached the semifinals at the Australian Open earlier that year and climbed to a career-high No. 11 in the WTA rankings.

But she had a stress reaction in her foot last year, something she said was bothering her when she lost in the first round at the Rio Olympics. That was Stephens’ fourth loss in a row – her most recent victory came in the second round of Wimbledon a year ago – and the last time she participated in a tournament until Tuesday.

Stephens wore a walking boot for months after the Olympics, waiting to heal.

“They’re like, `It will get better,’ and whatever. Obviously it didn’t,” she said.

She thought she’d be able to play again at the start of this year and even traveled to Australia, intending to enter a tournament in Sydney. But while Stephens was there, the foot wasn’t feeling right, and an MRI showed that it had worsened: She had a stress fracture and wound up having surgery in January, which alleviated the pain.

During her time off, she did some television work for Tennis Channel.

And about 1+ months ago, she resumed training.

Her ranking now down to 336th, the 24-year-old Stephens had permission from her doctor to get back to tournament play, she said, “So I was like, `Why not?”‘

“I did the best I could. I’m pleased with – I mean, obviously not that I didn’t win – but that I was able to get out there and I was pain-free,” she said. “I played decent.”

Stephens recognizes that it will take time for her to get her game back to where it used to be and to grow accustomed to dealing with match play.

“When they said I was playing her, I thought, `Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know she was coming back.’ So it was a surprise. But obviously she’s been through a lot, so it’s awesome she’s back on the court,” said Riske, who is ranked 46th.

“I thought she did a heck of a job. She was running well. She was hitting solid shots. I mean, I’m sure as time goes on, she’s only going to get closer to where she was, if she’s not there already.”

 

Muguruza advances to Pan Pacific Open semis

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TOKYO — Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza advanced to the semifinals of the Pan Pacific Open by beating Caroline Garcia 6-2, 6-4 Friday.

A rare double-fault by the top-seeded Muguruza allowed Garcia to pull even at 3-3 in the second set, but the Spaniard broke back in the next game.

Playing in her first tournament since earning the No. 1 ranking, Muguruza will next face Caroline Wozniacki. The former top-ranked Dane advanced when Dominika Cibulkova was forced to retire with a right thigh injury while trailing 3-6, 7-6 (5), 3-1.

Also, Angelique Kerber upset second-seeded Karolina Pliskova 7-6 (5), 7-5. The seventh-seeded Kerber took advantage of several unforced errors by the Czech player and won with a powerful cross-court shot on her fifth match point.

Kerber will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the semifinals. The Russian beat Barbora Strycova 5-7, 6-3, 6-1.

Goffin falls to Paire at Moselle Open

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METZ, France — French player Benoit Paire came out on top of a tight battle with David Goffin to reach the semifinals of the Moselle Open on Friday after saving one match point.

Paire edged the 2014 champion 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-6 (7) after nearly 2 1/2 hours at the indoor tournament.

Goffin led 4-2 in the decider and failed to convert a match point at 6-5 in the tiebreaker.

Paire will next be up against Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia.

The other semifinal will pit Mischa Zverev against qualifier Peter Gojowczyk.

The fifth-seeded Zverev defeated lucky loser Kenny de Schepper 7-5, 7-6 (4) while the 95th-ranked Gojowczyk needed less than one hour to beat Marius Copil 6-2, 6-4.