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Isner beats Harrison to win fourth Atlanta Open title

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ATLANTA — John Isner rode an overpowering service game to his fourth Atlanta Open title and second consecutive ATP tournament, beating fellow American Ryan Harrison 7-6 (6), 7-6 (7) on Sunday before a friendly crowd at Atlantic Station.

Having won eight straight matches all in straight sets since bowing out in the second round at Wimbledon earlier this month, the second-seeded former University of Georgia star said he thoroughly enjoys playing in Atlanta, where’s he’s made the finals in seven of the eight tournaments.

He also won titles here in 2013-’15, and is 27-4 on the courts near his alma mater. The 32-year-old Isner won the Hall of Fame Open last week on grass in Newport, Rhode Island.

“This is always going to be my favorite time of year,” he said about the hard-court season. “I couldn’t ask for a better start, obviously . . . I landed on Monday, had a practice on Monday night and things felt good right away. I was on a good roll.”

The match followed service in the first set to force a tiebreaker.

Harrison, the fourth seed, rallied from a 2-4 deficit to level the breaker at 6-6 only to see Isner win with a sizzling forehand to the deep right corner.

Isner fired 23 aces to Harrison’s 10, but after 75 straight service games without being broken he was passed on the forehand side early in the second set to trail 2-0. That ball, at 40-30 Harrison, was originally called out but, after Harrison challenged a replay revealed that it just caught the line.

Isner broke back in the next game when Harrison sent what looked like an easy forehand long.

From there, the friendly foes remained on serve to reach another tiebreaker upon Isner’s 18th ace.

He attributed his winning streak partly to his loss at Wimbledon, where in the second round he fell 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-7 (5), 3-6 to Dudi Sela of Israel.

“The match I lost to Dudi Sela was a blessing. I had a sit-down with my staff and hashed things out,” Isner said. “I was playing tentative and scared, not to win.

“I told myself that’s not the way to play . . . you have to learn from your losses, and I did that.”

Trailing 6-7 in the second tiebreaker, Isner whistled consecutive 137 mph aces, and then took the title when Harrison couldn’t get to a quick corner shot to his backhand.

After winning the first stop on the U.S. Open Series, Isner sounded like he’s ready for the year’s last Grand Slam event, although he’ll have to wait a little more than a month before the pros gather in New York for the Open.

“This winning streak is more a product of me playing well, not my opponents,” he said after capturing his 12th career ATP Tour title. “In my opinion, I could’ve beaten a lot of top 10 opponents. I have a level of confidence that’s hard to get.”

American brothers Bob and Mike Bryan won the doubles title with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Wesley Koolhof of The Netherlands and Artem Sitak of New Zealand.

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.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

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.