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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.

Maria Sharapova wins her 1st title since doping ban

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TIANJIN, China (AP) Maria Sharapova won her first WTA title since returning from a doping ban after defeating Aryna Sabalenka to win the Tianjin Open on Sunday.

The Russian, a tournament wild card, overcame Belarusian teenager Sabalenka 7-5, 7-6 (8) despite trailing heavily in both sets.

Sharapova last won a title at the Italian Open in May 2015.

The former top-ranked player and owner of five major titles, including the 2006 U.S. Open, tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January 2016. That led to a 15-month doping ban, which expired in April.

“Such a special, special tournament, and victory for me, one that I’ll remember forever,” Sharapova said. “Sometimes you never know when it will all come together but it happened to me this week in Tianjin.”

Sharapova displayed resilience as she came from behind in both sets to overcome her 19-year-old opponent.

Sabalenka led 4-1 in the opener and 5-1 in the second before relenting to Sharapova’s greater big-match experience. It was Sharapova’s 36th WTA singles title.

The 30-year-old Sharapova played in her first Grand Slam tournament following the ban at the U.S. Open in August, where she reached the fourth round. Sunday’s result will lift Sharapova up to No. 57 in the world rankings.

Federer beats Nadal to win Shanghai Masters title

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SHANGHAI (AP) Roger Federer extended his winning streak over Rafael Nadal this year to four matches after beating the top-ranked Spaniard 6-4, 6-3 to win the Shanghai Masters on Sunday.

The Swiss 19-time grand slam winner, who still trails Nadal 23-15 in their overall head-to-head record, didn’t face a break point and started and ended the match with service breaks.

“I don’t know what my expectations were going in,” Federer said. “I thought I might struggle early on because it was a late finish last night.

“I had no nerves before the match, surprisingly. I think I was pretty clear about how I wanted to play the match. I started off very well and relaxed from then on.”

Despite his dominance in 2017, Federer doesn’t rate his chances of catching Nadal in their head-to-head record.

“It’s not going to happen. We don’t have enough years left on the tour. We ranked too good so we play each other only in finals at the moment… You can’t win them all against Rafa, to be honest. He’s too good of a player,” Federer said.

Federer took advantage of three of seven break point opportunities in the match to snap Nadal’s 16-game winning streak, which included his China Open victory last week.

Federer, who has won the last five encounters between the pair dating back to the 2015 Basel final, also beat Nadal in the Australian Open final, a round of 16 match at Indian Wells and the Miami final this year.

“Have been a very difficult match for me,” Nadal said. “He played very fast and he played well.

“Of course was not the best match for me of the week. When somebody plays better than you, sport is not very difficult. That’s the real thing, no? When you play against somebody that is better than you in most of the things that really matters in this sport, in this kind of surface, then it’s tougher.”

The Shanghai Masters is Federer’s 94th career title, moving him into a tie with Ivan Lendl in second place on the Open era list.

Nadal arrived on court with a bandage under his right knee, the same leg he twice smacked with his racket after losing his serve for the first time this week in the semifinal.

Federer said he was surprised to see the wrap and didn’t feel Nadal was struggling with his movement.

In his post-match press conference, Nadal elected not to discuss the knee injury, saying, “I don’t want to talk about that now, sorry, but after losing final is not the moment.”

When asked if he would play upcoming tournaments in Basel, Switzerland and Paris, Nadal refused to confirm his participation.

Federer took advantage of a third break point in the first game of the match with a winning backhand passing shot. He broke Nadal’s serve again on a second break point in the fifth game of the second set when Nadal sailed a backhand crosscourt wide. In the final game, Nadal netted a forehand at 15-40 to end the 72-minute match.