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Tsonga level for France in Davis Cup semifinals

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LILLE, France (AP) France and Serbia are leveled at 1-1 in their Davis Cup semifinal after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga dispatched 22-year-old debutant Laslo Djere in straight sets on Friday following Lucas Pouille’s shock defeat in the opening singles match.

In the absence of Novak Djokovic, Viktor Troicki and Janko Tipsarevic, the French were expected to enjoy a calm weekend in the northern city of Lille. But Dusan Lajovic made the most of Pouille’s inconsistent display to give Serbia a 1-0 lead on the red clay of the Pierre Mauroy Stadium.

The 80th-ranked Lajovic made a strong start and capitalized on Pouille’s mistakes to prevail 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5). The Frenchman never found the right tempo, made wrong tactical choices, and hit a total of 70 unforced errors.

Playing with the French Davis Cup team for the first time this season, Tsonga made a successful return in the team competition and won 7-6 (2), 6-3, 6-3.

In the other semifinal in Brussels, David Goffin produced a hard-fought win against Australian John Millman to earn the hosts an early lead. Goffin won a tight baseline battle that lasted 3 and 1/2 hours against Millman, triumphing 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (4) to extend his Davis Cup record to 14 wins from 15 matches.

Australia, a 28-time champion, is chasing a spot in the final for the first time since it won the title in 2003, while Belgium is trying to reach the final for only the third time.

“Physically I’m not at my best, but I knew for the team and the fans that I had to leave my heart out on the court,” said Goffin, who has been hampered by a knee injury recently. “To give one point to your country is the best feeling you can have.”

Both semifinals are played on clay.

In Lille, the 22nd-ranked Pouille dropped his serve immediately and looked nervous throughout the first set wrapped up by Lajovic in 25 minutes.

The Serbian took all the risks and reduced Pouille to a spectator’s role with deep groundstrokes and kicked serves that caught his opponent out.

“The biggest advantage for me was to win the first set,” Lajovic said. “It’s always important in Davis Cup.”

Lajovic had cramps in his right foot towards the end of the fourth set and needed some help from Serbia player and captain Nenad Zimonjic to put his shoe back on after hitting an overhead winner for a 5-4 lead in the fourth-set tiebreaker.

“It would have been extremely difficult to play five sets,” Lajovic said.

Pouille was impatient too often, trying to shorten the points instead of making his opponent run. The Frenchman upped his game to level at one set apiece and hit some beautiful points, including an overhead after chasing a drop shot that prompted loud cheers in the stands.

But the relief did not last. The Frenchman’s inconsistent serve came back to haunt him in the last two sets and Lajovic sealed the match at the net with a backhand volley, raising both arms in triumph.

Belgium’s Arthur de Greef and Ruben Bemelmans are expected to team up against Australians John Peers and Jordan Thompson in Saturday’s doubles, with French pair Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut facing Filip Krajinovic and Zimonjic in Lille.

Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping tournaments like Federer

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MONACO (AP) For now, Rafael Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping any major tournaments the way Roger Federer has been sitting out the French Open.

The veterans are back at the top of world tennis, with Nadal needing to win the Monte Carlo Masters this week to avoid losing his top ranking once again to Federer in their seemingly eternal battle for tennis supremacy.

For the second consecutive season, the 36-year-old Federer is skipping the entire clay-court season in order to be at his best on grass.

After coming back from injury to win the Australian Open last year, Federer skipped the clay-court season, won Wimbledon, and retained his Melbourne crown to extend his record tally to 20 majors.

The Swiss star is keeping his aging body fresher by playing a bit less – avoiding Nadal on clay at Roland Garros or elsewhere – and it is working for him.

But Nadal still thinks he can play a full schedule.

“There (are) tournaments that I can’t imagine missing on purpose, because (they are) tournaments that I love to play,” Nadal said on Wednesday. “I don’t see myself missing Monte Carlo on purpose. I don’t see myself missing Wimbledon on purpose, or the U.S. Open, or Australian, or Rome. These kind of events, I don’t see missing (them).”

The 31-year-old Spaniard recently returned from a right hip injury which forced him to retire during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

With his 32nd birthday coming up on June 3 – during the French Open – the 16-time Grand Slam champion accepts he may think differently when he gets closer to Federer’s age.

“Of course, when you get older, you need to adjust a little bit more the efforts and the calendar. But for me (it) is difficult to say I don’t play, for example, grass, or I don’t play hard (courts),” Nadal said. “(It) is not in my plan, but I can’t say `never’ because I cannot predict what’s going to be in the future.”

Nadal is chasing an 11th title at both Monte Carlo and Roland Garros, which begins on May 27.

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

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Thiem reaches third round at Monte Carlo

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MONACO — Dominic Thiem saved a match point and beat Andrey Rublev of Russia 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

Rublev was serving for the match at 5-4, 40-30 but hit a forehand narrowly wide. Fifth-seeded Thiem broke him with backhand pass down the line and held for 6-5.

The Austrian was 15-40 up on Rublev’s serve and clinched victory on his first match point, when Rublev double-faulted with a weak serve into the net.

“I was 10 centimeters from being out of the tournament,” a relieved Thiem said. “But I’m happy that I played two hours and 40 (minutes).”

Thiem has reached the French Open semifinals for the past two years. He next meets 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic or Borna Coric of Croatia, who play their second-round match on Wednesday.

“I’m looking forward to watching Djokovic and Coric in front of the TV, and then playing the winner on Thursday,” Thiem said.

In the second round later Tuesday, fourth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria faced Pierre-Hugues Herbert and seventh-seeded Lucas Pouille played Mischa Zverev.

In remaining first-round play, there were wins for Gilles Simon of France, Marco Cecchinato of Italy and Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.