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France wins doubles to lead Belgium 2-1 in Davis Cup final

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LILLE, France (AP) Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert beat Ruben Bemelmans and Joris De Loore 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4 to give France a 2-1 lead over Belgium in the Davis Cup final on Saturday.

Gasquet and Herbert, who had never played together before, put France one win away from a 10th Davis Cup title. Belgium, in the final for the second time in three years, is seeking its first title.

In the northern city of Lille, the unexperienced French pair came out on top of a tense match with many ups and downs.

In Sunday’s first reverse singles, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga can clinch the final for France with victory over Belgium’s top player David Goffin. If Tsonga fails, the tie will be decided in the final reverse singles between Frenchman Lucas Pouille and Steve Darcis.

Despite their lack of practice and matches together, Gasquet and Herbert got off to a flying start on the indoor hard court at the Pierre Mauroy stadium.

Gasquet executed perfect passing shots from both sides and Herbert had a dominant presence at the net as the French pair broke for a 2-0 lead. A brilliant crosscourt forehand winner from Gasquet sealed another break for the hosts in the fourth game, with Goffin and Darcis looking ashen-faced in the stands.

Trailing 5-0, the Belgians saved two set points to finally hold their serve, but the respite was short lived as Gasquet served out the set in the next game.

A poor service game from Herbert put the Belgian pair back in the match early in the second set, though, when the doubles specialist hit a double fault and sent a volley long to hand their rivals a 3-1 lead. The hosts broke back but the French could not build on the momentum as their rivals finally got in the swing. De Loore fired a superb forehand passing shot in the next game and Gasquet dropped his serve after double faulting on break point. Bemelmans served out the set and the Belgian pair celebrated with a chest bump.

“They (Gasquet and Herbert) were on the brink of collapse,” said France captain Yannick Noah. “In the end, it came down to just one or two points, and being focused.”

The French were under pressure early in the third set and fought hard to fend off four break points in their first three service games. They finally cracked in the seventh game when De Loore unleashed a forehand return straight into Herbert’s head to seal the break as he knocked the Frenchman to the ground.

Herbert quickly recovered as nervousness took hold of Bemelmans in the closing games of the set, with several misses on important points. The French pair made the most of his errors and leveled at 5-5 to the delight of the raucous home crowd with a break on his serve, before dominating the tiebreaker.

De Loore received treatment on his left foot before the start of a tense fourth set. A shaky Herbert hit two consecutive double faults to find himself trailing 15-40 on his serve in the sixth game, but the French managed to hold and made the decisive break for a 4-3 lead following another big mistake from Bemelmans, who buried a smash into the bottom of the net.

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.

Serena Williams loses in first round at Miami Open to Osaka

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Serena Williams lost in the first round of the Miami Open on Wednesday, still rusty in her return from pregnancy and unable to overcome a tough draw against Naomi Osaka, who won 6-3, 6-2.

The 20-year-old Osaka, who earned her first career title Sunday at Indian Wells, showed no signs of letup and overpowered the erratic Williams. Osaka had the stronger serve, and in rallies wore down Williams working her from side to side.

The matchup worthy of a final came about because both players are unseeded. Osaka is ranked a career-best 22nd, while Williams’ ranking is 491st after her layoff of more than a year.

Another new mother and former No. 1, three-time Key Biscayne champion Victoria Azarenka, defeated Catherine Bellis 6-3, 6-0.

Williams has endured a first-round defeat only four other times, most recently at the 2012 French Open. The latest loss came at a tournament she has won a record eight times and considers her hometown event.

The match was the last for Williams at Key Biscayne, 90 miles south of her home in Palm Beach Gardens. The tournament is moving next year to the Miami Dolphins’ stadium, and Williams helped with the ceremonial groundbreaking Monday.

After her defeat, she left without speaking to the media.

Because of Williams’ ranking, she entered the draw as a wild card, and looked the part. She was a step slow to balls in the corners and often late with her swing, while she put barely half her first serves in play.

Osaka, who has both American and Japanese citizenship and lives in Fort Lauderdale, was playing her idol for the first time but didn’t seem a bit fazed. She improved to 14-4 this year.

Things may get tougher for her in the second round, when she’ll face No. 4-seeded Elina Svitolina.

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