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Rusty Nadal struggles in loss to Gasquet in exhibition match

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Rafael Nadal struggled with his timing and normally potent shot-making as he started his delayed preparations for the Australian Open with an error-filled 6-4, 7-5 loss to Richard Gasquet in the Kooyong Classic exhibition event Tuesday.

Nadal’s readiness for the first Grand Slam of the year had been in doubt after the top-ranked Spaniard pulled out of an exhibition in Abu Dhabi and a tournament in Brisbane to start the season, citing his lack of preparation following an injury layoff at the end of 2017.

Nadal didn’t appear to be hindered by the lingering right knee injury that forced him to withdraw from the ATP Finals in November, but his uneven performance will likely lead to other questions about his match form heading into the Australian Open next week.

“It was a long year last year, so I had to start the preparation (for this season) a little bit later than usual. But here I arrive in plenty of time and it’s a good day to start feeling again … of playing a match,” Nadal said in an on-court interview following the match.

“It’s still a good test for me and a good practice and that’s the most important thing.”

He downplayed any concerns about his knee, saying, “If I’m not feeling good, probably I will not be here. So that’s the good news.”

Nadal had particular trouble with his forehand on Tuesday, repeatedly misfiring into the net or spraying his shots several feet beyond the baseline.

After Gasquet broke Nadal twice to take a 3-0 lead in the second set, however, the Spaniard suddenly began hitting the lines and playing with his usual intensity, fighting back to level the match at 3-all.

His concentration then appeared to dip again as he made several more unforced errors to drop serve to go down 6-5. Gasquet, who has never beaten Nadal in 15 competitive matches on the ATP Tour, then served out the match.

The Australian Open has already been hit by the withdrawal of three-time major winner Andy Murray, who has been sidelined by a hip injury since Wimbledon last year and underwent surgery on Monday in Melbourne after pulling out of the tournament.

Japanese star Kei Nishikori has also withdrawn with a wrist injury and Serena Williams pulled out after saying she wasn’t ready to defend her title following the birth of her daughter in September.

Novak Djokovic is also working his way back into top shape after sitting out the second half of 2017 with an elbow injury. He also withdrew from the Abu Dhabi exhibition event and Qatar Open at the start of the season, but was a late entry to the Kooyong Classic. He plays his first match since Wimbledon against No. 5 Dominic Thiem on Wednesday.

Nadal, who enjoyed a resurgent 2017 after losing in last year’s Australian Open final to Roger Federer, said despite the rustiness at Kooyong, he still believes he’ll be ready to compete at Melbourne Park next week.

“My idea is just to keep practicing hard the next couple of days to be ready for the beginning of the Australian Open,” he said.

Naomi Osaka on her way up with first pro tennis title

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) Naomi Osaka had just won the first title of her career and was waiting to be introduced for her post-match comments.

The 20-year-old from Japan had prepared, knowing what she was going to say and in what order.

But then her name was called.

“I freaked out,” she said. “I just started saying whatever came into my mind first, which is why I think I kept stopping halfway through my sentences, because I just remembered something else I had to say. That was pretty embarrassing.”

The crowd of 18,347 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Sunday seemed to sense Osaka’s nervousness, something she worked hard to hide during a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Daria Kasatkina of Russia in the BNP Paribas Open final.

“I was extremely stressed and extremely nervous,” Osaka said. “But my plan was to, like, fake that I’m very calm.”

As hesitant as she was behind the mic, Osaka was polished and professional in dismantling Kasatkina, a fellow 20-year-old who also enjoyed a surprising run to the final.

Osaka dropped just one set in seven matches, knocking off two-time winner Maria Sharapova, No. 5 Karolina Pliskova and top-ranked Simona Halep against whom she won the last nine games of the match.

She arrived at Indian Wells unseeded because of her No. 44 ranking. She left ranked No. 22 and with a $1.3 million check, nearly double her career earnings.

“I really wanted to win this, but also I just tried to think it was a first-round match and just not psych myself out too much,” Osaka said.

She had made it past the quarterfinals at a WTA event just once before, losing in the final at Tokyo 18 months ago. Now, she’s 15-4 this year.

“I feel like I have made it my goal to be more focused every match this year, so I think it’s paid off,” she said.

Born in Osaka, Japan, to a Haitian father and Japanese mother, she moved to the U.S. as a 3-year-old. She holds dual citizenship, living for a time in New York and now in South Florida while representing Japan in Fed Cup.

“I play now for myself,” she said, “but when I was little, I just played because I wanted to make my mom happy, mainly my mom, and also my dad, for him to be proud.”

Her parents and sister Mari, a tennis player, too, weren’t on hand in California.

Osaka and Kasatkina shared a private jet – their first such ride – to South Florida, where they will play in the Miami Open this week. Osaka faces a first-round match against Serena Williams, her idol growing up.

“I feel like I just started winning,” Osaka said. “It’s a new feeling for me to be this consistent, so I’m just trying to be happy about that.”


Del Potro edges Federer in 3 sets to win Indian Wells title

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) Juan Martin del Potro keeps surprising himself.

Close to quitting tennis after four wrist surgeries in recent years, the Argentine fought to get back to the ATP Tour even as he was reduced to hitting his backhand with one hand instead of his usual two.

The struggle paid off Sunday, when Del Potro staved off three match points in the third set to beat top-ranked Roger Federer 6-4,7-6 (8), 7-6 (2) for the BNP Paribas Open title.

The win ranks up there with Del Potro’s 2009 U.S. Open title, in which he beat Federer, and helping Argentina win the Davis Cup in 2016.

“I cannot believe I won this tournament, beating Roger in a great final and level of tennis,” Del Potro said.

Naomi Osaka of Japan won the women’s title 6-3, 6-2 over Russian Daria Kasatkina in a match-up of 20-year-old rising stars.

Del Potro and Osaka each earned $1.3 million.

Del Potro became the first Argentine champion in the 42-year history of the desert tournament. He handed Federer his first loss of the year, snapping the Swiss superstar’s 17-match winning streak that was the best of his career.

“I feel frustrated that I let an opportunity like this go by,” Federer said.

Del Potro held a match point at 8-7 in the second-set tiebreaker, but he lost the final three points on his own errors that allowed Federer to force a third set.

“It was a lot of frustration after that match point, but then I play well,” Del Potro said.

They were on serve in the third until Federer broke for a 5-4 lead with a backhand winner off del Potro’s serve.

Federer had a chance to serve out the match, holding two match points. But del Potro staved both off to force deuce.

Federer’s forehand went long, giving del Potro a break point. Federer answered with a backhand that hit del Potro at the net and then gained his third match point on del Potro’s forehand error.

Del Potro recovered to deuce with a forehand winner. Federer mis-hit a forehand high into the air beyond the baseline, giving del Potro another break point. The Argentine cashed in with a well-placed forehand in the corner to tie the set, 5-all.

In the tiebreaker, Del Potro raced to a 6-1 lead, helped by two of Federer’s double faults. He closed out the win on his third match point when Federer’s forehand failed.

“I would like to play that tiebreaker again because I don’t know what the hell happened,” Federer said.

Del Potro lost just six points on his serve in the first set.

In the second-set tiebreaker, Del Potro and Federer took turns arguing with chair umpire Fergus Murphy. Del Potro was annoyed the crowd was making noise on his serve and told the umpire he wasn’t warning them enough to be quiet.

“It had no effect on the outcome of the match,” Federer said. “I was just also just trying to pump myself up more, to get energy for me.”

Del Potro survived three-setters against countryman Leonardo Mayer in the fourth round and Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarterfinals. It was his first win against Federer since last year’s U.S. Open quarters. Del Potro trails in their series 18-7, but owns a 4-2 advantage in finals.

Del Potro arrived at Indian Wells having won a title in Acapulco and back in the top 10.

“I’m really enjoying playing tennis again,” he said. “I’m still surprising myself, and I want to keep surprising the tennis tour.”

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