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Venus, Stephens, Isner out of Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens were upset early and the bleak opening day for Americans continued at the Australian Open on Monday with the women going 0 for 8 by mid-afternoon and John Isner joining them as a first-round casualty.

In her first match at Rod Laver Arena since a Williams sister was guaranteed to win the final almost 12 months ago, Venus Williams lost her opener to Belinda Bencic and ensured the title won’t stay in the family.

Venus lost last year’s final to younger sister Serena, who clinched an Open era-record 23rd major but hasn’t played a Grand Slam tournament since then because of her pregnancy and the birth of her first child.

The 6-3, 7-5 loss for Venus Williams was her first in five career meetings with Bencic, who lost to Serena in the first round last year.

“I don’t think I played a bad match. She just played above and beyond,” said seven-time major winner Venus Williams, who was playing her 18th Australian Open. “I just have to give her credit for that.

“I didn’t play so bad, I wasn’t missing every shot. Just didn’t work out.”

Bencic, who was born a couple of months after the last time there was no Williams in the second round at the Australian Open (1997), hit 32 winners, had 12 unforced errors and converted five of 11 break-point chances. Williams had 26 unforced errors and 22 winners.

Bencic credited playing with Roger Federer at the Hopman Cup – where they teamed up to win for Switzerland – with helping her recent improvement. She also had a new attitude against Williams, and she had Federer’s parents in the crowd for support.

“I was thinking a lot about the last matches. For the first matches, I think I had a little bit too much respect, played a little bit careful and safe,” Bencic said. “This time I really tried to come out and hit it big.”

U.S. Open champion Stephens was the first American to fall, losing 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2 loss to No. 34-ranked Zhang Shuai, followed by Williams and No. 10-seeded CoCo Vandeweghe, a semifinalist here and at the U.S. Open last year, who was feeling sick and frustrated in her match which Timea Babos rallied to win 7-6 (4), 6-2.

CiCi Bellis, the WTA’s Newcomer of the Year, was also among the eight U.S. women who were out by mid-afternoon – 16 are in the singles draw.

“Tennis is definitely a roller coaster,” Stephens said, reflecting on her eight-match losing streak since her Grand Slam breakthrough last September. “But I have learned to just not panic. It will be OK.”

No. 13-seeded Stephens had a chance to serve for the match in the 10th game of the second set but dropped her serve. She was outplayed in the tiebreaker and in the third set.

“For me now it’s not that great,” Stephen said, “but it’s nothing to panic about.”

No. 16 John Isner of the U.S. lost in four sets to Australian Matt Ebden.

Ryan Harrison bucked the trend for the Americans, beating Dudi Sela in five sets, advancing along with third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov – who beat qualifier Dennis Novak 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 – No. 10 Pablo Carreno Busta, No. 23 Gilles Muller, No. 30 Andrei Rublev and No. 31 Pablo Cuevas.

U.S. Open finalist and No. 11-seeded Kevin Anderson was the highest-ranked man eliminated, losing in five sets to Kyle Edmund – the only British man in the draw after five-time finalist Andy Murray withdrew.

No. 27 Philipp Kohlschreiber lost to Yoshihito Nishioka in five sets.

The 20-year-old Bencic saved five break points in the eighth game before a rain delay caused an almost half-hour suspension of play as the roof was closed on Rod Laver Arena. She returned on a roll, winning the next six points to hold serve and then clinch the set.

Vandeweghe was leading in her first set before a rain delay on Hisense Arena, but sickness and irritation caught up with her.

She yelled an obscenity near the end of the second set and that, combined with a time violation in a changeover while she waited for a banana, led to a point penalty.

“I felt like she was being quite in-your-face about her `Come ons.’ So it was more just explaining it to the umpire,” Vandeweghe said. As for the banana, she added: “I was just trying to wait for what I asked for to come and the chair umpire deemed that it wasn’t a good enough reason to wait for anything.”

Of the other U.S. women out in the first round, Sofia Kenin lost to No. 12 Julia Goerges – who extended her winning streak to 15 matches – Bellis lost to No. 30 Kiki Bertens, Alison Riske lost to Kirsten Flipkens and Taylor Townsend lost to No. 19 Magdalena Rybarikova.

French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko made a positive start with a 6-1, 6-4 win over 37-year-old Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open winner, and No. 15 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat Kateryna Kozlova.

Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig had a 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 win over former U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur.

Other seeded players falling included No. 24 Dominika Cibulkova, the 2014 Australian Open finalist who lost to Kaia Kanepi, and No. 31 Ekaterina Makarova.

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.