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Djokovic reaches second round of Monte Carlo Masters

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MONACO — Novak Djokovic reached the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters with a 6-0, 6-1 win over Dusan Lajovic on Monday.

The ninth-seeded Serb won in only 57 minutes despite having to save break points in three consecutive service games in the second set, including two when serving for the match.

Djokovic, a two-time champion in Monte Carlo, won on his first match point when Lajovic swiped a forehand wide. He then whipped off his hat, tilted his head back and raised his hands in triumph.

The former-top ranked Djokovic has been troubled by a persistent right elbow injury and his ranking has tumbled to No. 13. Earlier this month, he stopped working with Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek – the latest in a series of coaching changes for the 12-time major champion. He has not won a Grand Slam tournament since the 2016 French Open.

“I’ve had a very difficult time in the last 12 months with the injury and everything else that’s happened,” Djokovic said. “I’m lacking matches and a bit of confidence on court. But I’m looking ahead.”

Djokovic will next face Borna Coric of Croatia, who beat French veteran Julien Benneteau 6-2, 6-3.

Kei Nishikori reached the second round by beating Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-2, 6-1. He broke the 12th-seeded Czech’s serve six times and dropped his own twice.

Nishikori, like Djokovic, needs time on court after only recently returning from a torn tendon in his right wrist. That injury had ruled him out of last year’s U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open.

The Japanese player, ranked 36th, came back in late February when he lost to Denis Shapovalov in the first round of the Mexico Open. He then reached the third round of the Miami Masters last month, losing to Juan Martin del Potro.

“It’s not great but first match on clay, I’m expecting (a) little soreness,” Nishikori said. “Hope I get more confidence and do well (at) these five tournaments on clay.”

Other winners included Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, Milos Raonic of Canada, Andrey Rublev of Russia, and Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain.

Ramos-Vinolas, who lost in last year’s final, beat Jared Donaldson 6-3, 6-3. Donaldson ranted at the chair umpire over a line call and then squared up to him as he continued to argue. The 21-year-old American received a code violation.

Keys sends U.S. into second straight Fed Cup final

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AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France — Defending champion United States will play in a second consecutive Fed Cup final after defeating France on Sunday.

Madison Keys secured the decisive point for the visiting team by beating Pauline Parmentier 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the second reverse singles. Keys’ victory gave the defending champions an unassailable 3-1 lead over France in their semifinal.

The 13th-ranked Keys, a late replacement for CoCo Vandeweghe, came back from a 4-1 deficit in the first set and made the decisive break in the ninth game of the second set with two consecutive winners.

“The girls did so well, both today and yesterday. We are very fortunate to have such a strong group and now we are looking forward to what is going to be a great final,” U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said.

Parmentier fought hard until the end and saved two set points in the opener, but ultimately surrendered to Keys’ deep groundstrokes. The Frenchwoman had the chance to break back while trailing 5-4 in the second set but Keys used her big serve to win the next three points and seal the match.

The U.S. will play the Czech Republic in the final.

Earlier, Sloane Stephens had given a 2-1 lead to the U.S. with a 6-2, 6-0 thrashing of Kristina Mladenovic.

The U.S. Open champion delivered a ruthless display against the 20th-ranked Mladenovic and prevailed in 54 minutes. Stephens hit 16 winners and converted five of six break chances at the 6,700-capacity Arena Pays d’Aix on indoor clay.

“That was a really good one. You never anticipate a scoreline like the way it turned out but it was really solid,” Stephens said. She also won her first singles match on Saturday.

The Americans extended their winning record to 12-2 against the French.

The Czech Republic qualified for the final by defeating Germany 4-1 in Stuttgart.

Nadal beats Nishikori to win Monte Carlo Masters

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MONACO — Rafael Nadal won a record 31st Masters title after beating Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2 in the Monte Carlo Masters final on Sunday.

Nadal also became the first man in the Open era to win the same title 11 times – 13 years after his first title here – and moved one ahead of rival Novak Djokovic for career Masters titles.

“It’s great to have this trophy in my hands again,” Nadal said.

It gave him a 76th title overall and ensured the Spaniard keeps his top ranking ahead of Roger Federer.

Nishikori was chasing a first Masters title, but the Japanese player took 11 minutes to hold for 1-1.

He got some brief hope, breaking Nadal with a superb passing shot at full stretch to lead 2-1, but meekly surrendered the next four games.

“I knew it was going to be tough even though I was up break,” said Nishikori, who complained of tiredness. “My legs were very heavy today, playing three sets (for) three days in a row (before the final). It wasn’t easy physically.”

The second set was a procession and Nadal won on his first match point with a stinging backhand winner.

Nadal’s celebration was brief and low key. He thrust both hands into the air, and then jogged over to offer Nishikori a sympathetic hug after beating him for the 10th time in 12 meetings.

Nishikori saved a set point with a sharp, angled volley at the net. But Nadal was in relentless mood and sealed it on his next chance with a crisp forehand winner.

“It’s not easy to describe when you are coming back from injury and you start the clay-court season in this way,” Nadal said.

Nishikori is still working his way back to form and full fitness, after missing the 2017 U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open because of a torn tendon in his right wrist.

“It was a great week for me, I had an injury and couldn’t play for a long time,” said Nishikori, whose ranking has slipped to 36.

Nadal has not dropped a set in seven matches since coming back from a recurrence of a right hip injury that forced him to abandon during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

The injury relapse subsequently forced him out of the Mexico Open and Masters tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami, but Nadal now looks back to his ruthless best on clay.

He has his sights firmly set on an 11th title at Barcelona next week and then an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.