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Isner earns biggest win, beating Zverev in Miami Open final

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) John Isner won the biggest title of his 14-year career on Sunday, holding every service game and rallying past Alexander Zverev in the Miami Open final, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4.

The 32-year-old Isner previously had been 0-3 in ATP Masters 1000 finals. His breakthrough came in the last singles match on Key Biscayne before the Miami Open moves next year to the NFL Dolphins’ stadium.

Seeded 14th, Isner became the first American man to win the tournament since Andy Roddick in 2010. Isner joined Sloane Stephens, who won the women’s title Saturday, for the first U.S. sweep in the event since 2004, when the champions were Roddick and Serena Williams.

The start of the last game was delayed by the crowd’s chants of “U-S-A!” Isner then held at love, and on the final three points he smacked aces, giving him 18 for the match and 79 for the tournament.

Isner’s title run surprised even him because he arrived at Key Biscayne with a record of 1-6 this year, including losses to players with rankings of 60, 62, 78 and 91. He played an almost flawless match to beat Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals, and was just good enough against the fourth-seeded Zverev, a precocious 20-year-old German who was bidding for his third Masters 1000 title in the past 12 months.

The 6-foot-10 Isner’s serve allowed him to overcome inconsistent returning, a succession of botched volleys and shaky play at crunch time. He converted only two of 12 break-point chances and lost his final three service points in the tiebreaker.

But he gave Zverev only three break-point chances, and Isner’s serve was at its best down the stretch. He made 83 percent of his first serves in the final set.

With little margin for error, Zverev lost serve and fell behind 5-4 in the final set when he dumped a forehand into the net, and his frustration boiled over. He slammed his racket to the concrete, picked it up and slammed it again, and then tossed it gently to the stands as a mangled souvenir.

When Isner sealed the victory four points later, he also tossed his racket – but in celebration. He gave Zverev a warm hug and then skipped across the court, basking in his breakthrough.

As a reflection of the threat his serve poses, Isner improved to 6-2 against top-10 players since the start of 2017. He’ll climb to ninth in the rankings, which matches his career high.

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Errani edges Bencic at Miami Open in former top-10 matchup

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Former French Open runner-up Sara Errani edged Belinda Bencic 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 in the Miami Open’s first round Tuesday to win a match between former top-10 players.

Errani was once as high as No. 5 and a finalist at Roland Garros in 2012, but she has won only two Grand Slam matches since the start of 2016 and is now ranked 102nd. Bencic has been ranked No. 7 and is now 135th.

They combined for 14 service breaks in 28 games Tuesday.

Among other matches, Naomi Osaka beat Kristina Kucova 6-2, 6-3; Kirsten Flipkens edged Jennifer Brady 3-6, 6-3, 7-5; Carina Witthoeft eliminated Nicole Gibbs 6-3, 6-3; and Mandy Minella got past Kristyna Pliskova 7-6 (4), 5-7, 7-5.

Women’s play began at the hard-court tournament Tuesday; the men start Wednesday.

Serena Williams, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic all pulled out of the event with injuries.

Djokovic seeks 6th Miami Open title

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Basking in cheers following his latest victory, a weary but happy Novak Djokovic kissed his hand and patted the stadium court concrete, celebrating his return to the Miami Open final.

In sweltering semifinal sunshine Friday, Djokovic won a thrilling tiebreaker to beat David Goffin 7-6 (5), 6-4. The margin was so slim a blown overhead by Goffin might have made all the difference.

Djokovic needs one more victory to match Andre Agassi’s tournament record of six men’s titles, which is why he showed his affection for the court.

“A little kiss for goodbye and see you in two days,” Djokovic said. “I wanted to make the court feel my love. It’s one of my favorite courts.”

His opponent Sunday will be steady Kei Nishikori, who committed only eight unforced errors in 119 points and beat big-swinging Nick Kyrgios 6-3, 7-5.

Seeded No. 6, Nishikori saved five match points in a quarterfinal victory over Gael Monfils, and built a more comfortable margin against Kyrgios by breaking serve four times.

Nishikori is bidding for his first ATP Masters title, while Djokovic will try for his 28th, which would break the record he shares with Rafael Nadal.

“It’s going to be tough, for sure,” Nishikori said. “He has been playing well. I hope I can play another good match.”

Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka plays 2006 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the women’s final Saturday.

Djokovic reached set point in the tiebreaker and worked hard to win it with a frantic 16-shot exchange typical that typified the entertaining match. He dug out shots in both corners and chased down a pair of volleys, finally switching from defense to offense by flicking a lob too high for the 5-foot-11 Goffin to handle.

That clinched the set, and as fans roared, the world’s No. 1 player walked to his chair with his index finger aloft.

The tiebreaker turned four points earlier, at 4-all. Goffin had an easy putaway overhead near the net and inexplicably hit it directly to a surprised Djokovic, who invented a shot in response, raising the racket strings in front of his face to patty-cake a deep lob. Goffin chased the ball down and the rally continued until Djokovic tapped a drop volley for a winner.

“I was a bit fortunate in the tiebreaker,” Djokovic said. “But I made him play always an extra shot.”

Djokovic also earned points for sportsmanship. When Goffin challenged a call while returning serve, Djokovic waved off the replay, indicating it was unneeded because the linesman’s ruling was correct.

“Really fair play,” Goffin said, before noting with a chuckle that Djokovic went on to win the point anyway.

Eager to avoid a third set on an 87-degree afternoon, Djokovic earned the only break of the second set to take a 4-3 lead and lost only one point in his final two service games.

“Physically it was a great battle with a lot of exchanges from the baseline,” Djokovic said. “We were both trying to catch our breath at some points.”

Djokovic showed no signs of lingering issues from the back spasms that bothered him in the quarterfinals. He improved to 27-1 this year as he closed in on his fourth title of 2016.

On Key Biscayne, where he has won 15 consecutive matches, he’s bidding for his third title in a row. He has reached the final of his past 11 Masters tournaments.