Berdych beats Sousa to reach 3rd round at Paris Masters

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PARIS (AP) Tomas Berdych avoided another early exit by beating Joao Sousa 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 on Tuesday to reach the third round of the Paris Masters.

At 4-4 in the deciding set, Berdych trailed 15-40 and saved two break points.

Although Berdych won the Shenzhen Open in China last month, the Czech player’s form dropped sharply with first-round exits at the Japan Open and the Erste Bank Open in Vienna. In between, there was a second-round loss at the Shanghai Masters.

Losing so many ranking points forced Berdych out of the top 10 for the first time since reaching the 2010 Wimbledon final. It also leaves him needing to reach the semifinals in Paris to have a chance of qualifying for the season-ending ATP finals in London – a difficult task considering he could face Andy Murray in the quarterfinals.

“If you don’t play your best, you don’t really deserve to be there,” Berdych said. “Luckily, I’m healthy. Who would have said that I’d be answering questions about London when I was in the hospital in Cincinnati? This is a nice bonus.”

Berdych was referring to the appendicitis that forced him out of this year’s U.S. Open.

Even though his play looked patchy at times against Sousa, at least his serving was strong with 14 aces, including a couple of booming ones on second serve.

Berdych is hopeful that working with coach Goran Ivanisevic – the big-serving Croat who won Wimbledon in 2001 – will help improve his game.

“I like his approach and how he tries to simplify things for me,” the 31-year-old Berdych said. “Hopefully I can get to the point where I can start to use his experience in all the big matches he’s played.”

Berdych, the 2005 Paris Masters champion, will next face either 10th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut or Gilles Simon.

Seven players are vying for the two remaining spots in London.

Dominic Thiem and Marin Cilic, who won the Swiss Indoors on Sunday, held the last two places before this week. David Goffin, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Lucas Pouille and Bautista Agut are the other contenders playing in Paris.

John Isner had 14 aces as he reached the second round by beating Mischa Zverev 7-6 (8), 6-4. Isner saved the only break point he faced in the first set and broke Zverev’s serve early in the second.

Isner will next play 15th-seeded David Ferrer, who has beaten the big-serving American seven times in eight meetings. Isner’s only win, however, was in the quarterfinals in Paris five years ago.

Also in the first round, Jack Sock beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-2, 7-6 (3); Feliciano Lopez defeated Pierre-Hugues Herbert 7-6 (3), 6-4; Nicolas Mahut beat Martin Klizan 4-6, 6-4, 6-3; and Viktor Troicki saved two match points before defeating Adrian Mannarino 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (5).

Federer survives scare to advance in Halle

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HALLE, Germany (AP) Defending champion Roger Federer survived two match points against Benoit Paire to reach the quarterfinals of the Gerry Weber Open with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7) win on Thursday.

Paire rallied after losing the first set to take the second, and the Frenchman defended two match points at 6-5 in the decider to force a tiebreaker. Eight minutes later, it was a match point for the 48th-ranked Paire, and again when a mistake from Federer left it 7-6 in Paire’s favor.

But the top-ranked Swiss took the next three points to close the match in just under two hours at the grass-court tournament.

Federer extended his grass-court winning streak to 18 matches, including his titles in Stuttgart last week and at Halle and Wimbledon last year.

Federer skipped the entire clay-court season for the second year in a row and is now just four wins away from matching Jimmy Connors’ all-time record of 174 victories on grass.

Federer next faces Matthew Ebden of Australia, who upset former champion Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Also Thursday, Borna Coric defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-2.

The Croat next faces either Florian Mayer or Andreas Seppi.

Magdalena shows form on grass in Birmingham

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BIRMINGHAM, England — Magdalena Rybarikova, who climbed almost 90 places last year to reach a career-high No. 17 in March, showed she might rise even further after rallying against Kristina Mladenovic 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 Wednesday to advance to the quarterfinals in Birmingham.

The Slovak accelerated toward victory against the former top 10 player from France with an array of slice ground strokes, clever approaches and sharp volleys. The range of shots worked excellently on the lush surface at the grass-court Nature Valley Classic and helped her take control midway through the second set.

Rybarikova last year reached the Wimbledon semifinals. She is a former champion here, winning the title in 2009.

In the first round she beat third-seeded Karolina Pliskova for the loss of only five games but found it tougher against Mladenovic.

“I started to play very well,” Rybarikova said of her improvement from the fourth game of the second set against Mladenovic. “She served great to begin with and I struggled with my returns, but I kept fighting and my game improved a lot.

“I think I’d been a bit passive. The key was when I played more cross-court slices and drops and made an early break in the second set.

“That’s the way I am trying to play on grass. I am thankful that I have the game to do that. This court here really suits my game.”

At the changeover in the fifth game of the second set, Mladenovic’s morale appeared to plunge, and afterward her error ratio rose sharply with her standard dropping significantly.

The third set of a match which lasted nearly two hours took only 22 minutes, and long before the end the outcome had ceased to be in doubt.

Rybarikova next faces Slovenian qualifier Dalila Jakupovic, who on Tuesday overcame a difference in rankings of almost 100 places and saved four match points while beating seventh-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium.

Jakupovic followed up Wednesday by getting past 18th-ranked Naomi Osaka of Japan, who recently beat four former top-ranked opponents. Osaka was forced to retired injured after losing the first set 6-3.