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Djokovic beats Murray to successfully defend Qatar title

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) Novak Djokovic successfully defended his Qatar Open title by beating top-seeded Andy Murray 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in the final on Saturday.

The dramatic match showcased the best of men’s tennis for 2 hours, 54 minutes. Djokovic needed four match points – three in the second set and one in the third – to prevail. He was also fortunate not to be defaulted for accidentally hitting a woman in the stands with a ball hit in anger.

“Best scenario I could ask for for beginning of the season,” Djokovic said.

“Playing all five matches in this tournament and then three hours against No. 1 of the world, (my) biggest rival, and winning in a thrilling marathon match is something that definitely can serve as a positive incentive for what’s coming up in Australia.

“It’s only the beginning of the season, so we had a little laugh at the net actually about it. We both felt like if every match we’re going to play against each other is going to be this way this season, we’re going to have a fun time.”

Murray’s loss ended his 28-match winning streak that dated to Sept. 18.

Djokovic had three match points in the 10th game of the second set, but couldn’t prevent Murray from making it 5-5 and eventually winning the second set.

Murray finally capitalized on his fourth break point – second in that 10th game – with an inside out forehand winner.

Despite going up 0-30, Murray wasn’t able to come up with the same magic when Djokovic served for the match a second time at 5-4 in the third set. Murray also failed to take advantage of a break point in the sixth game of the set.

“Physically, it was a good test to start the year,” Murray said. “My body feels all right just now, so that’s positive.

“Still think there are things I can do better. I wasn’t that clinical on break points this week, which maybe that comes with playing a few more matches.”

Djokovic’s frustration got the better of him twice, which caused umpire Carlos Bernardes to hand the Serb two warnings, including the loss of a point on the second warning.

The second warning resulted when Djokovic smashed his racket in frustration at 40-30 to end the 11th game of the second set prematurely.

The first warning came in the sixth game of the first set. Annoyed at losing a point, Djokovic angrily smacked a ball to the ground that accidentally flew into the stands and hit a woman. While that could have resulted in a default, Bernardes just issued Djokovic a warning.

“I definitely didn’t want to hit the ball at anybody,” Djokovic said. “Just happened. Fortunate not to get a bigger fine. I have to be more careful I guess. I accept that I made a mistake. It was not intentional at all.”

The top-ranked Murray has lost all 20 matches he’s played against Djokovic when he’s lost the first set.

Overall, Djokovic held a 25-11 career record over Murray.

“Playing against Andy, somehow it feels like playing the mirror image of (me) because we have very similar styles of game,” Djokovic said. “I can’t recall out of the 35-plus matches how many were kind of one-sided really. Most of the matches we play it’s always going down to the very last few points to decide the winner.”

Murray won their last encounter 6-3, 6-4 in the ATP Finals in November. That victory catapulted Murray ahead of Djokovic to the year-end No. 1 ranking for the first time.

Federer beats Raonic for Stuttgart title, his 18th on grass

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STUTTGART, Germany (AP) Roger Federer defeated Milos Raonic 6-4, 7-6 (3) to mark his return from three months off with the Stuttgart Open title on Sunday.

The Swiss great, who is assured of reclaiming the No. 1 ranking from Rafael Nadal on Monday, broke at 1-1 in the opening set and held his nerve in the second, where Raonic double-faulted.

Federer skipped the entire clay-court season for the second year in a row, but he wrapped up his 18th grass-court title in 1 hour and 18 minutes – his 98th title overall and third of the season after victories at the Australian Open and World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam.

“It’s a wonderful feeling. I fought hard. When you finally manage it, the joy is even greater,” said Federer, who extended his grass-court winning streak to 16 matches including his titles at Halle and Wimbledon last year.

The 36-year-old will need to defend his title at Halle to maintain his No. 1 spot ahead of Wimbledon.

Andy Murray to make long-awaited return at Queen’s

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LONDON (AP) Andy Murray has confirmed he will make his return to competitive tennis at the Queen’s Club tournament next week after almost a year out injured and faces Nick Kyrgios in his opening match.

The three-time major winner has not played since last year’s Wimbledon due to a hip injury and subsequent surgery.

Murray practiced at Queen’s on Friday ahead of next week’s grass-court Fever-Tree Championships, delayed a decision until Saturday and then told tournament officials he would be there.

“Andy Murray has confirmed that he will play,” the tournament said on its official Twitter account.

Murray has a good record against 24th-ranked Kyrgios, winning all five of their meetings.

French Open champion Rafael Nadal withdrew Wednesday from Queen’s in an attempt to be ready for Wimbledon.

Queen’s is one of the main warmup tournaments for Wimbledon, which begins on July 2.