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Former runner-up Tomas Berdych progresses in Monte Carlo

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MONTE CARLO, Monaco —¬†Tomas Berdych needed two hours and three sets to overcome strong resistance from Russian qualifier Andrey Kuznetsov and reach the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Monday.

Berdych, a runner-up at the Country Club two years ago, converted only two of his 11 break points and rallied Kuznetsov 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Berdych made the decisive break in the third game of the decider with a backhand winner down the line.

All six seeded players in action at the first big clay-court event of the season progressed to the second round: No. 12 Robert Bautista Agut, No. 13 Pablo Carreno Busta, No. 14 Alexander Zverev, No. 15 Albert Ramos-Vinolas, and No. 16 Pablo Cuevas.

Widely regarded as one of the most promising youngsters on the tour, the 19-year-old Zverev secured a convincing 6-1, 6-2 win over Italian veteran Andreas Seppi.

“I like playing on clay,” Zverev said. “It’s the surface I grew up on.”

Zverev will next be up against either Feliciano Lopez or Daniil Medvedev.

Novak Djokovic, who has been drawn in the same half of the draw as nine-time champion Rafael Nadal, will start his campaign on Tuesday against Gilles Simon of France. Djokovic has been struggling with injuries and recently withdrew from the Miami Masters with a right elbow complaint.

“The elbow is fine now,” Djokovic said. “I’ve been training for the past couple of weeks, playing Davis Cup, and making the transition to clay that’s very demanding for the body. I was skeptical of how my elbow would react to the heavy balls on clay, but it’s been good so far.”

Victoria Azarenka misses direct entry for U.S. Open

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NEW YORK — Two-time U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka is ranked just below the cutoff for direct entry into the year’s last Grand Slam tournament.

Azarenka, a former No. 1 and twice the champion at the Australian Open, is No. 108 this week, seven spots outside of an automatic spot in the main draw.

The U.S. Tennis Association announced Wednesday that defending champion and top-ranked Rafael Nadal is one of six past male singles champions in the U.S. Open field, along with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic. Another past title winner at Flushing Meadows, Stan Wawrinka, is ranked 199th this week.

The women’s winners with direct entry based on this week’s rankings are six-time champion Serena Williams, two-time champ Venus Williams, defending champ Sloane Stephens, Maria Sharapova and Samantha Stosur.

Nadal-Djokovic semifinal suspended after 3rd set

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LONDON (AP) It was the kind of tennis that Wimbledon’s Centre Court crowd would gladly have watched all night long.

The show being put on by Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was so good it could have been an instant classic had they been able to finish their semifinal before the tournament’s 11 p.m. curfew.

Instead, the two players – and a disappointed audience – were sent home after the third set on Friday with Djokovic leading 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9) following a tense tiebreaker that had more entertaining rallies than some entire matches.

The two players didn’t even get onto the court until after 8 p.m. because of an earlier marathon semifinal won by Kevin Anderson and when Djokovic converted his second set point in the tiebreaker – having saved three of Nadal’s – the clock had ticked a couple of minutes past 11. That left organizers no choice but to call it a night, although the announcement from the chair umpire led to a scattering of boos from some fans who clearly wanted more.

Most of them will have to watch the rest on TV.

The match will resume at 1 p.m. local time on Saturday, before the women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber. At stake is a place in Sunday’s men’s final against the man who was partly at fault for keeping Nadal and Djokovic out there so late. Anderson’s win over John Isner lasted 6 + hours and went to 26-24 in the fifth set.

Djokovic-Nadal had clearly been the headline act of the day – they have five Wimbledon titles between them and met in the 2011 final while Anderson and Isner had never made the semifinals before – and their tennis was at another level from the earlier match. Even Anderson said he could feel during his match that the crowd would rather be watching the next one.

“They’ve paid to see two matches, and they came pretty close to only seeing one match,” Anderson said. “I can feel the crowd (get) pretty antsy for us to get off the court. They’ve been watching us for over six hours.”

While Anderson-Isner was mostly a serving duel with a few longer rallies thrown in, Djokovic and Nadal repeatedly slugged it out from the baseline, chasing each other around the court and coming up with spectacular winners from every corner.

Many of the best points came in the tiebreaker, including a 23-shot rally that Nadal finished off with a forehand half-volley drop shot to set up his first set point.

It was one of three successful drop shots from the Spaniard in the tiebreaker alone, but Djokovic answered with one of his own to save the second set point at 7-6.

He eventually went up 10-9 with the help of a backhand passing shot and an errant shot into the net by Nadal brought the entertainment to an end – for now.

It led to the unusual situation of both players leaving the court to a huge ovation – and applauding the fans in return – but without there being a clear winner or loser.

To be continued.