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Former No. 1 Kerber wins 9th in a row to clinch Sydney title

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SYDNEY (AP) Angelique Kerber won her first title since the 2016 U.S. Open and extended her winning streak to nine matches with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Ashleigh Barty in the Sydney International final on Saturday.

The 2016 Australian Open champion and former No. 1-ranked Kerber won four singles matches at the Hopman Cup in Perth, Western Australia last week, helping Germany reach the final against Switzerland, and followed up with five wins in Sydney.

In a momentum-boosting buildup to the Australian Open, which starts Monday, Kerber had wins over Lucie Safarova, No. 2-seeded Venus Williams, former Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova and Camila Giorgi before beating Barty to claim her 11th career title.

“I am playing amazing tennis again and feeling just great,” Kerber said. “It feels very good to win my first title in my first tournament this year.

Kerber had a breakout season in 2016, beating Serena Williams in the final to claim her first major title at the Australian Open and going on to reach the Wimbledon final and win the U.S. Open. She reached the No. 1 ranking in September that year and was seeded No. 1 for last year’s Australian Open, but was upset in the first round and her year-end ranking dropped to 21.

After failing to win a title in 2017, the German left-hander is now feeling confident again ahead of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.

“I have had a great week and the final was not easy against Ash but I was able to play my game in important moments. I feel like I am getting closer to my 2016 level.”

In the men’s final, Russian qualifier Daniil Medvedev beat 18-year-old Australian Alex de Minaur 1-6, 6-4, 7-5.

De Minaur has a wildcard entry to the Australian Open, where he’ll open against 19th-seeded Tomas Berdych, the 2010 Wimbledon finalist and a two-time semifinalist at Melbourne Park.

Djokovic lines up Dimitrov at Queen’s Club

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LONDON — Novak Djokovic’s first appearance at Queen’s Club in eight years was successful when he put away Australian qualifier John Millman 6-2, 6-1 on Tuesday.

Djokovic, entered as a wild card, will play second-seeded Grigor Dimitrov in the second round.

Also, Milos Raonic, runner-up to Roger Federer last week in Stuttgart, won his opener when Indian qualifier Yuki Bhambri retired hurt while trailing 6-1, 3-1.

Djokovic’s comeback from right elbow surgery in January has been gathering pace after reaching the Rome semifinals and French Open quarterfinals. He leads Dimitrov 6-1 in career matchups.

Dimitrov, the 2014 Queen’s champion, struggled past Damir Dzumhur 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3. Dimitrov saved six of eight break points.

Svitolina’s top ambitions survive grass-court struggle

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BIRMINGHAM, England — Elena Svitolina, who came within two wins of becoming world No. 1 in January, maintained her ambitious momentum to reach the top by surviving a tricky start to her Wimbledon build-up on Tuesday.

The second-seeded Svitolina stumbled within sight of a two-set victory, and briefly faltered again in the last set before beating Donna Vekic of Croatia 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.

Svitolina showed glimpses of the tenacious movement and consistently ferocious drives which have earned her the best win-loss record on the WTA tour since the beginning of last year, but also revealed glimpses of insecurity on the lush, low-bouncing surface.

Despite carving a lead of a set and 3-1, her gradually increasing attempts to win points in the forecourt were of variable quality, while Vekic, a former runner-up here, began to contain and counterattack more effectively.

Svitolina nearly let slip another lead of 3-1, in the last set, needing to save two break points on her next service game – one with a fine serve, and the other with a net attack finished off at the third attempt.

Eventually, the Ukrainian’s determination to adapt tactically to a surface on which she has yet to progress beyond any quarterfinal paid timely dividends, and she accelerated toward the finishing line at a canter.

“I was just trying to play well and to dominate, but she played a couple of great points to break back – which is always nice to have,” said Svitolina, apparently meaning she was pleased to gain extra practice on such a technique-testing surface.

“It was difficult for me because she hit the ball very flat and the first match on grass is always a challenge.”

She next faces Alize Cornet of France, who notably beat Serena Williams at 2014 Wimbledon, and who outlasted former top-10 player Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, by 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.