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Muguruza gets ready to defend Wimbledon title

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BIRMINGHAM, England — Two-time Grand Slam winner Garbine Muguruza isn’t lacking confidence as she starts the buildup to defending her Wimbledon title.

“I believe I can win the trophy again,” said the 24-year-old Spaniard, despite playing on grass – a surface she hasn’t always liked.

“The tricky part (of grass) is adapting the body and movement. Other surfaces are more comfortable for the body,” Muguruza said. “You have to run in a certain way. The ball bounces less, the balls are heavier, the court is faster … But I think my movement and physical capacity and strength, all have improved a lot.”

Muguruza faces Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia in their opener at the grass-court Nature Valley Classic, which starts Monday in Birmingham, two weeks before Wimbledon.

Muguruza said “hopefully I’ll get as many matches as possible” in Birmingham as preparation for Wimbledon.

“It meant such a lot to win Wimbledon, because I had lost in the final before (in 2015) and I didn’t know if I could do it … it’s special to go back as defending champion. But I am not thinking about it too much, and I am taking it just naturally. Nothing really matters, whatever happens to me.”

Muguruza won the 2016 French Open but lost to Simona Halep in the semifinals earlier this month at Roland Garros. She won the Wimbledon title last year with a 7-5, 6-0 win over Venus Williams.

Muguruza said she will take Wimbledon one match at a time.

“There are seven matches and two weeks,” Muguruza said. “You come and think about your first match, your first training, your first practice. And little by little you move forward”.

But that approach still requires overcoming any inhibitions about grass.

Muguruza said she feels like Rafael Nadal and, further back, Chris Evert, whose tennis upbringing was on very different surfaces from grass but who successfully adapted to win Wimbledon singles titles – Nadal (2) and Evert (3).

“I didn’t like it for sure (when I first came),” Muguruza said. “It’s very different. There are no grass courts in Spain. It took two or three years to be more positive. Now I enjoy it.”

Bryan, Sock win ATP Finals doubles title

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LONDON — American pair Mike Bryan and Jack Sock saved a match point in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Pierre-Hughes Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 5-7, 6-1, 13-11 for their first ATP Finals doubles title together on Sunday.

Having failed to take advantage of five championship points during the first-to-10 match tiebreaker, Bryan and Sock then had to save one against their French opponents before finally closing out victory at the O2 Arena.

“It was a hell of a match,” Bryan said.

The 40-year-old Bryan has now won the season-ending tournament five times. He won four times with his usual partner – and brother – Bob, who has been out with an injured hip since May.

Sock and Bryan have dominated since teaming up, winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before finishing their season in style in London.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Bryan said. “This could be our last hoorah because Bob’s training back in Florida.”

After reaching the singles semifinals last year, Sock has endured a torrid season in that format, falling outside the top-100 ranked players. However, he became the first American since John McEnroe to add a doubles final appearance at the tournament to his last-four singles showing.

“This is special because it was a pretty bad year in singles,” Sock said. “This makes up for some of the low moments I’ve had.”

The French duo’s season is not over yet. Herbert and Mahut are part of their nation’s squad for the Davis Cup final against Croatia, which starts in Lille on Friday.

Ball boy flub taints Zverev’s ATP Finals win vs. Federer

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LONDON — After pulling off one of the biggest wins of his career, Alexander Zverev was left apologizing for an unforced error he didn’t make.

Zverev denied Roger Federer a shot at a 100th career title by beating the Swiss great 7-5, 7-6 (5) on Saturday to advance to the championship match at the ATP Finals.

Federer was leading the second-set tiebreaker 4-3 and in the ascendancy of a rally on a Zverev service point when a ball boy at the back of the court dropped a ball. Zverev immediately signaled for the point to be stopped and the umpire ordered the point to be replayed.

Zverev served an ace before going on to close out the match moments later.

“I want to apologize for the situation in the tiebreak,” said Zverev, who was booed by some members of the crowd during his on-court interview. “The ball boy dropped the ball so it’s in the rules that we have to replay the point.

“I’m a little bit upset about the whole situation because this is not how I wanted it to end.”

Zverev is the youngest player at 21 to reach the final since 2009 and the first from Germany since 1996. He will next face Novak Djokovic or Kevin Anderson, who are in the other semifinal later Saturday.

Federer, 37, was seeking a record-extending seventh title, but was unable to cope with the pressure created by Zverev’s power and precision at the O2 Arena.

“He (Zverev) apologized to me at the net,” Federer said. “I was like, `Buddy, shut up. You don’t need to apologize to me here. Congratulations on a great match and a great tournament so far. All the best for the finals.’ And you move on.”

An inspired series of shots earned Zverev the first break points of the match in the 12th game and Federer sent a forehand wide to fall behind.

Federer willed himself to a break for 2-1 in the second set, but Zverev quickly composed himself to hit straight back in the following game.

Zverev overcame the freak interruption to establish a 5-4 lead in the tiebreaker, and Federer netted the simplest of forehand volleys to bring up match point.

He saved the first, but Zverev confidently put away a backhand drive volley to set up a shot at the biggest title of his career and leave Federer waiting until next season for his 100th title.

“Overall, I’m happy how the season went,” said Federer, who picked up his 20th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. “There’s many positives. So I’m excited for next season.”

Despite having reached only one Grand Slam quarterfinal, Zverev is the only active player outside the Big Four of Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray to have won three Masters titles. But victory at the tour’s flagship event would exceed those achievements.

“Novak right now is the best player in the world,” said Zverev, who lost to Djokovic in the round robin. “No matter who it’s going to be, I’ll be ready.”