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Murray loses during opening round in Cincinnati

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MASON, Ohio (AP) Andy Murray lost to Lucas Pouille 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 in the first round of the Western & Southern Open on Monday, clearing another obstacle for Roger Federer in this U.S. Open tuneup.

Top-seeded Rafael Nadal dropped out Sunday night to prepare for the U.S. Open after winning his fifth title of the year in Toronto.

Murray had his best result since missing 11 months following hip surgery when he reached the quarterfinals in Washington two weeks ago. But he had a hard time adjusting to the Cincinnati courts.

“The start of the match was not good,” he said. “It was a pretty bad first set. After that, it was a little better.”

Federer, seeded second, has won in Cincinnati a record seven times but hasn’t played there since winning in 2015. In 2016 he had a knee injury, and in 2017 he had back problems.

“Cincinnati has always been a good tournament for me,” said Federer, the reigning Australian Open champion. “I was sad not to play here last year, and two years ago there wasn’t a chance. I’m glad to be back.”

Even with the top-ranked Nadal missing, Federal liked the strength of this field, especially with Murray and Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic also successfully recovering from injuries.

“That’s why you have such a good, exciting draw,” Federer said before Murray’s match was over. “It’s a pity Rafa isn’t playing. He would have added massively to that part of the draw.”

Grigor Dmitrov, the defending champion who is seeded fifth, was not entirely upset about Nadal’s absence.

“When Rafa is missing, he’s missed, not so much by the players as much as the fans,” he said. “All joking aside, I love spending time with Rafa and practicing with him and playing with him. I would be the last person to say I wouldn’t want to play with him.”

Monday’s first full day of main-draw competition opened with 13th-seeded Madison Keys holding off Bethanie Mattek-Sands 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 to reach the second round. Wild-card Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, also came from behind to beat Carla Suarez Navarro 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4.

Tenth-seeded Julia Goerges was losing to Kristina Mladenovic 6-4, 3-2 when she retired because of a lower left leg injury. Advancing were Lesia Tsurenko, qualifier Viktoria Kuzmova and Anett Kontaveit.

On the men’s side, Kei Nishikori beat Andrey Rublev 7-5, 6-3; 13th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta topped Richard Gasquet 6-3, 2-6, 6-3. Other winners were Peter Gojowczyk, Denis Shapovalov and qualifier Bradley Klahn.

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.”

Federer advances to record-extending 15th ATP Finals semi

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LONDON — Roger Federer advanced to the last four of the ATP Finals for a record-extending 15th time with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Kevin Anderson on Thursday.

Six-time champion Federer needed only a set to advance and produced his best performance at the season-ending tournament to end the round-robin stages with a 2-1 win-loss record.

Dominic Thiem’s 6-1, 6-4 victory over Kei Nishikori earlier had left Federer with a modest task and ensured that Anderson became the first South African ever to reach the semifinals.

Federer looked as if he was about to give up a break advantage for the second time in as many service games when he dropped to 0-40 attempting to close out the opening set at 5-4, but the 20-time Grand Slam champion found his first serve when it mattered most to hold.

Anderson hadn’t faced a break point in winning his first two matches. Federer, though, broke him twice more in the second set to claim top spot in the group and likely avoid a semifinal meeting with top-ranked Novak Djokovic.

Having struggled in an opening loss to Nishikori and relied mainly on his serve when defeating Thiem, Federer finally found some timing with his ground-strokes to apply consistent pressure on Anderson’s serve.

The previously impenetrable Anderson serve wilted, with two double faults gifting Federer a 4-3 lead. Much to the surprise – and disappointment – of the partisan crowd at the O2 Arena, the Swiss great handed the break straight back with a series of errors.

However, Federer steadied himself and made a delicate drop volley to break once more in the following game, before eventually closing out the set to maintain his record of having only missed the semifinals once in 16 appearances at the tournament.

Federer lost just four points on serve in the second set. He used a backhand slice to break for 4-3 and the same shot brought up two match points at 3-5, 15-40.

Having saved a match point on his way to securing a five-set quarterfinal victory over Federer at Wimbledon, Anderson threatened another comeback as he won a 21-shot rally to get back to deuce, but there was to be no repeat this time.

Two more Anderson forehand errors ended the match and Federer won the group by virtue of their head-to-head record.

With Djokovic clear favorite to top his group, which concludes Friday, Federer has boosted his chances of avoiding the in-form Serb until the final.