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Djokovic beats Sousa in straight sets at Paris Masters

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PARIS — Novak Djokovic began his bid for a record-extending fifth Paris Masters title with a 7-5, 6-1 win against Joao Sousa in the second round on Wednesday, and lent a helping hand to a spectator in the process.

Serving for the match at 5-1, Djokovic handed a towel to a man in the crowd who seemed unwell and who wiped his forehead with it.

“It seemed he was sweating and he seemed dizzy, so he just needed help,” Djokovic said. “I just gave him the towel.”

Djokovic revealed he also was not feeling very well out on court.

“I wasn’t,” he said. “I don’t want to get into details but I think it’s a minor thing.”

The second-ranked Serb set up match point with an ace and sealed victory on his third match point when Sousa returned a second serve long.

The U.S. Open champion won four of the last five tournaments he has entered, including Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and most recently the Shanghai Masters.

Djokovic is seeking to reclaim the top ranking from Rafael Nadal at a tournament Nadal has never won. Djokovic next faces Damir Dzumhur.

Fifth-seeded Marin Cilic, the Australian Open runner-up, won his second-round match 6-3, 6-4 against Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany.

Dzumhur upset 14th-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-3, while big-hitting Russian Karen Khachanov also advanced to the third round. He led 6-2, 2-0 against Matthew Ebden when the Australian retired.

Returning from a right knee injury , Nadal faces Spanish countryman Fernando Verdasco on Wednesday, with 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer also in second-round action against Milos Raonic. Federer leads the big-serving Canadian 11-3 overall.

Federer’s last appearance at the Paris indoor event was a third-round loss to big-serving John Isner in 2015. There were doubts Federer would play after a grueling past week which saw him clinch his ninth victory at the Swiss Indoors and 99th overall.

“I feel good,” Federer told a news conference. “I feel like I recovered well from last week.”

The 37-year-old Federer is selective of when he plays in order to keep his body as fresh as possible, and he skipped the entire clay-court season for the second straight year.

With the season-ending ATP Finals in London starting Nov. 11, he is playing three straight tournaments. But the third-ranked Federer feels comfortable with it.

“I feel like it’s better for me to play matches rather than practice,” Federer said. “As long as I don’t feel like I’m taking a chance on my health prior to London, that’s the key as well.”

Federer showed fighting qualities last week in Basel, where he was twice taken to three sets and went an early break down in three of his last four matches.

“I was a bit bumpy. But I was happy how I was fighting, how I was trying to figure it out in a different manner,” he said. “Last week was special to win the way I did it, in a different manner.”

Federer moved within 10 titles of Jimmy Connors all-time singles record. He is cautious about his chances of success in Paris, where his only tournament victory came in 2011.

The Australian Open champion is drawn in the same half as Djokovic; Cilic and big-serving Kevin Anderson, who upset Federer in the Wimbledon quarterfinals this year.

“I rarely play two or three tournaments in a row now. So starting on Wednesday and winning five matches in a row with this caliber (of players) is very difficult,” Federer said. “If I get close to the last four that would also be great.”

In first-round play Tuesday, there were wins for Mikhail Kukushkin, Gilles Simon, Daniil Medvedev, Marton Fucsovics, Raonic and Verdasco.

Benedetti wins 12th stage; Polanc takes Giro lead

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PINEROLO, Italy (AP) Cesare Benedetti won the 12th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Thursday for his first victory as a professional while Jan Polanc took the overall leader’s pink jersey from UAE Emirates teammate Valerio Conti.

Benedetti, an Italian with the Bora team who has been a support rider for his entire career, was part of an early breakaway then accelerated from a select group of riders in a sprint finish.

“I’ve worked a lot for the others in the past but today I got my opportunity,” Benedetti said. “I’m not (usually) a winner.”

Benedetti required 3 hours, 41 minutes to complete the 158-kilometer (98-mile) leg from Cuneo to Pinerolo, which featured one major climb and another shorter but steeper ascent just before the finish.

Damiano Caruso crossed second and Eddie Dunbar came third, each with the same time as Benedetti. Polanc, a Slovenian who was also in the breakaway, finished 25 seconds behind.

In the overall standings, Polanc leads Primoz Roglic by 4 minutes, 7 seconds. Vincenzo Nibali, one of the pre-race favorites, is fifth overall, 5:51 behind.

“It was a team tactic that I would go in the breakaway so we could have a better control over the race,” Polanc said. “It was also a way to keep the pink jersey in the team.”

Mikel Landa and Miguel Angel Lopez attacked on the first-category climb to Montoso and gained about 30 seconds on the other overall favorites.

Before the stage began, sprinters Caleb Ewan and Elia Viviani withdrew from the race. Ewan won two stages, including the 11th leg a day earlier, while Viviani posted three second-place finishes.

Stage 13 on Friday is one of the race’s toughest, with two category one climbs and one category ascent, along with an uphill finish at the end of the 196-kilometer leg from Pinerolo to Ceresole Reale.

The Giro ends June 2 in Verona.

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Tsonga rallies past qualifier to reach quarterfinals in Lyon

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LYON, France (AP) Former champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga rallied past Canadian qualifier Steven Diez on Wednesday to reach the quarterfinals and extend his perfect record at the Lyon Open.

Tsonga, the 2017 champion, came within two points of losing but finally prevailed 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3 on his sixth match point after 2 hours, 42 minutes.

The clay-court event serves as a warmup for the French Open, which starts Sunday in Paris.

“It was good for me to play a long match like this,” Tsonga said. “I haven’t played a match this long for a while. I am not playing my best level, but I am giving everything mentally and that gives me confidence.”

Tsonga will next take on top-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili, who beat lucky loser Tristan Lamasine 7-5, 7-5.

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