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Marin Cilic seals Davis Cup title for Croatia against France

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LILLE, France — Marin Cilic sealed Croatia’s victory over defending champion France in the Davis Cup final with a 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-3 win over Lucas Pouille on Sunday.

Cilic, a former U.S. Open champion, gave Croatia a 3-1 unassailable lead in the best-of-five series on indoor clay in northern France with a ruthless display.

Cilic lived up to his status of team leader this weekend, winning his two matches without dropping a set. He was surrounded by the whole Croatian team on the court and covered his shoulders with the Croatian flag after the country’s president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, warmly hugged him.

“It’s not every day that you become a world champion,” Cilic said. “For us, it’s a dream come true, for this nation, we are so passionate, you can see the fans. And I feel that in Croatia it’s going to be incredible too.”

Croatia claimed a second title in the team event following its first win in 2005.

The Davis Cup final was played for the last time in its traditional format. Beginning next year, the top team event in men’s tennis will be decided with a season-ending, 18-team tournament at a neutral site.

After Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert won Saturday’s doubles, the hosts trailed 2-1 and needed to win both reverse singles on the final day to become the first team since 1939 to overturn a 2-0 deficit in a final.

But their hopes of a comeback were quickly dashed.

The seventh-ranked Cilic struggled with his first serve in the opening set yet did not face a single break point.

Pouille, who replaced Jeremy Chardy after France captain Yannick Noah changed his lineup in a bid to force a decisive fifth match, made repeated mistakes on his backhand. Pouille hit a total of 44 unforced errors, compared to Cilic’s 29.

The Frenchman, who wrapped up France’s 10th Davis Cup title last year by winning the decisive point against Belgium, managed to stay in contention on the back of his strong serve and some clever drop shots that surprised Cilic, but his Croat rival raised his level in the tiebreaker. Cilic won four straight points to seal the set, including a thunderous forehand pass that left Pouille stranded.

Pouille’s level of play then dropped drastically while Cilic kept up the intensity and broke for a 4-2 lead in the second set. Pouille managed to save four set points in the eight game with a series of good serves before Cilic held his next service game to seal the set with a crosscourt forehand.

Despite the support of the vociferous French fans at the Pierre Mauroy stadium, Pouille appeared powerless in the third set and dropped his serve again in the fifth game after yet another backhand error that sealed his fate. The Frenchman saved two match points at 5-3 but was forced to watch when Cilic unleashed a superb lob that secured another break and the title.

The French tennis federation said teams will not play the final reverse singles match.

Osaka opens clay campaign by beating Hsieh in Stuttgart

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STUTTGART, Germany (AP) Top-ranked Naomi Osaka opened her clay-court season by beating Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan 6-4, 6-3, on Thursday to reach the Porsche Grand Prix quarterfinals.

Osaka hit 22 winners and converted three of her six break points to seal the win in 1 hour, 24 minutes and set up a meeting with Donna Vekic of Croatia.

After saving two break points early, it was an unusually smooth victory for Osaka over Hsieh. She needed three sets to get past the Taiwanese veteran en route to her Australian Open victory and then lost to her at the Miami Open last month.

“I felt like this surface is more suited for me (than Hsieh),” Osaka said. “I was sort of in my plan. So, I just felt like I executed what I was trying to do.”

Two-time Stuttgart champion Angelique Kerber also advanced by beating fellow German Andrea Petkovic 6-2, 6-4. The fifth-seeded Kerber saved two break points to hold for 2-2 in the first set and then reeled off the next four games to take control. She then earned a decisive break for 4-3 in the second before closing out the win with her fourth match point.

Kerber will face sixth-seeded Kiki Bertens, who served 20 aces to rally for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Belinda Bencic.

No. 7 Anastasija Sevastova also advanced by beating former champion Laura Siegemund of Germany 6-4, 6-3 to set up a quarterfinal against Petra Kvitova, who advanced on Wednesday.

Vekic dispatched Russia’s Daria Kasatkina, 6-1, 7-5, earlier on Thursday.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Nadal rallies to beat Mayer in Barcelona Open

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BARCELONA, Spain – Rafael Nadal recovered from a slow start to defeat Leonard Mayer 6-7 (7), 6-4, 6-2 and advance to the third round of the Barcelona Open on Wednesday, keeping alive his streak of never losing consecutive matches on clay.

The second-ranked Nadal was coming off defeat to Fabio Fognini in the semifinals of the Monte Carlo Open.

An 11-time champion in Barcelona, Nadal will next play fellow Spaniard David Ferrer. The 37-year-old Ferrer, who is playing in Barcelona for the last time, defeated Lucas Pouille 6-3, 6-1 in his second-round match.

The top-seeded Nadal squandered two set points after exchanging breaks late in the first set. He rebounded quickly by breaking Mayer’s serve in the first game of the second set, then cruised to victory against the 63rd-ranked Argentine.

Fognini won’t be able to add to his Monte Carlo win after withdrawing from the Barcelona tournament because of a hamstring injury. He was replaced by 104th-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena, who opened with a 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-2 win over Nicola Kuhn.

Seventh-seeded Daniil Medvedev reached the third round by defeating Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3, 2-6, 6-1, while American Mackenzie McDonald advanced with a 6-3, 6-2 win over 11th-seeded Gilles Simon.