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Nadal, Sharapova advance in straight sets at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal has missed a lot of tennis since last September. He hasn’t missed a beat.

The No. 2-seeded Nadal had a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 win over Australian wild-card entry James Duckworth on Monday in the first round of the Australian Open, his first match back on Rod Laver Arena since he had to retire during his quarterfinal match last year.

The 17-time major winner hasn’t played since retiring from his semifinal at the U.S. Open because of a knee injury, and then had surgery on his right ankle in November. He also withdrew from a tune-up tournament in Brisbane because of a muscle strain in his thigh, mainly as a precaution, to ensure he’s fit for the season-opening major.

“Not easy to come back after a lot of months of competition, especially against a player playing super aggressive every shot,” Nadal said. “It’s very difficult to start after an injury – I know it very well. It’s very special to be back.”

Wearing a sleeveless top, he showed no signs of any issues against Duckworth. His only hiccup came when he served for the match in the ninth game of the third set and was broken at love. He returned the favor very quickly, though, to seal his spot in the second round.

Nadal has only lost twice in the first round at Grand Slams – to Steve Darcis at 2013 Wimbledon, and to Fernando Verdasco here in 2016 – and is aiming to be the first man in the Open era two win all four majors at least twice.

Maria Sharapova was the first of five Australian Open winners to play on Rod Laver Arena on Day 1, starting with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Harriet Dart. No. 2-ranked Angelique Kerber, the 2016 Australian Open champion, opened with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Polona Hercog.

Sharapova has the second-best record among active women’s players in first-round matches at the majors, and she gave an illustration of why that’s the case in a 63-minute disposal of Dart.

The 2008 champion is making her 15th trip to Melbourne Park and her 55th Grand Slam tournament, and she’s acutely aware of the toll that the sun and long early matches can have on a player’s title ambitions, so she gets straight to business.

Stung by a first-round loss at Wimbledon last year, Sharapova said she couldn’t afford to feel any empathy for Dart.

“I mean, there is no time for that, I’m sorry to say … when you’re playing the first round of a Grand Slam,” said Sharapova, who is still feeling pain in her right shoulder despite sitting out the end of last season after the U.S. Open. “I think I was just focused on not having a letdown.

“I think it’s very easy to be in a position where things are flowing, you know, you’re doing all the right things, she’s making a few errors, you’re comfortable, easy to get complacent, and, you know, complacency is not great. I was glad that I did the right things from the beginning till the end.”

Also advancing were 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, No. 11 Aryna Sabalenka, No. 19 Caroline Garcia, No. 29 Donna Vekic and No. 31 Petra Martic.

Danielle Collins advanced to the second round of a major for the first time following a 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over No. 14-seeded Julia Goerges, who won the title in Auckland to start the season.

Katie Boulter earned the distinction of winning the first 10-point tiebreaker under the Australian Open’s new system for deciding sets, and she celebrated twice.

Boulter beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (6), including 10-6 in the tiebreaker. Boulter started celebrating and went to the net when she reached 7-4 in the tiebreaker, forgetting it wasn’t a conventional count.

The new rule was introduced to ensure matches don’t get too lengthy – previously the third set in women’s matches and the fifth set in men’s matches at the Australian Open had to be decided by a two-game advantage.

Fifth-seeded Kevin Anderson won his first match at Melbourne Park since 2015 when he beat Adrian Mannarino 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 6-1. Also advancing on the men’s side were No. 19 Nikoloz Basilashvili, No. 20 Grigor Dimitrov and No. 26 Fernando Verdasco.

Defending champions Caroline Wozniacki and Roger Federer were scheduled to play night matches later Monday.

Azarenka wins first match at new Miami Open site

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Victoria Azarenka won the first match on the stadium court at the new site of the Miami Open by beating Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

The unseeded Azarenka is a three-time Miami Open champion.

After a one-day delay because of rain, the tournament started Wednesday at the Miami Dolphins’ complex. The 13,800-seat stadium was mostly empty for the opening match, but bigger crowds are expected when seeded players begin taking the court. They have first-round byes.

Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony before the first stadium match.

“Standing here in this stadium right now, you see the magnitude, what kind of an arena this is,” Federer said. “I think it’s a big, massive moment in our sport.”

Thiem edges Federer to win Indian Wells title

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Dominic Thiem edged error-prone Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 to win the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday, denying Federer a record sixth title in the desert.

Thiem trailed 4-3 and 5-4 in the third set before breaking Federer with a forehand winner to go up 6-5. Thiem served out the two-hour match that ended with another error from Federer, a forehand dumped into the net.

Federer was in the final for the third straight year and lost for the second year in a row. He was beaten in a third-set tiebreaker by Juan Martin del Potro last year. Federer won his 100th career title in Dubai recently.

Thiem had lost in his previous two ATP Masters 1000 finals. But the 25-year-old Austrian’s solid serve held up against Federer as it had throughout the tournament.

Thiem was broken just four times out of 61 service games in the tournament. He didn’t lose serve during his semifinal win over Milos Raonic, facing only one break point in that match.

Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu upset Angelique Kerber 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to win the women’s title.

Thiem and Andreescu earned $1.3 million each.

Federer and Thiem had split their four previous meetings, but Federer had won both of their hard-court matches without dropping a set.

He cruised through the first set in 36 minutes while getting broken for just the second time during his run to his ninth appearance in the final. But Federer broke back in the next game and served out the set.

Thiem earned the only break of the second set in the fourth game, going up 3-1. Federer won just two more games in the set.

Both players were on serve in the third set until Thiem collected the only break. Federer tried consecutive drop shots that Thiem retrieved for crosscourt forehand winners before the Austrian hit a winning forehand to lead 6-5.

“He did very well when he got up to the ball, stayed calm, made the shot,” Federer said.

Federer won just one point on Thiem’s serve in the final game.

“Just came up against somebody who was on the day a bit better when it really mattered,” Federer said. “I have been in these positions so many times that I get over it very quickly.”

Federer advanced to the final after rival Rafael Nadal withdrew before their semifinal match because of knee pain. Thiem also benefited from a walkover, reaching the semis when Gael Monfils withdrew with an Achilles injury.

Andreescu, an 18-year-old Canadian, became the first wild-card winner and second-youngest to claim the title in tournament history.

“The fricking champion of Indian Wells,” Andreescu said. “It’s crazy.”

She overcame nerves, fatigue, arm and leg issues in the final set to earn the first title of her fledgling career.

Andreescu won on her fourth match point when Kerber netted a backhand. She broke Kerber three times in the third set, rallying from a 3-2 deficit to take four of the final five games.

Andreescu dropped her racket near the baseline and fell on her back, her legs in the air as she covered her face in disbelief. After getting up and exchanging kisses with Kerber, the teen bent down and kissed the sunbaked hard court and dropped to her back again, her arms and legs splayed, before grabbing her head.

“This moment has become a reality so it’s really, really crazy,” Andreescu told the crowd before speaking a bit of Romanian.

Born in Canada, she later moved with her parents to Romania, where she first started playing tennis.

Kerber was the last of five seeded players that Andreescu knocked off in her seven matches.

“When she had the chances, she just go for it,” Kerber said.

The Canadian followed in the footsteps of Naomi Osaka, who was a little-known 20-year-old when she won the title last year. Osaka used it as a springboard to win titles at the U.S. and Australian opens while ascending to the No. 1 ranking in January.

“No pressure,” Andreescu said, joking.

She’s projected to rise 36 spots to No. 24 in the WTA Tour rankings on Monday.

Kerber, ranked eighth, remains without a title since winning Wimbledon last year.

She was a crowd favorite, with fans waving Canadian flags and chanting “Let’s go, Bianca! Let’s go” in the second set.

They clearly enjoyed Andreescu’s fearless style of play. She alternately outpunched opponents from the baseline, tossed up high-arching shots and unleashed well-time drop shots – usually during the same point.

A smiling Andreescu was quick to correct a reporter.

“It’s not moonballing,” she said. “It’s just hitting heavy to her backhand with more spin. We’re not under 12 here.”

Her most dominant win during the 12-day tournament came in the quarterfinals, a 6-0, 6-1 rout of two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza. In all, the teen knocked out four Top 20 players.

Leading 2-1 in the third, Andreescu took a medical timeout and had a trainer massage her tight right shoulder and arm.

Kerber won the next two games, breaking Andreescu to go up 3-2.

Appearing tired and nervous, Andreescu called for her coach, who urged her to make Kerber play every point.

She did just that.

Andreescu won the next three games, ripping off powerful forehands while winning nine straight points during one stretch, including a 40-love service game.

“I just fought till the end because physically I wasn’t feeling too well,” she said.

The trainer reappeared again to ice Andreescu’s cramping legs.

The teen had three match points on her serve before trying one of her patented drop shots. Kerber raced to get it and sent a forehand down the line to get to deuce.

The German led 40-add on Andreescu’s forehand error before the teen made a low-percentage attempt at a drop shot. It landed in the net, leaving Kerber trailing 5-4.

“At the end I was not able to take my chances, but she did,” Kerber said.

Andreescu bounced back, putting away a smash to set up her fourth match point before Kerber’s backhand error ended it after 2 hours and 18 minutes.