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Australian Open champ Osaka is Asia’s first No. 1 in tennis

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka is the first player from Asia to top the men’s or women’s tennis rankings — and the youngest woman to make her debut at No. 1 in nine years.

“I feel like I’m literally just still learning,” the 21-year-old Osaka said. “Everyone kind of adjusts to being No. 1 in a different way.”

Simona Halep’s 48-week stay atop the WTA rankings ended Monday as she slid to No. 3 after a fourth-round loss to Serena Williams, one year after getting to the final at Melbourne Park.

“The main goal is just to play as good as I can every match, to win every match I play, so the ranking doesn’t really matter,” Halep said.

Halep said the year-end ranking is what is “more important” than where things stand now, “so I will not stress myself about this.”

Osaka’s second consecutive major title, following her success at the U.S. Open last year, helped her rise three spots.

She was born in Japan — her mother is Japanese, her father is Haitian — and moved to the United States when she was 3. She has dual citizenship and now is based in Florida.

Osaka is the youngest woman to reach the top since 2010, when Caroline Wozniacki did it at 20.

“People were talking about (me) being No. 1 if I win this tournament. I was able to accomplish that,” Osaka said. “But the ranking was never my real goal. It was just to win this tournament.”

The runner-up at Melbourne Park, Petra Kvitova, jumped from No. 6 to No. 2.

Sloane Stephens is No. 4, and Karolina Pliskova went from No. 8 to No. 5.

Williams missed the 2018 tournament after having a baby; her quarterfinal run this time pushed her up five places to No. 11.

Surprise semifinalist Danielle Collins, a 25-year-old from Florida, climbed from No. 35 to No. 23. The woman she upset in the fourth round, three-time major champion Angelique Kerber, dropped from No. 2 to No. 6.

Novak Djokovic’s record seventh Australian Open title allowed him to stay at No. 1 in the ATP rankings, and Rafael Nadal’s runner-up showing kept him at No. 2.

But 2017-18 champion Roger Federer’s fourth-round exit took him from No. 3 down to No. 6.

The player who beat Federer, 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, turned his first run to a Grand Slam semifinal into a career-best ranking of No. 12.

Nadal beats Ferrer to reach Barcelona Open quarterfinals

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BARCELONA, Spain — Rafael Nadal looked closer to his clay-court best again as he beat David Ferrer 6-3, 6-3 on Thursday to reach the quarterfinals of the Barcelona Open.

The 11-time Barcelona champion saved four of five break points and broke four times in what could have been his last meeting with Ferrer, who is retiring after the Madrid Open next month. It was a sign of improvement for Nadal, who lost in the semifinals in Monte Carlo last week and then needed three sets to get past Leonard Mayer in his opening match in Barcelona.

“This match was important for me,” Nadal said. “Yesterday I had a tough match. I took a step forward and was able to play with more energy.”

The top-seeded Nadal will next face either Stefanos Tsitsipas, last year’s runner-up, or Jan-Lennard Struff.

Nadal was up 5-3 in the first set before play was stopped for a rain delay. He continued to dictate the match when play resumed, serving out the set and breaking Ferrer’s next service game.

Ferrer saved three match points before finally sending a forehand into the net to give Nadal the win.

The 37-year-old Ferrer was making his last appearance at the Barcelona Open and could not hold back the tears when he received an ovation from the audience. He placed his pink headband on the court as a mark that he had played his last match here.

“I am happy to be able to finish this tournament on the center court, playing against Nadal. I gave it my all,” Ferrer said.

Also, third-seeded Dominic Thiem broke Jaume Munar five times to earn a 7-5, 6-1 victory. Fourth-seeded Kei Nishikori, who won the tournament in 2014 and 2015, brushed off Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-1, 6-3.

Grigor Dimitrov was beaten 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2) by Nicolas Jarry, who will meet Daniil Medvedev after he beat American Mackenzie McDonald 6-3, 6-2.

Osaka opens clay campaign by beating Hsieh in Stuttgart

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STUTTGART, Germany — 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.