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Osaka wins but takes tough road at French Open

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PARIS (AP) Naomi Osaka is grinding her way through the French Open the hard way.

To cling onto her quest for a third consecutive Grand Slam title, the top-ranked Osaka has twice had to rally from first-set woes.

The latest opponent was former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, beaten 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the second round Thursday in a match with superb shot-making.

The U.S Open and Australian Open champion from Japan, who surprisingly lost a set 6-0 in the first round, again started poorly.

Azarenka, now ranked No. 43 and without a major title since winning the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013, raced to a 4-0 lead on Court Suzanne Lenglen and kept Osaka under constant pressure.

Osaka considered herself unfortunate to be drawn against Azarenka and the powerful, accurate tennis produced by the 29-year-old Belarusian playing in her 12th French Open showed why.

Broken by a backhand volley at the net from Azarenka in the fifth game of the second set, Osaka seemed to be in deep trouble. But, as she did in beating first-round opponent Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Osaka again proved her resilience.

The eighth game of the second set was pivotal. After saving two break points, Azarenka doubled-faulted. Osaka leveled at 4-4 and the momentum started to shift. It was the seventh break point Azarenka had faced in the set, and the first she had failed to save.

But Azarenka still saved three set points before Osaka finally leveled the match with a backhand cross-court winner.

The third set was packed with drama, too, with Osaka finally taming Azarenka with her third match point, when her combative opponent hit long.

Osaka will next play Katerina Siniakova, ranked No. 42, in the third round.

Also Thursday, Serena Williams will be back on Court Philippe Chatrier against Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara.

In men’s action, top-ranked Novak Djokovic faces 104th-ranked Henri Laaksonen, a “lucky loser” who only entered the draw when another player pulled out.

Earlier, Dominic Thiem overcame some trickery from Kazakh opponent Alexander Bublik to advance to the third round with a 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 7-5 victory.

Bublik surprised Thiem with an underhand serve in the first set and frustrated the Austrian with a series of drop shots, spins and volleys. But last year’s finalist at Roland Garros recovered from a break of serve in the fourth set and then gave Bublik a taste of his own medicine on his first match point, producing a well-disguised – and successful – drop shot.

Thiem will next face Pablo Cuevas, another master of trick shots. Cuevas was leading 7-6 (3), 6-3, 2-1 when Kyle Edmund retired from their match because of a left knee injury.

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Kvitova to decide this week whether to play at Wimbledon

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PRAGUE — Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova says she will decide later this week if she’s ready to play at the All England Club.

The 29-year-old Czech player injured her left forearm during training in Paris ahead of the French Open and has not played since. The injury prevented her from defending her title at the Birmingham Classic this week.

Kvitova wrote on Twitter that she was “Happy to tell you that my arm is improving and I just hit some balls on the beautiful grass for the first time.

The sixth-ranked Kvitova, who won the Wimbledon title in 2011 and 2014, reached the Australian Open final and won tournaments in Sydney and Stuttgart this year.

Anna Tatishvili appeals $50,000 French Open fine

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LONDON — American tennis player Anna Tatishvili has appealed her fine of about $50,000 for what the Grand Slam Board ruled was a violation of its first-round performance rule at the French Open last month.

Tatishvili was docked a first-round loser’s full prize money after losing to 29th-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece 6-0, 6-1 in Paris.

It was Tatishvili’s first competition since October 2017 because of an ankle injury. She has been ranked as high as 50th and is currently outside the top 700 because of her long absence from the tour, but used a special ranking to make the field at Roland Garros.

The Grand Slam Board introduced the performance rule before the 2018 season. The aim is to deter players who enter tournaments while injured from retiring during first-round matches to collect prize money. Players can be fined their first-round check if they do not “perform to a professional standard.”

Injured players who withdraw before the tournament – allowing someone who lost in qualifying to get into the draw – receive half the first-round prize money.