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Andy Murray returns to singles with healed hip

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MASON, Ohio — Andy Murray smiled as he walked off the court after a brisk practice session, pain-free and moving better all the time. Retirement? Out of mind for now.

Instead, the three-time major champion is back to playing singles at a Masters event.

Murray is the first-day focus at the Western & Southern Open. A painful exit at the Australian Open left him thinking the end of his career was in sight. He had a second hip operation in January that implanted metal, eliminated the pain and totally changed his outlook.

His against-the-odds comeback takes another step when he faces Richard Gasquet in the first round Monday afternoon. A lot of challenges remain before he’s ready to play at a high level again.

“That’s the situation I’m in, and I would have signed up for being in this position I’m in six months ago, absolutely,” said Murray, wearing a shirt that said “BELIEVE” across the front. “Hopefully it makes for some exciting early round matches.”

Once the surgery eliminated the hip pain that had hobbled him for a long time, the 32-year-old Murray chose to make a comeback. He played doubles in several tournaments, including Wimbledon with Serena Williams and the Citi Open with brother Jamie .

After practicing singles the past few weeks, Murray felt good enough to give it a go. The Western & Southern Open offered him a wild-card slot, and he’ll use the tournament near Cincinnati as a gauge.

“I have zero pain,” Murray said. “I’m not expecting to be moving as well as I used to, but I still think I can probably move better than I am now. But that will take time. I started playing singles a couple weeks ago.

“There’s still some improvement to come from my hip operation as well. So in the next few months, I’ll build up to that.”

His singles return reunites the “Big Four” for the first time since the Australian Open. Defending champion Novak Djokovic, seven-time champion Roger Federer and 2013 champion Rafael Nadal also are in the tournament. Nadal won the Rogers Cup on Sunday in Montreal.

Djokovic won Cincinnati for the first time last year after five finals losses, beating Federer to claim the only ATP Masters 1000 title that had eluded him. Djokovic is the first singles player to win all nine events.

The Big Four has dominated in Cincinnati, winning 11 of the past 14 titles. The Big Four also has claimed 11 straight Grand Slams and 16 of the past 17, with Djokovic beating Federer in a fifth-set tiebreaker at Wimbledon last month.

“We’re still playing our best in the Grand Slams and events that matter most,” Djokovic said Sunday.

Murray is a long way from the form that helped him win the U.S. Open in 2012 and Wimbledon titles in 2013 and 2016, but there’s hope ahead. He’s hoping to get back to playing singles regularly on the tour. He’s also pondering doubles in the 2020 Olympics with his brother.

After seeing how things go in Cincinnati, he’ll decide whether to enter another tournament later this year to continue rebuilding his game.

“Obviously I’ll find out on the court tomorrow if I have doubts about my movement and how my hip and stuff is feeling, but I’ve done what I could to make that easy on myself,” Murray said. “There’s nothing for me to worry about, but I know it’s easy to say that but when you get on the court, psychologically it can be tricky.”

In the two opening matches on the men’s side Sunday, 11th-seeded John Isner served 27 aces while beating Dusan Lajovic 7-6 (3), 1-6, 7-5, getting his only break point of the match to finish it. Also, Alex De Minaur beat Marco Cecchinato 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-2.

Djokovic loses in Cincinnati

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MASON, Ohio (AP) Ashleigh Barty’s chance to move back to No. 1 was only one victory away. At the end of an up-and-down week, she didn’t have another comeback left.

Neither did Novak Djokovic, who went away with yet another disappointment in Cincinnati.

Barty lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open on Saturday. Djokovic ended the day with another stunner, getting overwhelmed by Daniil Medvedev’s serve as the Russian pulled out a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory.

It’s been that kind of week in Cincinnati, with top players in both brackets either struggling or hurt heading into the U.S. Open.

The women’s bracket has a lot questions with New York just around the corner. No. 1 isn’t one of them.

Barty’s seven-week run atop the field ended when Naomi Osaka edged ahead of her in the latest ranking. A victory Saturday would have moved Barty back ahead for the U.S. Open. Instead, she dropped the opening set for the third straight match and this time, there was no digging out.

“A week that we battled through,” Barty said. “I think at times I played some good stuff. At times, I played some pretty awful stuff.”

Which will it be for Barty at the Open? And will Osaka be in good enough shape to defend her title?

Osaka dropped out of her semifinal match Friday with discomfort in her left knee that caused her worry. She still plans to play in New York, but it’s unclear whether the knee will be a problem.

And then there’s Serena Williams, who retired in the finals at Toronto last Sunday because of back spasms. She also withdrew from Cincinnati before her first match, but stuck around to cheer sister Venus until her loss in the quarterfinals.

A resurgent Kuznetsova gave Barty no openings, knocking off a top-five player for the second time this week to reach her first final of the season. The 153rd-ranked player is recovering from seven-month layoff because of a knee injury.

In her ninth tournament of the season, she got her game together, winning her first Premier-level semifinal since 2017 at Madrid.

“Well, sometimes in life it’s like this,” Kuznetsova said. “It’s like really small things change everything. Definitely it’s different momentum I have now.”

She’ll face Madison Keys , who beat Sofia Kenin 7-5, 6-4 with the help of 14 aces. Keys ended her streak of failing to make it past the second round of her last three tournaments, playing through heat and humidity all week without problem.

“I feel really good” she said. “Every day I’m kind of waking up, hoping that everything still feels like it’s in one piece and it feels really good.”

In the men’s bracket, Djokovic overcame concerns about his right elbow but couldn’t prevail over Medvedev’s 14 aces. Djokovic got the muscles around his right elbow rubbed during his quarterfinal win on Friday night and showed no sign of a problem a day later.

Djokovic won the tournament for the first time last year, getting the only Masters 1000 title that had eluded him. This one slipped away in the second set.

Medvedev reached the final at Montreal last week and lost to Rafael Nadal. He’s back to a title match again after fighting off a break point midway through the second set and closing with a flurry, winning 12 of the last 14 points to even the match and take the momentum.

He’ll face David Goffin, who reached his first Masters 1000 final by beating Richard Gasquet 6-3, 6-4 . Goffin also is on an upswing after falling to No. 33 in the ATP rankings on June 10, his lowest since September 2014.

“Of course, it was a tough period there,” Goffin said. “I was coming back from injuries. I had some trouble with my confidence. I couldn’t find my rhythm, my game. So it’s great now. I’m feeling great. I’m back at my best tennis.”

The men’s bracket also took several notable hits throughout the week.

Originally billed as a reunion of the Big Four – Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray together for the first time since January – it quickly lost its luster. Nadal dropped out after winning the Rogers Cup, citing fatigue. Murray played singles for the first time since hip surgery in January and lost his opening match.

And Federer, the seven-time champion, failed to reach the weekend, losing in the quarterfinals.

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Barty upset in Cincy semifinals, misses top spot for U.S. Open

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MASON, Ohio — Ashleigh Barty was upset by Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2, 6-4 in the Western & Southern Open semifinals, missing her chance to return to the No. 1 ranking ahead of the U.S. Open.

Barty dropped an opening set Saturday for the third straight match, but couldn’t overcome the slow start this time. A resurgent Kuznetsova earned her third win over a Top 10 player this week and reached the final for the first time this season.

Barty had slipped behind Naomi Osaka in the latest rankings. She would have jumped back ahead by winning Saturday. Osaka, the defending U.S. Open champion, withdrew in the quarterfinals with a sore knee.

Serena Williams dropped out during her first match of the tournament because of back spasms.