Doubles defeat doesn’t dent Djokovic’s comeback

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TOKYO — Novak Djokovic’s return from injury had a stuttering start at the Japan Open, with defeat Monday in the opening round of doubles.

Yet for the No. 1-ranked Djokovic, playing at the tournament for the first time, the result was less important than emerging from the match unscathed.

Djokovic had not played since retiring with an injured left shoulder in his U.S. Open fourth-round match against Stan Wawrinka, who was leading 6-4, 7-5, 2-1.

The fourth-seeded pair of Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares beat a rusty Djokovic and Filip Krajinovic 6-2, 4-6, 10-4 in sweltering heat on the Colosseum show court at a revamped Ariake Tennis Forest Park. The venue will stage the Olympic tennis tournament next year.

“One of the reasons for playing the doubles was that I wanted to see how the shoulder feels during match play,” Djokovic said. “Obviously, doubles is quite different from singles, but you’re still playing an official match – you still get the nerves, and have to battle on court.

“There was a lot of serving and returning, slow balls and fast balls, but it seems like my shoulder is fine after that, so I’m hoping that’s going to be the case for the singles.”

Djokovic said it was good to play in Tokyo, “because I want to win the Olympic Games next year.”

“I can get a feel for the court and the conditions, but the tournament will be played a bit earlier than this, at an even warmer time and higher humidity – you have to mentally accept that and then prepare yourself,” he said. “Hopefully I can come here early for the Olympic tournament and fully prepare myself.”

Djokovic kicks off his singles campaign on Tuesday against Australia’s Alexei Popyrin and – if successful – will meet local wildcard entry Go Soeda in the second round. The 133rd-ranked Soeda upset Jan-Lennard Struff 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3.

Marin Cilic also advanced to the second round and will face either Italian Lorenzo Sonego or South Korean Hyeon Chung. Cilic defeated Japanese wild card Yuichi Sugita 6-4, 6-4.

Like Djokovic, Cilic also has not played since the US Open, where he lost to Rafael Nadal in the last 16. This was a welcome win for the Croatian who has slumped 27 places from the career-high No. 3 rank that he occupied in January last year.

“It can be that, when you have a break, you come to a tournament fresh but actually you are not match fit, a little bit rusty, but this far into the season it feels good,” Cilic said.

“In a way it’s been a little bit of a new experience this year,” he said. “I was training hard, trying to push myself the same as the last few seasons – I wasn’t doing much different, but I wasn’t following up with the results, and I’ve just felt more drained and fatigued.”

Fifth-seeded Lucas Pouille advanced to the second round with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz. Pouille will face Yoshihito Nishioka, who defeated Joao Sousa 7-5, 6-3.

Unseeded Parks beats top-seeded Garcia for her 1st title

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LYON, France — Unseeded American Alycia Parks secured a stunning 7-6 (7), 7-5 upset win over WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in the Open Metropole de Lyon final to clinch her first career title.

“I think France has a special part in my heart right now,” Parks said. “I’ll be back next year.”

The 22-year-old Parks, who is ranked 79th, had 15 aces and saved all four break points against the top-seeded Garcia.

Parks secured the only break of a tight contest to win the match.

The fifth-ranked Garcia, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, was seeking a 12th career title.

“Congrats on a great tournament,” Garcia told Parks in English. “If you keep playing like this for sure you’re going to keep going up (the rankings).”

Parks has a career-best ranking of 75th.

The 29-year-old Garcia, who grew up in Lyon, took time to thank her home crowd – this time in French.

“It means a lot to play here, thanks for being here,” Garcia said. “You supported me from the first point to the last. Thanks for all your encouragement.”

Zhu beats Tsurenko to win Thailand Open

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Zhu Lin of China won her maiden career title after beating Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the Thailand Open.

In a match lasting one hour and 45 minutes, both players exchanged nail-biting baseline rallies before Zhu finally found a way past her determined opponent.

The 29-year-old Chinese player managed a break to go up 5-3 in the first set. Although she was broken to love in the following game, Zhu returned the favor straight back, also to love, to take the opening set in 46 minutes.

The second saw players trade breaks with Zhu eventually securing her first match point at 5-3. She sprayed a shot wide to miss the chance but capitalized on her third in the 10th game with a backhand winner.

“I’m so happy to finally win my first tour title. All the hard work finally paid off,” said the No. 54-ranked Zhu, who will crack the top 50 when the new WTA rankings are updated.

Zhu has started the season strongly, reaching the quarter-finals in Auckland and the last 16 at the Australian Open.

The victory also allowed Zhu to avenge her loss to the Ukrainian at the WTA Dubai Championships back in 2019.

Despite the loss, the No. 136-ranked Tsurenko, 33, will return to the top 100.