Djokovic, Nadal make winning returns at Monte Carlo Masters

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MONACO — Returning from a long break, both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal opened their clay-court seasons with victories Wednesday at the Monte Carlo Masters.

Djokovic produced a clinical 6-4, 6-2 win over up-and-coming Jannik Sinner before Nadal – an 11-time champion at the Country Club – defeated Federico Delbonis 6-1, 6-2.

Both Nadal and Djokovic took some time off after the Australian Open, where Djokovic claimed a record-extending ninth title in February.

Facing a stern test against Sinner, the top-ranked Djokovic eased into his clay-court routine to reach the third round and improve his unbeaten record this season to 10-0.

“It was a very good encounter. I thought it was a great first match, a big challenge for me,” said Djokovic, who is a Monaco resident. “I just hung in there today and managed to find the right shots and the right game at the right time.”

After dropping his serve early, Djokovic won four straight games.

Sinner, who arrived in Monte Carlo following a runner-up finish in Miami, saved two match points but was too often troubled by Djokovic’s mix of baseline attacks and subtle drop shots. The 19-year-old Sinner bowed out on a double-fault.

Djokovic will next face Daniel Evans, who beat Hubert Hurkacz 6-4, 6-1.

Djokovic, who beat Nadal in the 2013 final and won the tournament again in 2015, could face the Spaniard in Sunday’s final.

Against Delbonis, an Argentine qualifier, Nadal saved four of the five break points he faced and was in total control. He will take on Grigor Dimitrov in the next round.

“I think I just really played a solid match. Nothing unbelievable, but nothing wrong,” Nadal said. “Just a solid match, a positive start.”

The Monte Carlo Masters is back on the calendar with no fans after it was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Defending champion Fabio Fognini also advanced to the third round, beating Jordan Thompson 6-3, 6-3. Fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas progressed with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Aslan Karatsev and Alexander Zverev defeated Lorenzo Sonego 6-3, 6-3. Also, Casper Ruud earned his second top-10 victory with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over ninth-seeded Diego Schwartzman.

Alcaraz loses to Goffin in 1st match as No. 1

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Carlos Alcaraz’s first match as the No. 1-ranked player ended with a straight-set loss to David Goffin at the Astana Open.

The 19-year-old Spaniard lost 7-5, 6-3 in his first tour match since winning the U.S. Open and capturing the No. 1 ranking.

“David was playing really, really well. To come back to competition is never easy,” Alcaraz said. “It’s really tough for me, for my confidence.”

Alcaraz came from 5-2 down to level the first set at 5-5, only to be broken again by his Belgian opponent.

“When you play against the World No. 1 on a big stage, big crowd, the fire inside gives you so much power to play your best tennis because you don’t have any choice,” Goffin said. “You have to fight and give your best and that was the case today.”

Second-seeded Daniil Medvedev and No. 3-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas both avoided similar upsets. Medvedev beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain 6-3, 6-1 and Tsitsipas ousted Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3. 6-4.

Kasatkina knocks out Raducanu at Agel Open

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — Fifth-seeded Daria Kasatkina defeated 2021 U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu 7-5, 6-4 to advance to the second round of the Agel Open.

Kasatkina was playing her first match since losing in the first round of the U.S. Open and will next face Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Sixth-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland rallied to eliminate former top-five player Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 6-7 (7), 6-1, while Aliaksandra Sasnovich upset eighth-seeded Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-2.

American qualifiers Alycia Parks and Catherine McNally both advanced. Parks upset Czech Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 7-6 (3) and McNally eased past Anna Blinkova 6-1, 6-2 at the indoor hardcourt event in the Czech eastern city of Ostrava.