After great start, Nadal returns from injury at Madrid Open

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MADRID — Back home, Rafael Nadal looks to resume his season where he left off before being sidelined by an injury that halted a great start to his year.

Nadal will seek his fourth title of the season this week at the Madrid Open as he returns to action following a rib stress fracture that kept him out for about a month.

Nadal had won his first 20 matches of the year before getting injured in the semifinals at Indian Wells. He made it to the final but lost to Taylor Fritz for his first defeat. Until then, it had been the third-best start to a season on the ATP Tour since 1990.

Nadal won the Australian Open for a record 21st Grand Slam title and also won in Melbourne and Acapulco. He missed tournaments in Miami, Monte Carlo and Barcelona because of the injury.

The 35-year-old Spaniard will be trying to win the Madrid title for the sixth time, and first since 2017, though he said last week he would have “few chances” of winning after arriving “with minimum preparation.”

He will debut against either Miomir Kecmanovic or Alexander Bublik.

Nadal could face a semifinal against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who has been trying to regain his best form after a slow start to the season.

A three-time winner in Madrid, Djokovic was coming off a runner-up finish in Serbia, where he won three three-set matches before losing the final to Andrey Rublev.

His first match in Madrid will be against either Gael Monfils or Carlos Gimeno Valero.

Another home-crowd favorite in Madrid will be young sensation Carlos Alcaraz, who made it to No. 9 in the world after titles in Rio de Janeiro, Miami and Barcelona.

The 18-year-old, touted by many as Nadal’s heir, could face his idol in the quarterfinals. He lost to Nadal in the tournament’s second round last year.

Alcaraz will begin his campaign against Nikoloz Basilashvili or Fabio Fognini.

Former world No. 1 Andy Murray, a two-time winner in Madrid, will be back at the clay-court tournament for the first time since 2017. He will face a marquee first-round match against former world No. 3 Dominic Thiem, a two-time finalist in the Spanish capital.

Thiem has been recovering from a wrist injury that sidelined him for eight months.

The 34-year-old Murray had earlier said he would skip the clay season but ended up accepting the wildcard invitation to play in Spain.

Alycia Parks reaches 1st WTA quarterfinal in Ostrava

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — American qualifier Alycia Parks is having quite the breakthrough tournament in Ostrava.

The 21-year-old Parks earned her first win against a top-10 ranked opponent by beating fourth-seeded Maria Sakkari 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 at the Agel Open on Thursday to reach her first WTA Tour quarterfinal.

The 144th-ranked Parks ousted former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova in the opening round – her first win against a top-20 opponent – and showed off her power by hitting 59 winners against Sakkari, compared to just nine for her opponent.

“I came out here not expecting anything, just playing my game, and it got me through the match,” Parks said.

Parks will next face former French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who advanced via walkover when Belinda Bencic withdrew with a left foot injury.

Caty McNally, another American qualifier who is playing doubles with Parks in Ostrava, also reached the last eight by beating wild-card entry Karolina Muchova 6-1, 3-6, 6-1. McNally is also into her first WTA quarterfinal and will face top-ranked Iga Swiatek, who advanced Wednesday.

Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Add Botic van de Zandschulp to the long list of players to have been schooled by Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic eased past Van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-1 on Thursday in his first career meeting with the 27-year-old Dutchman to reach the quarterfinals of the Astana Open.

Van de Zandschulp earned one break point in each set but couldn’t seriously threaten Djokovic, who is looking for a second straight indoor hardcourt title after winning in Tel Aviv last week.

“(In the) second set I think I started to read his serve better and just started swinging through the court more,” Djokovic said. “Botic is a quality tennis player. When he has time, he can hurt you, so I tried to take away that time from him and I’m very pleased with the way I played, particularly in the second.”

Djokovic will next face Karen Khachanov, who rallied to beat Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. If the 21-time Grand Slam champion gets past that one, he could come up against fellow former No. 1 Daniil Medvedev. The second-seeded Russian beat Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland 6-3, 6-2 to move one match away from a potential rematch of last year’s U.S. Open final, when Medvedev beat Djokovic to deny his attempt at a calendar-year Grand Slam.

Medvedev will first have to beat Roberto Bautista Agut, who advanced Wednesday.