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Marin Cilic stunned at Wimbledon, boosts draw for Roger Federer, John Isner

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No. 3 seed Marin Cilic, the 2017 Wimbledon runner-up, was upset in the second round Thursday, leaving a major opening for American John Isner.

Cilic was also the highest seed (and only remaining Grand Slam winner) that Roger Federer could have faced before the final.

Argentina’s Guido Pella, ranked No. 82 in the world, shocked the Croatian Cilic 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-5.

Cilic became the fourth top-10 seed in the men’s draw to go out in the first two rounds. Five of the top eight women have also been upset.

WIMBLEDON: Full Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

Isner, the top-seeded American at No. 9, could benefit greatly from Cilic’s absence. Isner, who edged Belgian qualifier Ruben Belemans in five sets over two days in the second round, is the highest seed left in his quarter of the draw.

Isner gets 98th-ranked Moldovan Radu Albot in the third round. Isner has never made it past the third round in nine Wimbledon appearances. The biggest potential threats to Isner in the fourth round — No. 6 Grigor Dimitrov and three-time Grand Slam singles champion Stan Wawrinka — were already eliminated.

Isner and Cilic would have played in the quarterfinals. Now, the only seed Isner would face in a potential quarterfinal is No. 13 Milos Raonic, the 2016 Wimbledon runner-up.

Former champions Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal remained on course for a semifinal meeting in the other half of the draw.

Djokovic overcame a knee problem to beat Horacio Zeballos 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, while top-ranked Nadal defeated Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.

Djokovic called for a trainer and had his left leg massaged when leading 4-3 in the third set. But he easily held serve in the next game and broke Zeballos again to close out the match.

“I’ve been doing checkups now. It seems like it’s nothing major,” Djokovic said of the injury. “When I say ‘not major,’ if it was major I’d be pulling out from the tournament. What I’m saying is that it’s most likely a twitch, you know, in the muscle or something like this that has affected the knee a little bit.”

Nadal won only 64 percent of points on his first serve and faced 13 break points — including three in the first game of the match — but he saved 11 of them and converted five of his own to wrap up the win in under 2 1/2 hours on Centre Court.

The 11-time French Open champion is looking for his third title at the All England Club and first since 2010.

Women’s No. 1 Simona Halep also advanced, winning the last 10 games to beat Saisai Zheng of China 7-5, 6-0. Saisai led 5-3 in the first set but Halep broke back for 5-5 and cruised the rest of the way against her 126th-ranked opponent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Novak Djokovic rolls at French Open; top women escape

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Novak Djokovic began what could be a march to his 18th Grand Slam title, sweeping Swede Mikael Ymer 6-0, 6-2, 6-3 in the French Open first round on Tuesday.

The top seed Djokovic lost just seven points in the first set. He gets Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis in the second round in a half of the draw that includes no other man with French Open semifinal experience.

Djokovic had plenty going for him into Roland Garros, seeking to repeat his 2016 run to the title. The chilly weather is similar to four years ago.

“I don’t like usually comparing the years,” he said. “But I think [the conditions are] quite suitable to my style of the game.”

As is Djokovic’s form. His only loss in 2020 was when he was defaulted at the U.S. Open for hitting a ball in anger that struck a linesperson in the throat.

Djokovic got a break with the draw when No. 3 seed Dominic Thiem was put in No. 2 Rafael Nadal‘s half. The Serbian also won his clay-court tune-up event in Rome, where he received warnings in back-to-back matches for breaking a racket and uttering an obscenity.

“I don’t think that [the linesperson incident] will have any significant negative impact on how I feel on the tennis court,” Djokovic said before Roland Garros. “I mean, I won the tournament in Rome just a week later after what happened in New York.

“I really want to be my best version as a player, as a human being on the court, and win a tennis match. Because of the care that I have for that, I sometimes express my emotions in good way or maybe less good way.”

If Djokovic can lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires two Sundays from now, he will move within two of Roger Federer‘s career Slams record. Also notable: He would keep Nadal from tying Federer’s record and head into the Australian Open in January, his signature Slam, with a chance to match Nadal at 19.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Earlier Tuesday, No. 2 Karolina Pliskova and No. 4 Sofia Kenin each needed three sets to reach the second round.

The Czech Pliskova rallied past Egyptian qualifier Mayar Sherif 6-7 (9), 6-2, 6-4. Pliskova, the highest-ranked player without a major title, next gets 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.

“Let’s not talk about my level [of play],” Pliskova said. “I think there is big room for improvement.”

Kenin, the American who won the Australian Open in February, outlasted Russian Liudmila Samsonova 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

“It doesn’t matter how you win — ugly, pretty, doesn’t matter,” Kenin said on Tennis Channel.

She gets Romanian Ana Bogdan in the second round. Only one other seed — No. 14 Elena Rybakina — is left in Kenin’s section en route to a possible quarterfinal.

American Jen Brady, who made a breakthrough run to the U.S. Open semifinals, was beaten by Danish qualifier Clara Tauson  6-4, 3-6, 9-7.

Sam Querrey nearly made it eight American men into the second round, serving for the match in the third set. But he succumbed to 13th-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev 6-7 (5), 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. It’s still the best first-round showing for U.S. men since nine advanced in 1996.

The second round begins Wednesday, highlighted by Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal.

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U.S. men off to best French Open start in 24 years

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The last time U.S. men started this well at the French Open, Sebastian Korda wasn’t alive and his dad had yet to win a Grand Slam singles title.

Eight American men are into the second round at Roland Garros, the largest contingent in the last 64 since 1996. It could have been nine, had Sam Querrey served out the match in the third set against 13th seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.

Still, the U.S. has more men in the second round than any other nation. Astonishing, given U.S. men went a collective 1-9 at the 2019 French Open.

Back in 1996, nine American men won first-round matches. That group included Pete SamprasAndre AgassiJim Courier and Michael Chang (in Sampras’ deepest run in Paris, to the semifinals).

Clay has long been kryptonite for this generation of Americans — the last U.S. man to make a Roland Garros quarterfinal was Agassi in 2003.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

This group includes veterans like Jack Sock, who swept countryman Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 on Monday. Sock, 28, was once ranked eighth in the world.

He then dropped out of the rankings entirely, missing time due to injury and going 10 months between tour-level match wins. He’s now at No. 310 and preparing to play No. 3 Dominic Thiem in the second round.

“A pretty horrific two years in a row,” Sock said. “I’m not opposed to silencing some haters after the last couple years I’ve gone through. I’ve read and seen enough of it, heard enough of it. I’m kind of ready to reestablish myself out there, let people know that I’m back.”

Then there’s 35-year-old John Isner, the big server who swept a French wild card in round one. Isner, the highest seeded U.S. man at No. 21, has posted some decent Roland Garros results, reaching the fourth round three times.

There are new faces, too. Taylor Fritz is seeded 27, aged 22 and in an open section of the draw to make his first Grand Slam fourth round.

On Sunday, 20-year-old Korda became the youngest U.S. man to win a French Open main-draw match since an 18-year-old Andy Roddick beat Chang in 2001.

He is the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda and brother of the world’s second- and 22nd-ranked female golfers (Nelly and Jessica).

So far, Sebastian’s biggest feats: winning the 2018 Australian Open junior title and, in his only golf tournament, beating both of his sisters when he was 11. It was around that age that he gave up ice hockey and focused solely on tennis.

Korda was hooked after watching a Czech whom his dad coached, Radek Stepanek, at the U.S. Open in 2009.

“He played Djokovic on [Arthur] Ashe [Stadium] like at 10:30 at night,” Korda, nicknamed Sebi, said on Tennis Channel. “Completely packed. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I went home, and I was like, this is exactly what I want to do.”

An American man is already guaranteed to make the third round in Paris. Korda faces Isner on Thursday.

“I grew up on the clay,” Korda said, “so I know how to play on it a little bit.”

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