Murray loses in Cincinnati, clearing Federer’s path

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              Andy Murray, of Great Britain, chases down a return from Lucas Pouille, of France, in the first round at the Western & Southern Open, Monday, Aug. 13, 2018, in Mason, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
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MASON, Ohio (AP) — Andy Murray lost to Lucas Pouille 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 in the first round of the Western & Southern Open on Monday, clearing another obstacle for Roger Federer in this U.S. Open tuneup.

Top-seeded Rafael Nadal dropped out Sunday night to prepare for the U.S. Open after winning his fifth title of the year in Toronto.

Federer, seeded second, has won in Cincinnati a record seven times but hasn’t played there since winning in 2015. In 2016 he had a knee injury, and in 2017 he had back problems.

“Cincinnati has always been a good tournament for me,” said Federer, the reigning Australian Open champion. “I was sad not to play here last year, and two years ago there wasn’t a chance. I’m glad to be back.”

Even with the top-ranked Nadal missing, Federal liked the strength of this field, especially with Murray and Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic also successfully recovering from injuries. Murray had his best result since missing 11 months following hip surgery when he reached the quarterfinals in Washington two weeks ago.

“That’s why you have such a good, exciting draw,” Federer said before Murray’s match was over. “It’s a pity Rafa isn’t playing. He would have added massively to that part of the draw.”

Grigor Dmitrov, the defending champion who is seeded fifth, was not entirely upset about Nadal’s absence.

“When Rafa is missing, he’s missed, not so much by the players as much as the fans,” he said. “All joking aside, I love spending time with Rafa and practicing with him and playing with him. I would be the last person to say I wouldn’t want to play with him.”

Monday’s first full day of main-draw competition opened with wild-card Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, coming back to beat Carla Suarez Navarro 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4.

Also, Lesia Tsurenko routed Danielle Collins 6-0, 6-2; qualifier Viktoria Kuzmova topped Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-0, 4-6, 6-1; and Anett Kontaveit defeating Barbora Strycova 6-3, 6-0.

On the men’s side, Kei Nishikori beat Andrey Rublev 7-5, 6-3; 13th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta knocked off Richard Gasquet 6-3, 2-6, 6-3; and Peter Gojowczyk downed Joao Sousa 2-6, 6-4, 7-5.