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US Open men’s final features No. 1 Djokovic, No. 2 Federer

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NEW YORK (AP) The blockbuster U.S. Open final between No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Roger Federer on Sunday is tantalizing for so many reasons.

They have built a long and riveting rivalry, this duo with a combined 26 major trophies – a record 17 for Federer, nine for Djokovic.

This matchup will be their 14th at a Grand Slam tournament, more than any other pair of men in tennis’ Open era, which dates to 1968. Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have played each other 13 times at majors, Federer and Nadal 11, and John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl 10.

It will be the fourth Federer vs. Djokovic meeting in a Grand Slam final, with Federer winning at the 2007 U.S. Open, and Djokovic winning at Wimbledon each of the past two years.

And it is their 42nd head-to-head match overall, with Federer barely ahead, 21-20.

“It’s just a straight shootout,” Federer said, “and I think that’s the cool thing about our rivalry. It’s very athletic.”

He explained that he doesn’t feel as if either of them needs to adjust style or tactics too much for their matches, and that in many ways, they know how to deal with the other’s strengths and styles.

“We can both handle … whatever we present to one another,” Federer said. “It’s very even.”

At the moment, Djokovic is the best baseliner around, contorting his body this way and that, going from defense to offense in a blink, and maybe the best returner around, too. While so much attention was paid to Serena Williams’ oh-so-close bid to complete the Grand Slam, Djokovic has gone 26-1 at majors in 2015, with titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and a runner-up finish at the French Open in between.

Federer, 34, is playing a brilliant brand of attacking tennis and serving as well as ever, broken twice in 82 games this tournament.

Both should be well-rested for Sunday, because both are coming off remarkably easy semifinal victories Friday that each lasted only about 1 1/2 hours. Djokovic beat defending champion Marin Cilic 6-0, 6-1, 6-2 in the most lopsided semifinal in New York in the Open era. Federer eliminated two-time major champion Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 6-3, 6-1.

Djokovic will be playing in his sixth final at the U.S. Open, but the only one he won came in 2011.

Federer, a five-time U.S. Open champion, is into his first final at Flushing Meadows since 2009. Each of the following two years, he lost in the semifinals to Djokovic, each time 7-5 in the fifth set, each time after Federer held two match points.

After his 2011 loss, Federer scoffed at the return winner Djokovic hit to erase a match point, comparing him to a kid who swings away with his eyes closed because, well, he’s got nothing to lose.

“I never played that way,” Federer said that day. “I believe in the hard-work’s-going-to-pay-off kind of thing, because early on, maybe I didn’t always work at my hardest. So for me, this is very hard to understand how can you play a shot like that on match point. But, look, maybe he’s been doing it for 20 years, so for him it was very normal. You’ve got to ask him.”

Lately, it’s been Djokovic’s coach, Boris Becker, who has been quoted as criticizing Federer, including voicing a distaste for the Swiss star’s latest maneuver. The “SABR” – it stands for “Sneak Attack by Roger” – is when Federer races forward on an opponent’s second serve and essentially half-volleys a return while heading to the net.

“It’s an exciting shot for him. For the player (on the) opposite side of the net, not so much,” Djokovic said, noting he hasn’t considered trying it. “So I have nothing else to say about that.”

A reporter told Federer that Becker reportedly characterized the “SABR” as something that disrespects opponents.

“No, it’s not disrespectful,” Federer replied. “Pretty simple.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Sharapova, Puig heading to Puerto Rico for hurricane relief

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) Maria Sharapova and Monica Puig will head to Puerto Rico next week to help with recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, and Puig, who won Puerto Rico’s first Olympic gold medal in any sport at the Rio de Janeiro Games last summer, will go to the island Monday to distribute portable stoves, medicine and other supplies.

The agency that represents both players said Wednesday that Puig has raised more than $125,000 to help storm victims, while Sharapova is donating proceeds from her candy company for the rest of 2017.

The storm swept across Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, causing at least 48 deaths, according to the official tally. It caused widespread flooding and knocked out the entire power grid for the island of 3.4 million people.

 

Sharapova loses to Rybarikova at Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Maria Sharapova was beaten by Magdalena Rybarikova 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the first round of the Kremlin Cup on Tuesday, ending her bid for a second title in two weeks.

Sharapova, who won the Tianjin Open two days ago, brought her usual power but lacked accuracy with some wild swings on key points.

“I felt fine physically, to be honest, especially after having played five matches in five days (in Tianjin). That was a big surprise,” Sharapova said. “Maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been … Maybe if this tournament hadn’t been in Moscow, I wouldn’t have played it.”

Sharapova was under pressure on serve from the start and saved six break points before finally being broken to 6-5. She responded by breaking Rybarikova, but Sharapova’s double fault at 4-3 in the tiebreaker handed the Slovakian the momentum to close out the set.

Rybarikova, seeded eighth, sealed the match after saving two break points to lead 5-4, then breaking Sharapova in the next game. Rybarikova will play Alize Cornet in the second round.

Six months after she returned from a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova is still trying to move back up the rankings from her current position of 57th. Her first tour appearance in Moscow in a decade drew a large and enthusiastic crowd despite taking place on a Tuesday afternoon.

Also Tuesday, seventh-seeded Julia Goerges beat Russian qualifier Polina Monova 6-0, 6-3 to set up a second-round meeting with Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.

In the men’s Kremlin Cup tournament, sixth-seeded Damir Dzumhur defeated Thomas Fabbiano 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.