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Murray beats Nadal, reaches Madrid Open final again

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MADRID (AP) Continuing to impress on clay ahead of the French Open, Andy Murray defeated Rafael Nadal 7-5, 6-4 to reach his second straight Madrid Open final on Saturday.

Murray saved 11 break points to win a rematch of last year’s final.

Murray needs to successfully defend his title on Sunday to avoid losing the No. 2 ranking to Roger Federer. Top-ranked Novak Djokovic played No. 6 Kei Nishikori in the other semifinal late Saturday.

Nadal had his chances but failed on the decisive points, falling short on his attempt to win a third consecutive title this season.

“In general, he was a little bit better than me, and we have to congratulate him for his victory and recognize that he has played better than me in the important moments,” Nadal said.

Murray became the first player to ever beat Nadal at the same clay tournament in consecutive years.

“Not loads of players have won against Rafa on clay throughout his career,” Murray said. “Very few in the last year for sure when he wasn’t playing his best. To beat him in Spain on a clay court is obviously a big, big challenge for any player. Very pleased to have beaten him this year.”

It was Murray’s seventh win in his last eight matches on clay, the surface he struggled on the most early in his career. He had lost four of the last five matches against Nadal.

“Big, big step for me from where I was four or five weeks ago,” Murray said. “I’m going back in the right direction again.”

It was Nadal’s first loss after 13 straight wins this year. The former No. 1 was trying to win his third consecutive title after triumphs in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Nadal also was looking to win a record 50th clay-court title in the Open era.

“Murray was not unbeatable today. It was an open match, an even match,” Nadal said. “I didn’t play my best level, but I didn’t play badly. I think I played a medium level, which was not enough to beat Murray today.”

Murray defeated the Spaniard in straight sets in 2015 for his first Masters title on clay, but the fifth-ranked Nadal beat Murray in three sets last month in the Monte Carlo semifinals.

“It was a better win for me this year than last year,” Murray said. “I didn’t think he played his best match in the final last year. Not saying he played his best tennis today, but he played better than last year.”

Nadal had the support of the home crowd but couldn’t capitalize on his numerous chances in a match that lasted 2 hours, 11 minutes.

Murray came up with big serves, including eight aces, when he needed them the most to keep Nadal from mounting a comeback.

Nadal had nine break points in the second set alone, converting only one. Nadal rallied from 5-2 down in the first set but lost four straight points while serving at 6-5 down, giving Murray the first set, which lasted more than an hour.

Nadal trailed again in the second set and got back on serve after saving a match point when Murray served for the match at 5-3, but it wasn’t enough after a poor final game on his own serve gave the Briton the win.

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Kasatkina upsets Venus Williams to reach Indian Wells final

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) Daria Kasatkina upset Venus Williams 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 in a nearly three-hour baseline struggle to reach the final of the BNP Paribas Open on Friday night.

Kasatkina was two points from defeat, trailing 4-5 and 0-30 in the third set when Williams committed four straight errors as the 20-year-old Russian tied it 5-all.

Williams won just two more points as Kasatkina took the last two games to close out the match in 2 hours, 48 minutes. Kasatkina dropped her racket near the baseline and covered her face with her hands as she walked to the net.

After shaking hands, Kasatkina pumped her fists and shook her head slightly as if in disbelief at beating the 37-year-old American and advancing to the biggest final of her young career.

Top-ranked Simona Halep took on Naomi Osaka, a 20-year-old from Japan, in the other semifinal.

After losing the first set, Kasatkina was visited by her coach on court. Philippe Dehaes told her, “She’s 37, you’re 20. Make her work a lot.”

When she wasn’t trading shots from the baseline, a nervy Kasatkina fooled Williams with drop shots, including two that landed just over the net near the sideline. The Russian tossed up lobs over the 6-foot-1 American – some worked, some didn’t, but she was undeterred.

There were 14 service breaks in the match.

Williams rallied from 3-1 down to win the first set. She trailed 3-1 again in the second and tied it 3-all when Kasatkina was broken on a double fault.

Kasatkina won the last four games in a row to take the second set. The players dueled through eight deuces in an epic eighth game, with the Russian turning back six break points against her. Williams pulled a forehand wide to lose the game.

Kasatkina’s coach visited her again before the third set.

“You go for it?” he asked her.

“Sure,” she replied, and they slapped hands.

Williams served a love game to go up 5-4. She led love-30 on Kasatkina’s serve in the next game before her forehand deserted her.

Williams double-faulted twice in a row to drop serve and trail 6-5. Kasatkina won on her second match point when Williams netted a backhand.

Kasatkina now owns a 2-1 record against Williams, who won 10-8 in the third round at Wimbledon in 2016.

Juan Martin del Potro defeated No. 31 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, and Milos Raonic beat 18th-seeded American Sam Querrey 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 to reach the men’s semifinals.

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Maria Sharapova withdraws from Miami with forearm injury

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from the Miami Open that begins next week because of a left forearm injury.

Sharapova announced the decision on Friday. She’ll be replaced in the main draw by American Jennifer Brady.

Sharapova lost in the first round at Indian Wells last week and in the third round of the Australian Open in January. She returned to the tour last year after a 15-month doping ban.

The women’s field includes eight-time Key Biscayne champion Serena Williams and No. 1-ranked Simona Halep. The men’s field includes defending champion Roger Federer and six-time Key Biscayne champ Novak Djokovic.