Djokovic beats Nadal for 7th straight time, reaches semis

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ROME (AP) Novak Djokovic extended his recent mastery over Rafael Nadal with a 7-5, 7-6 (4) win in the Italian Open quarterfinals on Friday, helped by Nadal wasting five set points in the second set.

Djokovic has won the last seven of their 49 encounters, the most in the Open Era. Overall, Djokovic leads the series 26-23.

This was their last opportunity to play each other before the French Open, which starts in nine days.

Djokovic’s semifinal opponent will be either Kei Nishikori or Dominic Thiem.

In the other half of the draw, Andy Murray overcame some trouble on his service games to beat David Goffin 6-1, 7-5 and improve his record on clay this year and last to 27-3.

“I’m getting rewarded now for the work that I put in over the years on this surface,” Murray said. “I deserve it because I have worked hard for it.”

Murray’s semifinal opponent will be French qualifier Lucas Pouille, who advanced when Argentine opponent Juan Monaco withdrew because of injury.

Organizers said Monaco, who upset Stan Wawrinka in three sets Thursday, had a problem with his left side.

In the women’s quarterfinals, Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza beat Timea Bacsinszky 7-5, 6-2 and will next meet Madison Keys, who eliminated Barbora Strycova 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.

Also, Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania defeated Misaki Doi of Japan 6-2, 7-6 (3) and will next face either top-ranked Serena Williams or Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Seven-time champion Nadal and four-time winner Djokovic have combined to win the last 11 titles at the Foro Italico, and their match was billed as “a premature final.”

Djokovic closed out the first set by sticking out his racket at the last second for a volley winner to finish off a close exchange at the net, concluding a long point that also saw the Serb spinning around far behind the baseline to retrieve a shot with a desperation backhand.

Djokovic reacted to winning the first set with a big fist pump, but then after dropping his serve to start the second he slammed his racket to the clay in frustration.

Nadal called for a trainer to examine his left foot while leading 2-1 in the second set, apparently because the Spaniard was having trouble feeling his foot. The trainer tapped around in a few areas to see if Nadal could feel anything then cut off supportive tape around his ankle.

Serving for the second set at 5-4, Nadal wasted five chances to push it to a third then shanked a forehand off his racket frame into the stands to set up Djokovic’s first break point of the set, which the Serb promptly converted.

The match lasted 2 hours, 24 minutes.

Murray, meanwhile, hasn’t dropped a set this week and was a finalist at last week’s Madrid Open. He’ll return to No. 2 in the rankings ahead of Roger Federer on Monday.

Murray dropped his serve in the opening game of the match and three times in the second set as he and Goffin struggled amid swirling winds that whipped the clay up into their eyes.

“Second set obviously was up and down, but I don’t think there was any other reason for that apart from the conditions making it very tricky to play good tennis,” Murray said before going off to spend time with his three-month-old daughter, Sophia Oliva.

The 52nd-ranked Pouille gained a spot in the tournament as a lucky loser after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga withdrew because of an adductor injury. He beat David Ferrer in straight sets in the third round, and reaching the quarterfinals was already a career-best result.

“I’m very lucky and I cross the fingers it’s keeping this way,” Pouille said, adding that he goes to the casino now and then. “Sometimes I win but the next I lose. … I’m not especially lucky.”

Next week, Pouille will move into the top 32 of the rankings, making him a seeded player for Roland Garros.

Nadal, Muguruza win ITF player of the year awards

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LONDON — Rafael Nadal and Garbine Muguruza have won the International Tennis Federation’s player of the year awards.

At 31, Nadal becomes the oldest ITF men’s world champion after a season in which he won a 10th French Open and a third U.S. Open.

The Spaniard also became the oldest player to finish the year at No. 1 since the ATP rankings began in 1973.

Muguruza dropped only one set en route to her first Wimbledon title and finished the year at No. 2 behind Simona Halep.

“Becoming ITF world champion in such a competitive year is amazing for me,” said Muguruza, who is also Spanish. “(Nadal) is a great role model for all of us, so it is a great moment for tennis in Spain.”

Kuznetsova out of Australian Open after left wrist surgery

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova has withdrawn from next month’s Australian Open after having surgery on her left wrist.

Tennis Australia on Friday said No. 12-ranked Kuznetsova and China’s Sasai Zheng, with a right knee injury, were the only players ranked in the top 100 who are confirmed as not playing the Jan. 15-28 tournament at Melbourne Park.

Serena Williams, who was pregnant while winning the 2017 Australian Open title and gave birth to her first child in September, “is anticipated to return,” Tennis Australia said.

Williams could equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles with another win at Melbourne Park. Serena Williams’ ranking has dropped to No. 22 during her break from the tour.