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Serena Williams ends 9-month title drought at Italian Open

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ROME (AP) Serena Williams ended a nine-month title drought with a 7-6 (5), 6-3 win over Madison Keys in an all-American Italian Open final Sunday.

Williams’ previous title came in Cincinnati in August – a month before her attempt at a calendar-year Grand Slam ended with a semifinal loss to Roberta Vinci at the U.S. Open.

“It feels great,” Williams said, pointing out that she’s only played four tournaments since Cincinnati. “So it’s not like I was playing every week. So that’s kind of how I look at it. But it feels great to win a title, especially on clay.”

It’s Williams’ fourth title in Rome and it comes exactly a week before the French Open begins.

“I’m feeling pretty fit. So I’m looking forward to it,” said Williams, who will be attempting to defend her title at Roland Garros, but won’t have to answer any questions about a potential calendar-year Grand Slam this year. “I’m going to definitely go in there and feel more calm and (not) feel stress to have to win.”

Williams addressed the crowd in Italian during the post-match ceremony then took a selfie as she posed with the trophy.

It was the first time two American women have met in a final on clay since Serena beat older sister Venus in the 2002 French Open.

When they met at the net after the match, Serena told the 24th-ranked Keys that she can be No. 1 one day.

“Too bad what she says doesn’t just happen,” the 21-year-old Keys said. “But it’s always great to hear that from her. … Hearing that is definitely something that makes me just work harder.”

The last all-American final in Rome was in 1970, when Billie Jean King beat Julie Heldman.

In the men’s tournament, top-ranked Novak Djokovic was facing Andy Murray in a rematch of last week’s Madrid Open final.

In the Rome record book, Serena drew level with Conchita Martinez and Gabriela Sabatini, who also took four titles at the Foro Italico. Chris Evert holds the women’s record with five titles while Rafael Nadal holds the overall mark with seven.

It was the 70th title overall in Serena’s career.

Keys was playing in the biggest final of her career. She posted personal best results at all four majors last year, including reaching the Australian Open semifinals and the Wimbledon quarterfinals.

Keys broke Serena at love in the opening game of the match and hit six aces in her opening two service games to take a 3-1 lead.

As Serena became more aggressive, however, Keys hit two double faults to hand the break back, making it 3-3.

In the tiebreak, Serena took control with a wicked cross-court forehand that Keys couldn’t get back then closed it out on her first set point with a big serve out wide that Keys returned long.

After taking the first set, Serena pumped her fists and yelled to herself, `Come on!”‘

In the second set, Serena’s only real trouble came when she was broken while serving for the match at 5-2. But she quickly ended it the next game, concluding the tournament without dropping a set.

Serena hit only 13 winners to Keys’ 17 but had fewer unforced errors – 24-32 – and converted five of her six break-point opportunities.

Serena improved to 16-0 against Americans since losing to Venus in the Montreal semifinals in 2014. Her last loss to an American in a final came against Venus at Wimbledon in 2008.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Nadal beats Monfils, reaches 30th Grand Slam quarterfinal

2017 Australian Open - Day 8
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Rafael Nadal beat sixth-seeded Gael Monfils in four sets Monday to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament for the 30th time, prompting talk of a potential Australian Open final against Roger Federer.

The veterans have a long way to go to get there.

For the 30-year-old Nadal, his first priority is against No. 3-seeded Milos Raonic.

With No. 1-ranked Andy Murray and No. 2 Novak Djokovic – the two most consistent performers in the last six years at Melbourne Park – upset in the first week, Wimbledon finalist Raonic is the highest-ranked player in the draw.

He advanced to the last eight here for third straight year with a 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 13 Roberto Bautista Agut.

Nadal is the only major winner still in contention on the bottom half of the draw, although he hasn’t added to his tally of 14 majors since the capturing the French Open in 2014.

Federer, in the top half of the draw, plays Mischa Zverev on Tuesday, and would have to beat him and either Stan Wawrinka or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – the other quarterfinalists playing Tuesday – to advance to the final.

Nadal’s 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win over U.S. Open semifinalist Monfils in the fourth round was his first over a top 10 player at a Grand Slam since that run to his last title at Roland Garros. It also ended a four-match streak against top 10 players.

“Being in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam after couple of years not being there is very special for me,” said Nadal, who last progressed this far at the 2015 French Open.

It also showed that after a couple of months off to rest his injured left-wrist, he is still a contender at the majors. He hasn’t won an Australian title since 2009.

He went up a break early in the first two sets, had his chances in the third before Monfils rallied, and then traded breaks in the fourth before breaking the acrobatic Frenchman to win. Overall, he converted six of 17 break-point chances.

Raonic hit 33 aces and 75 winners but had nine double-faults and 55 unforced errors, and seemed to get on a roll after spiking his racket into the court in frustration in the ninth game of the third set.

In the other quarter, No. 15 Grigor Dimitrov closed with an ace to hold off No. 117 wild-card entry Denis Istomin 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-1. Istomin, who upset six-time champion Novak Djokovic in the second round, needed repeated treatment on his tiring legs in the third and fourth sets.

He will next play No. 11 David Goffin, a 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-2 winner of No. 8 Dominic Thiem.

Serena Williams kept her bid for an Open-era record 23rd major title on track with a 7-5, 6-4 win over No. 16-seeded Barbora Strycova to reach the quarterfinals here for the 11th time.

Despite four service breaks – two in the first four games – and 46 unforced errors, and with the fluky net cord and the off-balance, scrunched-shouldered backhand that bounced flatly and clinched her the first set on her eighth set point, she ground down Strycova.

“It’s good to know I have a Plan B, or Option 2. I wasn’t serving my greatest today, also she was putting a lot of returns in there,” said Williams, who had a first-serve percentage of 45, and made four double-faults. “I feel like it was really good for me to win on probably not my best day, which is always good, because sometimes you rely on one shot and if it goes off, and then, like, what happens now?

“It was really good for me to almost lose that so I know my other game is going pretty good, too.”

Next up, she’ll face 2016 semifinalist Johanna Konta, who beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-4.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1999 as a 17-year-old and, after a long, difficult time off the tour, she has returned to the quarterfinals of a major for the first time since.

She beat U.S. qualifier Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-2 and will next play U.S. Open finalist Karolina Pliskova, who ended Australia’s involvement in the singles draws with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Daria Gavrilova.

Whatever comes of it, the 34-year-old Lucic-Baroni said she’d make the most of the moment.

“I felt kind of a little bit of unfinished business,” she said. “I still wanted to play on a stage like this, on a full court like this. Come out, play, have these wins, be in a quarterfinal of a Slam.”

Andy Murray, Angelique Kerber out in 4th round of Australian Open

2017 Australian Open - Day 7
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) There was some symmetry about the fourth-round exits of top-ranked Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open.

Both had the top seeding for the first time at a Grand Slam tournament. Both went out on the same court and, at least on paper, the same day.

It was tough at the top on Sunday: Five-time finalist Murray lost 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 to No. 50-ranked Mischa Zverev in the afternoon match on Rod Laver Arena, and defending women’s champion Kerber lost 6-3, 6-2 to CoCo Vandeweghe in an upset that finished at six minutes past midnight.

It was the first time since the French Open in 2010 that both top-seeded players went out in the same round. In the quarterfinals at Roland Garros that year, Roger Federer lost to Robin Soderling and Serena Williams lost to Sam Stosur.

Murray and Kerber didn’t make it to the second week.

Vandeweghe had never been past the third round at the season-opening Grand Slam, and lost in the first round here last year. But she pounded Kerber with a powerful forehand, clubbing 13 of her 30 winners from that wing.

Kerber saved a match point in the first round last year before winning her first major title, beating Serena Williams in the final. She replaced Williams atop the rankings after winning the U.S. Open.

Murray lost the final here to six-time champion Novak Djokovic last year, but finished 2016 at No. 1 after a strong finish to the season that included titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the ATP Finals.

He was undone by some old-school serve and volley from Zverev, who played the match of his life. He’ll now meet 17-time major winner Federer in the quarterfinals.

In between the upsets was pretty rocky, too. Federer was down 5-1 in the first set against Kei Nishikori but found a way to fend off the 2014 U.S. Open finalist, who was cramping and needed late treatment on his back, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.

It was his 200th career win over a top 10 player.

Federer was ecstatic. “It was about staying with him. … almost going down 6-0, I thought `It’s not going to get any worse from there,'” said Federer, on the comeback from six months on the sidelines to repair his injured left knee. “Huge win for me in my career.”

Murray was stunned.

“Right now I’m obviously very down because I wanted to go further in this event,” Murray said. “I’ve had tough losses in my career in the past. I’ve come back from them. This is a tough one.”

Murray’s exit follows the second-round departure of Djokovic, beaten in the second round by No. 117-ranked wild-card entry Denis Istomin.

It’s the first time since 2002 that the top two seeds in the men’s draw haven’t reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, and the first time at a Grand Slam since the French Open in 2004.

The absence of Djokovic and Murray certainly opens up it up for others.

U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka, who had his major breakthrough here in 2014, is a growing contender after beating Andreas Seppi 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4). He’ll play a quarterfinal against 2008 Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat Dan Evans 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.

In the bottom half of the draw, 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal is the only man still in contention who has won a Grand Slam title.

The top half of the women’s draw is open, too. Venus Williams returned to the quarterfinals for the ninth time with a 6-3, 7-5 win over No. 181-ranked Mona Barthel.

The seven-time major winner next plays No. 24-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who beat No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 6-3.

French Open champion Garbine Muguruza beat Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-3 and will next play Vandeweghe – they’re both in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park for the first time.

Kerber’s loss contined a poor run since she won the U.S. Open last September. She’s played seven tournaments without winning a title, only reached one final, and was 5-7 against top 50 players.

The bigger upset of the day, then, was produced by Zverev, the older and apparently lesser-talented brother of Alexander who had never gone past the third round of a major and was appearing at only his third Grand Slam in six years.

Zverev attacked Murray, unsettling his natural baseline game, and won 65 of 118 points at the net.

He made some stunning, lunging volleys on clutch points, but for him it was all a blur.

“It was like I was in a little coma, I just served and volleyed my way through,” Zverev said. “Honestly there were a few points where I don’t know how I pulled it off.”

Murray couldn’t do a lot to counter it.

“It’s the shots he was coming up with when he did come forward.” Murray said. “He came up with some great pickups, you know, reflex volleys especially at the end when it was tight.”

Murray had reached the quarterfinals or better on his previous seven trips to Australia but never won the title – losing finals in 2010 to Federer and in `11, `13, `15 and `16 to Djokovic.

He had not lost to a player ranked as lowly as Zverev at a major since his loss to No. 51 Juan Ignacio Chela here in 2006. It was also the earliest exit by a top-seeded player at the Australian Open since Lleyton Hewitt in 2003.