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Federer tops Fritz to reach quarterfinals at Mercedes Cup

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STUTTGART, Germany — In his first match in a month, Roger Federer overcame a stiff challenge from American teenager Taylor Fritz to reach the Mercedes Cup quarterfinals with a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 win on Thursday.

The match began the day before but was halted by rain with the top-seeded Federer leading 4-3 with a break of serve. A return into the net by Fritz gave Federer the first set. Federer saved two set points before a forehand winner by Fritz and a forehand error by Federer gave the middle set to the 18-year-old American.

Federer struggled to hold serve early in the third but broke for 5-4 and clinched the match with a backhand winner.

“It was very difficult, just as I knew before the match,” Federer said. “I was more fortunate at the end.”

A back injury forced the 34-year-old Federer to skip the French Open, the first time he missed a Grand Slam after 65 straight appearances.

“After such a long injury, you need to find your rhythm,” Federer said.

It was Federer’s 1,071st career win on the tour, tying him with Ivan Lendl. Only Jimmy Connors has more, with 1,256. For Fritz, it was only his fourth tour match on grass.

The Stuttgart tournament is on grass as a tuneup for Wimbledon, which Federer has won seven times. Now ranked No. 3 in the world, Federer is next up against Florian Mayer.

While Federer may have been rusty, second-seeded Marin Cilic was completely off, losing to the veteran qualifier Radek Stepanek 7-6 (4), 7-5.

Stepanek won despite firing fewer aces, 10 to 12, and serving more double-faults, 6-1.

Third-seeded Dominic Thiem, who beat Federer in the third round of the Italian Open before Federer took the injury break, edged Sam Groth 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2), and No. 4 Gilles Simon beat Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

Thiem, a semifinalist at the French Open, next plays Mikhail Youzhny, who beat Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-3, 7-6 (1). Stepanek plays Philipp Kohlschreiber.

Wild card Juan Martin del Porto, coming back from a wrist injury, beat John Millman 6-4, 6-4. He will next play Simon.

Serena Williams reaches 4th round without dropping a set

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Serena Williams is still on track in her bid to win a record 23rd Grand Slam title.

The six-time Australian Open winner beat fellow American Nicole Gibbs 6-1, 6-3 in the third round on Saturday, when she didn’t face a break point until she was serving for the match.

Dropping serve in that game was her only lapse in a match that then extended just beyond the hour – to 63 minutes to be precise. That made it one minute and one game longer than her only other match against Gibbs.

Williams started the tournament with difficult assignments in the first two rounds, but also got through those – against Belinda Bencic, with a career-high ranking of 7, and Lucie Safarova, a French Open finalist in 2015 – without dropping a set.

She has set the tone for the tournament. Williams will next play No. 16 Barbora Strycova, who beat No. 21 Caroline Garcia 6-2, 7-5.

Ekaterina Makarova led by a set and 4-0 but needed three sets and almost three hours to finally beat WTA Finals champion Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-3.

“An amazing fight,” Makarova said of her first win over sixth-seeded Cibulkova, the 2014 finalist at Melbourne Park. “I got, to be honest, a bit tight at 4-0 in the second set. But I’m still here. I love this Grand Slam.”

In a momentum-swing match featuring some long streaks of games and 11 service breaks, Makarova got the decisive break in the eighth game of the deciding set and closed it next.

Makarova will play either 2016 semifinalist Johanna Konta, who beat her in the fourth round here last year, or former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni continued her unlikely run with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over Maria Sakkari, and so did American qualifier Jennifer Brady.

Before this week, the 34-year-old Lucic-Baroni hadn’t won a match at Melbourne Park since her debut at the Australian Open in 1998. The 19-year gap in between match wins at a Grand Slam tournament broke the record set by Kimiko Date-Krumm, who went 17 years between match wins at Wimbledon.

Lucic-Baroni reached the semifinals of Wimbledon in 1999 as a 17-year-old and captured the Australian Open doubles title a year before that with Martina Hingis.

She next plays Brady, ranked No. 116, who had never played in the main draw of a major before she qualified for this week.

The 21-year-old American had a 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over 14th-seeded Elena Vesnina on Show Court 2, and is making the most of the occasion.

By saving five match points before rallying to beat Heather Watson in the second round, Brady effectively doubled her number of career wins.

On the men’s side, No. 8 Dominic Thiem beat Benoit Paire 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 to set up a fourth-round match against No. 11 David Goffin, who ended Ivo Karlovic’s run 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

The 37-year-old Karlovic’s win in the first round set an endurance record – the 84 games in the win over Horacio Zeballos, which ended 22-20 in the fifth, was an Open-era mark for the tournament.

Roger Federer into fourth round at Australian Open after beating Tomas Berdych

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 20:  Roger Federer of Swizterland celebrates his win in his third round match against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic walks on on day five of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 20, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Roger Federer relaxed into the chair, his arms folded across his chest in a casual, confident way, and just savored a vintage Australian Open performance.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion, seeded a lowly-by-his-standards 17th after spending six months on the sidelines to let his left knee heal, only needed 90 minutes to beat Tomas Berdych 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 in the third round on Friday.

This was against a highly-credentialed pro, seeded No. 10, who beat Federer in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2010 on the way to the final. Berdych reached the quarterfinals or better in Australia the previous six years, and had beaten Federer in six of their previous 22 matches.

Federer said he felt like he struggled against the qualifiers in his first two rounds, and knew the degree of difficulty would rise sharply. Having beaten Berdych, he next faces No. 5 Kei Nishikori. And there’s a potential quarterfinal match against top-ranked Andy Murray.

“It’s just crazy how quick I got out of the blocks,” Federer said of his almost flawless match against Berdych. “What a difference it was in the feeling afterward. I did surprise myself.

“From the baseline, honestly, I felt worlds better than in the first couple of rounds.”

Federer hit some classic one-handed backhand winners, including one that earned a hearty applause from the great Rod Laver – sitting in the crowd at the stadium named in his honor – in the second set.

He had 40 winners and won 95 percent of points when he got his first serve into play. He didn’t face a break point.

During his on-court interview, Federer acknowledged Laver, the last man to complete the calendar year Grand Slam.

Laver waved back.

“It’s always nice when he shows up to watch,” the 35-year-old Federer said. “It’s always nice when he’s in the building.”

Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open finalist who beat Lukas Lacko 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, has lost four of his six matches against Federer, including the last three.

“Guess I’m ready. There’s no turning back,” Federer said. “He’s … maybe the best backhand in the business right now. Really got my work cut out for me.”

Five-time Australian Open runner-up Murray said he had no trouble with his sore right ankle as he advanced to the fourth round for the ninth straight year with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 31 Sam Querrey.

Murray, who replaced Djokovic at No. 1 in November, said he was surprised at the six-time Australian Open champion’s second-round loss to Denis Istomin. But Murray didn’t think it changed anything for him.

“I wasn’t scheduled to play Novak today, so my job’s to concentrate on Sam and to go into that match with a clear head and a good game plan and try to play well,” said Murray, who next plays Mischa Zverev. “I did that.

“If you’re to get to the final, then it has an effect.”

Seven-time major winner Venus Williams routed Duan Yingying 6-1, 6-0 in 59 minutes to reach the fourth round in Australia for the 10th time.

“It’s good (but) it’s never enough,” she said, looking ahead to her fourth-round match against Mona Barthel. “I’ve tasted it before and it’s always a great feeling because it means, hey, I have an opportunity for the quarterfinals. That’s what I’m going to go for.”

There’s no Americans or Australians remaining in the men’s draw. No. 23-seeded Jack Sock followed Querrey out, losing 7-6 (4), 7-5, 6-7 (8), 6-3 to No. 12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Daniel Evans beat Bernard Tomic 7-5, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3).

U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka had a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (7) win over Viktor Troicki to move into a fourth-round match against Andreas Seppi.

Women’s champion Angelique Kerber beat Kristyna Pliskova 6-0, 6-4 and will next play CoCo Vandeweghe, who had a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 win over 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard. French Open champion Garbine Muguruza closed out Day 5 with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Anastasia Sevastova.

The day belonged to Federer, though, and he didn’t mind that everyone noticed. When reminded in his news conference of his range of exquisite shots, the 35-year-old Swiss star eased into his chair and nodded.

“Thank you. Keep going. Keep going – it’s good, it’s good,” he said, smiling. “What’s nice about tonight is it was unexpected for me, unexpected for a lot of people apparently as well, and it was against a fellow top player.”