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Venus Williams leads American charge on Day 4 at Wimbledon

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LONDON — Five-time champion Venus Williams led a group of Americans picking up victories at Wimbledon on Thursday as the tournament scrambled to get back on schedule after two days of bad weather.

With play starting earlier on the outside courts and the rain holding off, Williams was among nine American players winning first- or second-round matches at the All England Club.

U.S. men’s winners included John Isner, Sam Querrey, Donald Young, Jack Sock and Steve Johnson. Joining Williams among the women’s winners were Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys and Julia Boserup.

The 36-year-old Williams, the oldest player in the women’s draw, needed nearly 2 1/2 hours to get past 20-year-old Greek qualifier Maria Sakkari 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

It turned out to be an unexpectedly close match between Williams, winner of seven Grand Slam titles and playing in her 19th Wimbledon, and Sakkari, making her first appearance at Wimbledon and third at a major.

Williams last won Wimbledon in 2008, and she hasn’t gone past the fourth round since 2010.

Keys, seeded No. 9 after breaking into the top 10 for the first time this month, also reached the third round with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win over Kirsten Flipkens. Keys, a quarterfinalist last year, had 48 winners – more than double the Belgian player’s 22.

Stephens, seeded No. 18, defeated China’s Peng Shuai 7-6 (5), 6-2 in a first-round match. Stephens reached the quarterfinals in 2013.

Boserup advanced when seventh-seeded Belinda Bencic retired with an injury with the American leading 6-4, 1-0.

The 28th-seeded Querrey advanced to a third-round men’s matchup against two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic by beating Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. The match had been suspended by rain Wednesday at 5-2 in the second set.

The 27th-seeded Sock beat Robin Haase 6-1, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-4. His third-round opponent will be sixth-seeded Canadian Milos Raonic, who hit 25 aces in a 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-2 win over Andreas Seppi.

The unseeded Johnson reached the third round for the first time after a 6-1, 7-6 (6), 6-3 win over Jerome Chardy.

In a first-round match extended over three days because of rain, the 18th-seeded Isner downed Marcos Baghdatis 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5), 6-2. Isner, who had 33 aces, has yet to advance past the third round at the All England Club.

“The long days in the locker room the last days were just brutal,” Isner said. “You can only play so much putt-putt in the locker room with your friends and what-not.”

Young, meanwhile, won his first match at Wimbledon after losing in the first round in his five previous appearances. Resuming at 2-1 in the fourth set, he beat Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3.

In other men’s play, fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori came from behind to beat Julien Benneteau 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 on Centre Court; and No. 9 Marin Cilic needed four sets to beat Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-4.

British player Dan Evans made it to the third round for the first time, beating 30th-seeded Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-1. Evans, who entered with a 0-3 career record at Wimbledon, will next face seven-time champion Roger Federer.

No. 13 David Ferrer, a two-time quarterfinalist, was eliminated by Nicolas Mahut in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3. And No. 23 Ivo Karlovic was upset by Slovakian qualifier Lukas Lacko, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4.

In women’s matches, fourth-seeded Angelique Kerber advanced with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Varvara Lepchenko, and No. 5 Simona Halep beat Francesca Schiavone 6-1, 6-1. No. 14 Samantha Stosur was knocked out 6-4, 6-2 by 2013 runner-up Sabine Lisicki.

Two lowly-ranked men’s qualifiers finished a marathon match that went to 26 games in the fifth set – and ended on a double-fault.

Australia’s 248th-ranked Matthew Barton fell forward onto the grass in relief and exhaustion after 793rd-ranked Albano Olivetti’s second serve hit the top of the net and flew wide for his 17th double-fault of the match.

Barton came away with a 6-7 (9), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (5), 14-12 win that earned him a second-round matchup against another marathon man – Isner. The American beat Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon in 2010 in a match that went to 70-68 in the fifth set and lasted more than 11 hours over three days.

Nadal beats Dimitrov, one win from record 31st Masters title

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MONACO (AP) Rafael Nadal remains on course for a record 31st Masters title after beating Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-1 in the Monte Carlo Masters semifinals on Saturday.

The top-ranked Spaniard never looked in trouble as he beat the fourth-seeded Bulgarian for the 11th time in 12 career meetings.

If Nadal wins Sunday’s final, he will earn a 76th career title and also keep his No. 1 ranking. Should he lose, Roger Federer will reclaim the top spot.

Nadal faces either third-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany or Kei Nishikori of Japan, who play later Saturday.

In the opening game, Dimitrov came out firing. He pressured Nadal with two superb lobs, forcing a backhand smash wide from the Spaniard for deuce. But Nadal held a tight first game lasting eight minutes, and then broke Dimitrov for 2-0.

Dimitrov found his range, broke Nadal back and held for 3-3. The next two games were even, with Dimitrov matching Nadal in the rallies.

The 16-time Grand Slam champion held for 5-4 and then Dimitrov cracked, serving consecutive double faults and hitting a wild forehand long to trail 15-40. He saved one set point but Nadal was in ruthless mode and took the next chance.

It appeared that Nadal was gaining his usual momentum on clay – and two consecutive love breaks and three easy holds made it 5-0 to the Spaniard in the second set.

Dimitrov explained his collapse this way.

“I think I played smart against him. I kind of know his pattern a little bit better,” Dimitrov said. “But it was my fault when I got broken. Simple as that. Two double-faults, it’s just definitely not acceptable, especially when you play against him on that surface.”

Dimitrov finally held, drawing polite applause, but Nadal served out the match with ease. He clinched victory on his first match point when Dimitrov patted the ball wide following a brief exchange.

“You see me with a smile. I’m a positive person,” Dimitrov said. “Deep down, I’m hurt. I hate losing. Simple as that.”

Nadal shares the Masters record with Novak Djokovic, whose 30 wins include two here.

Nadal’s victory at Monte Carlo last year made him the first men’s tennis player in the Open era to win the same title 10 times. He then won a 10th title at Barcelona and the French Open.

 

Fed Cup: Stephens to open for US against France in semis

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AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France (AP) U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens will open play for the U.S. against Pauline Parmentier of France in the Fed Cup semifinals.

France No. 1 Kristina Mladenovic and CoCo Vandeweghe will follow on Saturday in the second singles at the new 6,700-capacity Arena Pays d’Aix. France has opted for an indoor clay court.

Mladenovic and Amandine Hesse are set to face Madison Keys and Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the doubles on Sunday following the reverse singles.

France and the United States meet for a 14th time, with the Americans holding an 11-2 winning record. The French won their most recent meeting, in 2014.

Both teams are missing their highest-ranked player: No. 8 Venus Williams for the U.S., and No. 7 Caroline Garcia for France.

Germany is facing the Czech Republic in the other semifinal in Stuttgart.