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Federer rallies from 2 sets down to reach Wimbledon semis

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LONDON — Roger Federer’s bid for a record eighth Wimbledon title remains alive after he came from two sets down and saved three match points Wednesday before overcoming Marin Cilic in five sets, advancing to the semifinals at the All England Club for the 11th time.

Playing his best when he absolutely needed it most, the seven-time champion finished with his 27th ace to complete a 6-7 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9), 6-3 victory on Centre Court against the player who knocked him out in semifinals of the U.S. Open two years ago.

“Well, a lot happened out there,” Federer said, summing up the 3-hour, 17-minute battle filled with tension, momentum swings and crucial points.

“I knew I was in so much trouble in the third, and then again in the fourth,” he said. “I’m really, really pleased and just ecstatic I was able to come through somehow.”

It was the 10th time in Federer’s career that he has erased a two-set deficit to win in five sets. This was also his 80th match win at Wimbledon, which equals Jimmy Connors’ record. Federer also matched Connors’ record of reaching the Wimbledon semifinals 11 times.

What’s more, Federer is now two wins away from the all-time record for Wimbledon men’s titles. He’s currently tied with Pete Sampras and 1880s player William Renshaw with seven.

Federer’s semifinal opponent will be sixth-seeded Milos Raonic, who lost serve only once and downed No. 28 Sam Querrey 6-4, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 on No. 1 Court.

Querrey had knocked out No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the third round on Saturday, but came up short in his bid to become the first American to make it to the semifinals of a Grand Slam since Andy Roddick reached the final four at Wimbledon in 2009.

The 34-year-old Federer will now play in his 40th Grand Slam semifinal. He’s the oldest man to get this far at Wimbledon since Ken Rosewall finished runner-up in 1974 at the age of 39. If Federer wins the title, he’ll become the oldest men’s Wimbledon champion in the Open era.

The third-seeded Federer looked down and out after falling behind two sets to love against No. 9 Cilic, a 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Croatian who kept holding serve, attacking on returns and dominating rallies with his big forehand and two-handed backhand.

It seemed like a replay of their last meeting, when Cilic swept Federer in straight sets in the semifinals en route to the 2014 U.S. Open title.

“I wasn’t seeing his serves anymore,” Federer said. “Next thing you know you’re down two sets to love on grass. I thought he was playing very well, U.S. Open-esque. On the return he was reading my serve. On the serve, I couldn’t read his serve.”

But Federer gradually worked his way back into the match, breaking for the first time to go up 5-3 in the third, saving three match points in the fourth, and playing flowing grass-court tennis on his favorite stage.

After ripping an ace on match point, Federer wagged an index finger in the air to show who was No. 1. He walked off to a standing ovation from an adoring crowd that helped will him to victory.

“It wasn’t going well for me, so for me it was about staying in the match,” Federer said. “Somehow I hoped for his level to drop maybe a little bit, and get a little bit lucky. That’s exactly what happened.”

He cited a key point in the third set, at 3-3, love-40 on his serve, facing three break points.

“I have to pick up a half-volley,” Federer said. “I mean it could go in the stands. It stays in. Next thing you know it’s like you’re still in the match and you can turn it around.”

Federer held serve for 4-3, then broke in the next game, with Cilic double-faulting on break point. The momentum had changed.

In the fourth set, Cilic had more chances to put Federer away but couldn’t. Federer saved two break points at 2-2, hitting three straight aces and a service winner to finish the game.

Cilic then earned his first match point with Federer serving at 5-4, but hit a forehand return long. Another match point came at 6-5, and Federer responded with a 120 mph ace.

Match point No. 3 came at 7-6 in the tiebreaker. Cilic failed to take advantage of Federer’s second serve, hitting another forehand return into the net.

Azarenka aims to come back in time for Wimbledon

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MOSCOW — Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka says she is planning to return to competition before Wimbledon.

Azarenka, who was ranked No. 1 for seven months in 2012 and 2013, went on a break last July to have her first child. She had previously been targeting a return at the July 31-Aug. 6 Bank of the West Classic in California.

In a statement on Twitter, the Belarusian says “my training has been progressing well and I feel ready to start competing,” adding that she plans “to play one of the grass court events prior to Wimbledon.”

Wimbledon starts July 3.

Azarenka won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013, and has twice reached the Wimbledon semifinals.

Djokovic announces Agassi will coach him at French Open

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ROME — Novak Djokovic is joining forces with Andre Agassi in an effort to return to No. 1.

Djokovic announced Sunday that Agassi will coach him at the French Open, which starts next Sunday.

“I spoke to Andre the last couple weeks on the phone, and we decided to get together in Paris,” Djokovic said. “So he’s going to be there. We’ll see what (the) future brings.

“We are both excited to work together and see where it takes us. We don’t have any long-term commitment. It’s just us trying to get to know each other in Paris a little bit,” Djokovic added. “He will not stay the whole tournament. He’s going to stay only to a certain time, and then we’ll see after that what’s going to happen.”

The second-ranked Djokovic split with longtime coach Marian Vajda and two other team members – fitness coach Gebhard Phil Gritsch, and physiotherapist Miljan Amanovic – at the start of the month.

Agassi, who retired in 2006, won eight Grand Slam titles.

Djokovic has won 12 Grand Slams.

“Andre is someone that I have tremendous respect for as a person and as a player,” Djokovic said. “He has been through everything that I’m going through. On the court he understands the game amazingly well. I am enjoying every conversation that I have with him.

“But also, on the other hand, he’s someone that nurtures the family values, philanthropy work. He’s a very humble man, is very educated. He’s a person that can contribute to my life on and off the court a lot. I’m very excited to see what is ahead of us.”

The pairing is the latest in a series of top players working with former standouts, from Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya, and Kei Nishikori and Michael Chang.

Djokovic was coached by Boris Becker the last three seasons, but they split last year.

Vajda started working with Djokovic in 2006.

Djokovic lost his No. 1 ranking to Andy Murray last year after a slump in form following his French Open triumph.

He lost in the third round at Wimbledon, his earliest defeat in a Grand Slam in seven years, lost in the first round at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, reached the final of the U.S. Open, and lost early again at the Australian Open.

Djokovic finished 2016 at No. 2, his current ranking. He’s won only one of his last 11 tournaments.

While Agassi has not coached a top player before, Djokovic said his record as a player and spokesman of the game was enough to convince him.

“He’s a legend of our sport,” Djokovic said. “He’s made a mark in this sport forever. He’s won everything there is to win in tennis.

“He was a revolutionary player because he had this charisma, he had this approach to tennis and to life that was quite different from others. That’s why he was so interesting.”

Agassi has already been offering advice on the phone.

“He’s been definitely following up closely all the matches, the big matches, especially on the TV,” Djokovic said. “So he knows players, he knows everyone that I was playing against in (the) last couple of weeks, so we talked before every match.

Djokovic added, “I already feel like we are very kind of close to each other and creating this nice vibe.”