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Davis Cup: Croatia rallies to stun US 3-2 in Portland

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PORTLAND, Ore. — The odds stacked against his underdog side, Croatian captain Zeljko Krajan was brimming with confidence Sunday morning before the reverse singles matches in the Davis Cup quarterfinal tie against United States.

Marin Cilic and Borna Coric backed up their captain’s belief in a stirring rally, winning matches to give Croatia a 3-2 comeback victory at the Tualatin Hills hard courts.

“Today, I knew they were going to bring the quality,” Krajan said.

Cilic got in started, beating John Isner 7-6 (11-9), 6-3, 6-4. Coric then topped Jack Sock 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

The U.S. lost for the fourth time in 161 tries when leading 2-0 lead in a Davis Cup tie.

After the United States swept the singles matches Friday, Cilic and Ivan Dodig kept Croatia alive Saturday with a four-set victory over twins Bob and Mike Bryan in doubles.

“It’s really unbelievable,” Krajan said. “I would say shocked from this win. Looking back on Friday and being 2-love down and then playing against the Bryans yesterday, it didn’t look very positive for us.”

Croatia will host France – a 3-1 winner at the Czech Republic – in the World Group semifinals Sept. 16-18. Croatia reached the semifinals for the first time since 2009. It won its only Davis Cup title in 2005.

In the other semifinal, defending champion Britain will host Argentina.

Cilic set the tone for the comeback against Isner, a decision that was closer than the score indicated. Cilic won a marathon tiebreaker in the opening set, then broke Isner’s serve once in the next two sets to pull out the win.

The opening set was riveting. Isner was hot, allowing Cilic to win only one point during his first 25 serves. But the American was unable to break Cilic, forcing a tiebreaker. Cilic won a couple points off Isner’s serve late in the tiebreaker to pull out an 11-9 win, setting off a torrent of emotion along the Croatia sideline.

“That was definitely a tough task, but I stayed in there mentally,” Cilic said. “I was very, very focused.”

Isner was clearly disappointed he didn’t get the jump on Cilic.

“The first set was critical. Felt like I definitely was the better player in the first set. Didn’t get paid off, but that’s on me. He came up with the goods when he needed it. That gave him a lot of confidence, I think,” Isner said.

U.S. captain Jim Courier disagreed that momentum swayed in Croatia’s favor after Cilic pulled out the first set.

“That’s not the way we look at it. First sets can be critical … these matches are won on small margins. There are a couple points that go our way, and we’re sitting here with a smile on our face instead of a little disappointment,” Courier said.

Unlike Friday’s first singles match, when Cilic lost after leading Sock by two sets, the world’s No. 12-ranked player finished off Isner by breaking him in the ninth game to pull out a 6-4 win.

Cilic is 6-0 against Isner.

The 19-year-old Coric is becoming a reliable closer for Croatia. It was the second time this year Coric won a fifth and deciding match to win a Davis Cup tie.

“I have to be honest. I like that kind of situation,” Coric said. “I like it more than playing on Court 27 somewhere, somewhere far away from the crowd. I just like the big stage more, when it’s more important.”

After splitting the first two sets against Sock, Coric won the final two sets by breaking the American’s serves four times. Coric’s performance was decidedly stronger than his three-set loss to Isner on Friday.

“I was much more relaxed,” Coric said. “I was hitting the ball, going for the points. I just wasn’t waiting for him to miss, because I knew I cannot play like that because he’s going to kill me with the forehand.”

Sock, who beat Cilic in a five-setter Friday, was upbeat despite dropping the finale.

“Obviously, I had chances and opportunities that I didn’t convert. That’s tennis. Some days it’s firing and some days they’re missing a little bit. He played a great match,” Sock said.

Croatia is 4-0 in Davis Cup ties against the United States.

Venus Williams through to third round at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) It was inevitable after such an energetic performance in her second-round win over Stefanie Voegele at the Australian Open that Venus Williams would get asked about transcending the generations in tennis.

The 36-year-old, seven-time major winner played the first of her record 73 Grand Slam tournaments at the French Open in 1997. Back then, she got to play against the likes of Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova.

In a 6-3, 6-2 win over the 26-year-old Voegele on Wednesday, Williams mixed up her game, clearly not content on relying purely on the kind of power game that helped her make a mark on the sport.

“I have to talk about this every interview,” Williams said in reply to what has become a regular post-match question to the oldest player in the women’s draw here. “I’ve played some of the greats.

“It’s an honor and privilege to start that young,” she added, laughing, “and play this old.”

Venus and Serena Williams withdrew from a scheduled first-round doubles match later Wednesday, citing an injury to Venus’ right elbow. The sisters have won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles together, including four at the Australian Open.

Venus Williams put plenty into her second-round singles match, which lasted 1 hour, 23 minutes.

In the second set, serving and with a game point, she chased the ball like a teenager from one side of the court to the other, and back, trying to finish off. Her forehand landed too long, but her intention was clear. Get through the round ASAP. She won the subsequent two points to hold.

At 15-15 and 5-2 in the second, she was still remonstrating with herself after missing a point. She finished off the match later in the same game, another break, to reach the third round. Williams lost to eventual semifinalist Johanna Konta in the opening round last year.

In the next round she’ll play Duan Yingying, who beat Varvara Lepchenko 6-1, 3-6, 10-8.

Venus is playing her 17th Australian Open, but has never won the title. Her best run was to the final in 2003, when she lost to Serena.

No. 11 Elina Svitolina had a 6-4, 6-1 win over U.S. qualifier Julia Boserup to advance to a third-round match against No. 24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a 6-2, 6-2 winner over fellow Russian Natalia Vikhlyantseva .

In another match, Alison Riske beat No. 20 Zhang Shuai 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-1.

On the men’s side, fifth-ranked Kei Nishikori reached the third round with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win over Jeremy Chardy.

Frances Tiafoe among young Americans coming of age in Australian Open

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 17:  Frances Tiafoe of the USA plays a backhand during his first round match against Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan on day two of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 17, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images)
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) More than 13 years after Andy Roddick won the 2003 U.S. Open, the last time an American man triumphed at a Grand Slam, the future of U.S. men’s tennis appears bright.

The next generation of young players, all aged between 18 and 20, is starting to emerge and showing enough promise at this year’s Australian Open to suggest they may be on the cusp of a breakthrough.

Seven made the main draw at Melbourne Park and three were still in contention after the first round.

Frances Tiafoe, who turns 19 on Friday, defeated Mikhail Kukushkin 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-2 on Tuesday, while 20-year-old Ernesto Escobedo beat Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1. They joined 20-year-old Noah Rubin, who won his opener a day earlier to set up a second-round match against Roger Federer.

The others failed to advance, but not before serving notice to the tour’s old guard.

Reilly Opelka, 19, lost a tight five-setter to 11th-seeded David Goffin, while Jared Donaldson, 20, lost to Brazil’s Rogerio Dutra Silva after leading two sets to none. Taylor Fritz and Michael Mmoh, both 19, each put up good fights in defeats to veterans Gilles Muller and Gilles Simon, respectively.

“We’re all really supportive of each other and happy to see all of us doing so well,” Tiafoe said. “Hopefully we can keep going and not stop now.”

Much has been expected of Tiafoe, the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, since he won the Orange Bowl at age 15, the youngest champion in the prestigious 18-and-under tournament’s history.

Tiafoe just missed out on a career-defining win at last year’s U.S. Open, where as a wild card, he led the long-time top-ranked U.S. player, John Isner, by two sets to none before the match slipped away. It was a heartbreaking loss, but one Tiafoe learned from.

“I was like, the next opportunity I’m definitely going to take it,” he said after his first-round win on Tuesday, flashing a wide grin. “Now, getting through relatively comfortable today means a lot. … I really feel like I belong now.”

He next plays another 19-year-old, his close friend, Alexander Zverev of Germany.

Both Opelka and Donaldson, meanwhile, got their own tastes of Grand Slam agony in Melbourne.

Opelka, a 6-foot-11 (2.11 meter) former Wimbledon junior champion with a booming serve and whip-like forehand, had two break points to go up 4-2 in the fifth set against Goffin, but couldn’t convert either and ultimately lost 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

Opelka had never before played a five-set match and was making his debut in the singles main draw of a Grand Slam. Yet he showed grit – and no hint of nerves – deep into the fifth set against a seasoned pro like Goffin, even as he started to cramp and struggled to move.

“I’ve played some guys in the top 10 before so I wasn’t uncomfortable,” he said. “With the way I play, hopefully it really shouldn’t matter who’s on the other side of the net.”

Donaldson’s loss was less expected. The Rhode Island native made a stunning run to the third round of last year’s U.S. Open, upsetting the 12th-seeded Goffin and Viktor Troicki, a former top-20 player.

And he was well on his way to a commanding win over Dutra Silva before the Brazilian stormed back for a 3-6, 0-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 victory.

“Losses like this really define your character,” he said. “So I can be upset and sulk about it or I can get back on the practice court and keep working hard and get better so matches like that don’t happen again.”