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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.

Kerber beats Sharapova in 3rd round; Halep in long-haul win

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Angelique Kerber is the only major winner remaining in the Australian Open women’s draw after ending Maria Sharapova’s comeback tour to Melbourne Park.

The 2016 champion routed Sharapova 6-1, 6-3 in the third-round match on Saturday night to extend her winning streak to 12 matches, including winning the Sydney International title last week.

Five-time major winner Sharapova was back at the Australian Open for the first time since 2016, when a failed test for meldonium led to a 15-month doping ban.

It was all over in one hour and four minutes, a vast contrast to top-ranked Simona Halep’s 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 win in three hours, 45 minutes over American Lauren Davis in the opening match on Rod Laver.

The third set took 2:22 and momentum swung. Halep wasted chances to serve for the match in the ninth, 11th and 15th games, then had to save three match points in the 22nd. There were 11 service breaks and two medical timeouts – for Davis to get treatment on both feet – before Halep converted on her first match point.

“I never played the third set so long, so I’m really happy I could stay and win it. I’m almost dead,” Halep said of the match which equaled Chanda Rubin’s win over Arantxa Shanchez Vicario in 1996 – also 48 games – for the Australian Open record in terms of most games.

“I just feel that my muscles are gone,” said Halep, who badly twisted her left ankle in the first round. “My ankle is, I don’t know how it is because I don’t feel it anymore! But … it was nice to win this match.”

Halep will play Naomi Osaka, who beat 18th-seeded Ashleigh Barty 6-4, 6-2 in a match that was moved from the center court to Margaret Court Arena because of the two long matches on Rod Laver.

No. 20 Barbora Strycova beat U.S. qualifier Bernarda Pera 6-2, 6-2, leaving U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys as the only American woman to reach the fourth round.

Keys advanced 6-3, 6-4 over Ana Bogdan and will next play No. 8 Caroline Garcia, who beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3, 5-7, 6-2.

Sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat No. 29 Lucie Safarova 7-6 (6), 7-5 in a match featuring just one service break.

On the men’s side, Hyeon Chung took out a Zverev for the second time this week. Chung beat fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev 5-7, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 six days after a win over No. 32 Mischa Zverev in the first round.

Another unexpected loss at a major had the highly-touted Zverev admitted he may have a problem.

“Definitely not physical, so… I have some figuring out to do, what happens to me in deciding moments in Grand Slam,” he said.

The 20-year-old Zverev has five titles on the elite tour but his fourth-round exit at Wimbledon last year remains his best run at a major.

Tomas Berdych ended 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro’s return to Melbourne Park for the first time since 2014 with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win.

Fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem beat Adrian Mannarino 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 to set up a fourth-round match against Tennys Sandgren, who continued his career-best run by beating Maximilian Marterer 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (5).

Former world junior No. 1 Marton Fucsovics beat Nicolas Kicker 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 and No. 25 Fabio Fognini overcame Julien Benneteau 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.

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More AP coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/AustralianOpen

Top-seeded Halep survives marathon match

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Top-seeded Simona Halep served for the match four times before prevailing 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 over American Lauren Davis in a marathon match at Rod Laver Arena.

Halep saved three match points in the 22nd game of the third set at 0-40 and Davis saved five break points in the 23rd game in the 3 hour, 45-minute match. The final set took 2 hour, 22 minutes and Halep won on her first match point when Davis hit a forehand wide along the sideline.

Davis twice had medical timeouts in the final set to have blisters on both feet treated.

Halep will play the winner of Saturday’s later match between local hope Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka.

In other women’s third-round matches, sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat Lucie Safarova 7-6 (6), 7-5 and No. 8 Caroline Garcia beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3, 5-7, 6-2. Garcia will play Madison Keys in the fourth round.

 

More AP coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/AustralianOpen