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‘Can’t hear anything’: As rain pelts Open roof, Murray wins

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NEW YORK (AP) When heavy rain began pelting the closed roof at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Andy Murray couldn’t pick up the usual sounds of a tennis match.

Most importantly, he said, the thwack of a ball coming off his opponent’s racket strings – or his own, for that matter – was completely indiscernible during a 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 second-round victory over Marcel Granollers at the U.S. Open on Thursday.

As it is, the $150 million retractable cover making its tournament debut this week makes the main stadium louder because the structure, even when open, traps the sounds of spectators chatting in the stands.

When it’s shut, as was the case Wednesday because of showers that delayed play on all other courts for hours at a time, the roof amplifies all of that ambient noise.

And when the drops came down early in Murray’s second set, well, it was loud as can be.

“You can’t hear anything, really,” 2012 U.S. Open champion Murray said. “I mean, you could hear the line calls.”

But that was about it.

As Murray and Granollers played, there was a constant din during points, an amalgam of the downpour bouncing off the outside of the roof and the murmur of the crowd bouncing off the inside. From a seat in the 10th row parallel to a baseline, the racket-ball impact was rendered silent by a louder version of what you hear when you hold a seashell to your ear.

It’s not simply that it’s an unfamiliar soundtrack for a Grand Slam match. It affects the competition.

“We use our ears when we play. It’s not just the eyes. (The sound) helps us pick up the speed of the ball, the spin that’s on the ball, how hard someone’s hitting it. If we played with our ears covered or with headphones on, it would be a big advantage if your opponent wasn’t wearing them,” Murray explained. “It’s tricky. You can still do it, but it’s harder, for sure.”

Granollers offered a similar take.

“We’re not used to playing with that noise. … I was not feeling like I was hitting the ball right. It was difficult also to concentrate. Tough to play,” Granollers said. “There is more noise with the roof, but, I mean, if it’s not raining, it’s OK. With the rain, it was too much.”

Like Murray, he acknowledged players will need to learn to adjust.

“When it rains, you’re going to get noise,” U.S. Tennis Association Executive Director Gordon Smith said, when asked about the players’ comments about the ruckus.

“We will look at potential ways to attenuate some of the noise going forward. It’s going to be louder than it was. We knew that. And it’s something the players will deal with and the fans will deal with.”

The good news: At least Murray, Granollers and others were able to play. Rain has often been a schedule-wreaker at the U.S. Open, where the men’s final was postponed five consecutive years from 2008-12.

Because of Thursday’s wet weather, action around the grounds was limited until the early evening – but matches kept coming under the roof in Ashe, including Serena Williams’ 6-3, 6-3 victory over American wild-card entry Vania King at night. That pulled Williams even with Martina Navratilova’s Open-era record of 306 Grand Slam match wins; only Roger Federer, with 307, owns more.

“It was definitely a little different playing with Ashe closed,” said Williams, who produced 13 aces yet clearly was displeased with winning only 13 of 40 points on King’s first serves. “But it still feels great.”

Chair umpire Alison Hughes repeatedly asked spectators to keep it down.

“Your voices are carrying to the court,” she said. And: “Ladies and gentlemen, respect the players. Please remain quiet.”

Men advancing included No. 6 Kei Nishikori and No. 8 Dominic Thiem, but No. 16 Feliciano Lopez lost to Joao Sousa 6-2, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5.

Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 champion, was scheduled to face 19th-seeded Steve Johnson of the U.S. later Thursday.

Earlier, Williams’ older sister, seven-time major champion Venus, beat Julia Goerges 6-2, 6-3, while No. 5 Simona Halep eliminated Lucie Safarova 6-3, 6-4 in a meeting between past French Open finalists that was the first contest played entirely with the roof closed (it was shut for the first time during a match midway through Rafael Nadal’s victory Wednesday).

Serena is seeded No. 1, and Venus is No. 6.

“It’s really amazing to have, you know, myself and my sister in the top six. It’s pretty cool. It’s a great feeling,” Serena said. “We’re still just doing the best that we can.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Serena Williams returning to competition for US Fed Cup team

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) The U.S. Tennis Association says Serena Williams will return to competition for the first time in more than a year at the country’s Fed Cup matches against the Netherlands next month.

Williams has not played an official match since winning the Australian Open in January 2017 for her 23rd Grand Slam singles title. She was pregnant during that tournament and gave birth to a daughter on Sept. 1.

Joining Williams on U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi’s roster announced Tuesday is older sister Venus, a seven-time major champion. The siblings have not played on the Fed Cup team together in three years.

Also on the team: CoCo Vandeweghe, a semifinalist at the Australian Open and U.S. Open last year. A fourth member of the U.S. squad will be announced next week.

The U.S. won last year’s Fed Cup.

The matches against the Netherlands will be held on an indoor hard court in Ashville, North Carolina, on Feb. 10-11.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Injured Nadal out of Australian Open; Cilic into semifinals

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) An injured and visibly struggling Rafael Nadal retired while trailing in the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal match against Marin Cilic.

Top-ranked Nadal fended off five break points in the last game before Cilic broke his serve, then the 16-time major winner went to shake hands with the umpire and his opponent, and angrily hurled his headband into his equipment bag.

No. 6-seeded Cilic advanced to his first semifinal in Australia since 2010 with a score of 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 2-0, retired.

Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, will next play No. 49-ranked Kyle Edmund, who beat No. 3-ranked Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time.

Nadal limped into a news conference about a half-hour later, still wincing when he stepped up onto a platform. He said he felt muscle pain in his upper right leg in the third set but played through it. In the fourth set, chasing a drop shot, he felt the pain get worse “but didn’t realize how bad.”

“Tough moments -not (for) the first time here,” he said. “I’m a positive person, but today is an opportunity lost to be in a semifinal for a Grand Slam and fight for an important title for me.

“It’s really tough to accept.”

Nadal said he’d have medical scans Wednesday to determine the exact location and extent of the injury, which he could only describe as being high on his right leg but not in the hip.

“Unbelievable performance from both of us and really unfortunate for Rafa,” Cilic said. “He’s such an unbelievable competitor. He always gives his best … it’s very unfortunate for him to finish this way.”

It was only the second time Nadal had retired during a Grand Slam match – the last time was also an Australian Open quarterfinal, in 2010 against Andy Murray.

On Tuesday night, he needed a medical timeout after going down 4-1 in the fourth set for treatment on his leg.

Nadal returned but was clearly bothered by the injury, limping and taking as much time as possible as he tried to stretch between points.

He called the trainer again after losing the fourth set, and lasted only two further games.

Cilic had only previously beaten Nadal once in their six previous matches – in their first match at Beijing in 2009.

Nadal had a delayed start to the season because of an injured right knee, but appeared to be in good form through the first four rounds. He now hasn’t won back-to-back Australian Open quarterfinals since 2008 and ’09, the year he won his only Australian title.

“I worked hard to be here,” said Nadal, who skipped tournaments in Abu Dhabi and Brisbane, Australia, while his knee recovered at the start of the season. “We did all the things that we believed were the right things to do.”

His absence also means there’s only one of last year’s singles finalists remaining in the tournament. Roger Federer, who beat Nadal in five sets last year, is playing Tomas Berdych in a quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Serena Williams didn’t defend her title, deciding she hadn’t had enough time to prepare following the birth of her first child last September. Her older sister, Venus Williams, was beaten in the first round.

On top of that, six-time champion Novak Djokovic was upset in the fourth round.

There’ll be a British man in the Australian Open semifinals for the seventh time in nine years, but it won’t be five-time finalist Murray – who skipped the season-opening tournament to have surgery on his hip.

Edmund had never played in a major quarterfinal, had never won five consecutive matches at tour level, had lost both of his previous matches against Dimitrov and had never beaten a top five player.

He checked all those boxes on Rod Laver Arena.

“I am loving it right now, just the way I’m playing,” Edmund said. “My first Grand Slam semifinal. First time I played on one of the biggest courts in the world. To beat a quality of player like Grigor. They’re great feelings. So, yeah, I just try to enjoy it as much as possible.”

After breaking Dimitrov’s serve in the ninth game of the fourth set, Edmund set up match point with an ace. Then he had to wait before a video challenge confirmed that Dimitrov’s last shot – a floating backhand – was out.

“I just held my nerve in that last game and prayed that last ball would be out,” Edmund said. It was out. And so was Dimitrov, who lost a five-set semifinal here last year to Nadal.

“Everything went his way today,” Dimitrov said. “It’s hard to hide a disappointment. It hurts, and so it should.”

Edmund, who had a first-round upset over U.S. Open finalist Kevin Anderson, is now the center of attention for the tennis-loving British public.

“I know what it feels like to be Andy Murray the last eight years,” he said. “It’s probably the first time I’ve done well on my own, so there’s more attention there. Of course you take it in stride.”

Elise Mertens is facing a similar experience.

Mertens upset fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-0 to extend her winning streak to 10 matches, becoming the first Belgian since Kim Clijsters in 2012 to reach the semifinals here.

Mertens, who trains at Clijsters’ academy, said: “Kim, thanks for watching. I’m trying to be in your footsteps this week.”

In the semis, she’ll play either second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki or Carla Suarez Navarro.