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Serena Williams’ shoulder ‘feels solid,’ looks even better

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NEW YORK — So about that inflamed right shoulder that was supposed to hinder Serena Williams at the U.S. Open as she seeks a record 23rd major title: It sure seems to be just fine.

“Definitely feels solid,” Williams said.

Not sure? There’s plenty of evidence. No need to take her word – or her coach’s – for it.

Look at the way Williams beat 47th-ranked Johanna Larsson 6-1, 6-1 on Saturday to reach the fourth round at Flushing Meadows and collect the 307th Grand Slam match victory of her career, surpassing Martina Navratilova for most by a woman in the Open era and equaling Roger Federer for most by anyone since 1968.

Williams reached 121 mph on a serve. She had a half-dozen aces, bringing her total this week to 31. She faced only one break point – her first of the tournament – and saved it. She smacked seven return winners. She compiled a 24-5 total edge in winners.

“Tennis-wise, I think it was very satisfying in all aspects. It’s not perfect, of course,” said her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. “But for someone who didn’t play much matches in the last two months, I think she’s competitive.”

Now there’s an understatement.

“There is no pain. Maybe she feels a little. I don’t know; I’m not in her shoulder. But I see she plays normal. She serves normal. At practice, she serves the quantity that we usually do, full power,” Mouratoglou said. “So I don’t see any problem. And she doesn’t even talk about it. I know it’s under control now.”

That sounds like bad news for upcoming opponents, starting with 52nd-ranked Yaroslava Shvedova, who advanced to the round of 16 in New York for the first time by beating Zhang Shuai 6-2, 7-5.

Monday’s other fourth-round women’s matchups will be Williams’ older sister Venus vs. No. 10 Karolina Pliskova, No. 5 Simona Halep vs. No. 11 Carla Suarez Navarro, and No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Ana Konjuh. Venus Williams advanced comfortably Saturday night by beating No. 26 Laura Siegemund 6-1, 6-2. In that half of the draw, only the players with the last name Williams have won a Grand Slam title; the sisters could meet in the semifinals a year after Serena eliminated Venus in the quarters.

Two past men’s champions, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro, moved into the fourth round.

Murray, who won the 2012 U.S. Open, had trouble in each of the first two sets, but eventually became more patient during baseline exchanges and took control for a 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Paolo Lorenzi. Murray joins Kyle Edmund – who won Friday to set up a match against No. 1 Novak Djokovic – to give Britain two men in the round of 16 at the American Grand Slam tournament for the first time since 1966, when it was known as the U.S. Championships.

A third British man, Dan Evans, came within a point of also making the fourth round but failed to complete what would have been a significant upset, fading in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (8), 6-2 loss to No. 3 Stan Wawrinka. Evans held a match point at 6-5 in the fourth-set tiebreaker, but Wawrinka erased it, then took that set and raced to a 4-0 lead in the fifth.

Wawrinka next faces No. 14 Nick Kyrgios or Illya Marchenko, who were playing in the night’s last match in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

There’s only one American man left: Jack Sock, who faces No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Sunday. That’s because 19-year-old qualifier Jared Donaldson’s run ended with a straight-set loss to 37-year-old Ivo Karlovic, the oldest man to reach the fourth round in New York since Jimmy Connors was 39 in 1991. Karlovic plays No. 6 Kei Nishikori next.

Del Potro’s resurgence continued with a 7-6 (3), 6-2, 6-3 victory over No. 11 David Ferrer. The 2009 champion in New York missed 2 1/2 years’ worth of major tournaments because of three operations on his left wrist, and he’s ranked only 142nd, which is why he needed a wild-card invitation to get into the field.

Williams is 4-0 against Shvedova, who is best known for the first “golden set” in the Open era, which began in 1968: She won all 24 points of the first set against Sara Errani at Wimbledon in 2012.

“She’s dangerous,” Mouratoglou said. “But I think Serena is even more dangerous.”

Larsson would probably agree.

“You’re out there, you’re trying to find ways to win,” Larsson said, “but sometimes, it’s just not happening.”

Mouratoglou said Williams’ shoulder began bothering her a day or two after Wimbledon, where she teamed with Venus to win doubles and tied Steffi Graf’s Open-era record with Grand Slam singles title No. 22.

This was Williams’ first daytime match of the U.S. Open, so she debuted a new outfit – a white dress accessorized with neon pink compression wraps on her arms, which she called “my `Wonder Woman’ sleeves.”

“I feel this design, in particular, really is kind of like a superhero design,” Williams said. “Like a really powerful, strong character that is strong, but yet isn’t afraid to be soft at the same time.”

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

Nadal beats Monfils, reaches 30th Grand Slam quarterfinal

2017 Australian Open - Day 8
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Rafael Nadal beat sixth-seeded Gael Monfils in four sets Monday to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament for the 30th time, prompting talk of a potential Australian Open final against Roger Federer.

The veterans have a long way to go to get there.

For the 30-year-old Nadal, his first priority is against No. 3-seeded Milos Raonic.

With No. 1-ranked Andy Murray and No. 2 Novak Djokovic – the two most consistent performers in the last six years at Melbourne Park – upset in the first week, Wimbledon finalist Raonic is the highest-ranked player in the draw.

He advanced to the last eight here for third straight year with a 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 13 Roberto Bautista Agut.

Nadal is the only major winner still in contention on the bottom half of the draw, although he hasn’t added to his tally of 14 majors since the capturing the French Open in 2014.

Federer, in the top half of the draw, plays Mischa Zverev on Tuesday, and would have to beat him and either Stan Wawrinka or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – the other quarterfinalists playing Tuesday – to advance to the final.

Nadal’s 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win over U.S. Open semifinalist Monfils in the fourth round was his first over a top 10 player at a Grand Slam since that run to his last title at Roland Garros. It also ended a four-match streak against top 10 players.

“Being in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam after couple of years not being there is very special for me,” said Nadal, who last progressed this far at the 2015 French Open.

It also showed that after a couple of months off to rest his injured left-wrist, he is still a contender at the majors. He hasn’t won an Australian title since 2009.

He went up a break early in the first two sets, had his chances in the third before Monfils rallied, and then traded breaks in the fourth before breaking the acrobatic Frenchman to win. Overall, he converted six of 17 break-point chances.

Raonic hit 33 aces and 75 winners but had nine double-faults and 55 unforced errors, and seemed to get on a roll after spiking his racket into the court in frustration in the ninth game of the third set.

In the other quarter, No. 15 Grigor Dimitrov closed with an ace to hold off No. 117 wild-card entry Denis Istomin 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-1. Istomin, who upset six-time champion Novak Djokovic in the second round, needed repeated treatment on his tiring legs in the third and fourth sets.

He will next play No. 11 David Goffin, a 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-2 winner of No. 8 Dominic Thiem.

Serena Williams kept her bid for an Open-era record 23rd major title on track with a 7-5, 6-4 win over No. 16-seeded Barbora Strycova to reach the quarterfinals here for the 11th time.

Despite four service breaks – two in the first four games – and 46 unforced errors, and with the fluky net cord and the off-balance, scrunched-shouldered backhand that bounced flatly and clinched her the first set on her eighth set point, she ground down Strycova.

“It’s good to know I have a Plan B, or Option 2. I wasn’t serving my greatest today, also she was putting a lot of returns in there,” said Williams, who had a first-serve percentage of 45, and made four double-faults. “I feel like it was really good for me to win on probably not my best day, which is always good, because sometimes you rely on one shot and if it goes off, and then, like, what happens now?

“It was really good for me to almost lose that so I know my other game is going pretty good, too.”

Next up, she’ll face 2016 semifinalist Johanna Konta, who beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-4.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1999 as a 17-year-old and, after a long, difficult time off the tour, she has returned to the quarterfinals of a major for the first time since.

She beat U.S. qualifier Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-2 and will next play U.S. Open finalist Karolina Pliskova, who ended Australia’s involvement in the singles draws with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Daria Gavrilova.

Whatever comes of it, the 34-year-old Lucic-Baroni said she’d make the most of the moment.

“I felt kind of a little bit of unfinished business,” she said. “I still wanted to play on a stage like this, on a full court like this. Come out, play, have these wins, be in a quarterfinal of a Slam.”

Andy Murray, Angelique Kerber out in 4th round of Australian Open

2017 Australian Open - Day 7
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) There was some symmetry about the fourth-round exits of top-ranked Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open.

Both had the top seeding for the first time at a Grand Slam tournament. Both went out on the same court and, at least on paper, the same day.

It was tough at the top on Sunday: Five-time finalist Murray lost 7-5, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 to No. 50-ranked Mischa Zverev in the afternoon match on Rod Laver Arena, and defending women’s champion Kerber lost 6-3, 6-2 to CoCo Vandeweghe in an upset that finished at six minutes past midnight.

It was the first time since the French Open in 2010 that both top-seeded players went out in the same round. In the quarterfinals at Roland Garros that year, Roger Federer lost to Robin Soderling and Serena Williams lost to Sam Stosur.

Murray and Kerber didn’t make it to the second week.

Vandeweghe had never been past the third round at the season-opening Grand Slam, and lost in the first round here last year. But she pounded Kerber with a powerful forehand, clubbing 13 of her 30 winners from that wing.

Kerber saved a match point in the first round last year before winning her first major title, beating Serena Williams in the final. She replaced Williams atop the rankings after winning the U.S. Open.

Murray lost the final here to six-time champion Novak Djokovic last year, but finished 2016 at No. 1 after a strong finish to the season that included titles at Wimbledon, the Olympics and the ATP Finals.

He was undone by some old-school serve and volley from Zverev, who played the match of his life. He’ll now meet 17-time major winner Federer in the quarterfinals.

In between the upsets was pretty rocky, too. Federer was down 5-1 in the first set against Kei Nishikori but found a way to fend off the 2014 U.S. Open finalist, who was cramping and needed late treatment on his back, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.

It was his 200th career win over a top 10 player.

Federer was ecstatic. “It was about staying with him. … almost going down 6-0, I thought `It’s not going to get any worse from there,'” said Federer, on the comeback from six months on the sidelines to repair his injured left knee. “Huge win for me in my career.”

Murray was stunned.

“Right now I’m obviously very down because I wanted to go further in this event,” Murray said. “I’ve had tough losses in my career in the past. I’ve come back from them. This is a tough one.”

Murray’s exit follows the second-round departure of Djokovic, beaten in the second round by No. 117-ranked wild-card entry Denis Istomin.

It’s the first time since 2002 that the top two seeds in the men’s draw haven’t reached the Australian Open quarterfinals, and the first time at a Grand Slam since the French Open in 2004.

The absence of Djokovic and Murray certainly opens up it up for others.

U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka, who had his major breakthrough here in 2014, is a growing contender after beating Andreas Seppi 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4). He’ll play a quarterfinal against 2008 Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat Dan Evans 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.

In the bottom half of the draw, 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal is the only man still in contention who has won a Grand Slam title.

The top half of the women’s draw is open, too. Venus Williams returned to the quarterfinals for the ninth time with a 6-3, 7-5 win over No. 181-ranked Mona Barthel.

The seven-time major winner next plays No. 24-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who beat No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 6-3.

French Open champion Garbine Muguruza beat Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 6-3 and will next play Vandeweghe – they’re both in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park for the first time.

Kerber’s loss contined a poor run since she won the U.S. Open last September. She’s played seven tournaments without winning a title, only reached one final, and was 5-7 against top 50 players.

The bigger upset of the day, then, was produced by Zverev, the older and apparently lesser-talented brother of Alexander who had never gone past the third round of a major and was appearing at only his third Grand Slam in six years.

Zverev attacked Murray, unsettling his natural baseline game, and won 65 of 118 points at the net.

He made some stunning, lunging volleys on clutch points, but for him it was all a blur.

“It was like I was in a little coma, I just served and volleyed my way through,” Zverev said. “Honestly there were a few points where I don’t know how I pulled it off.”

Murray couldn’t do a lot to counter it.

“It’s the shots he was coming up with when he did come forward.” Murray said. “He came up with some great pickups, you know, reflex volleys especially at the end when it was tight.”

Murray had reached the quarterfinals or better on his previous seven trips to Australia but never won the title – losing finals in 2010 to Federer and in `11, `13, `15 and `16 to Djokovic.

He had not lost to a player ranked as lowly as Zverev at a major since his loss to No. 51 Juan Ignacio Chela here in 2006. It was also the earliest exit by a top-seeded player at the Australian Open since Lleyton Hewitt in 2003.