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Nadal falters late, loses to Pouille in US Open’s 4th round

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NEW YORK — Rafael Nadal kept making a stand, kept coming back, kept showing he would not depart quietly from this U.S. Open. Facing a much younger, much-less-accomplished opponent, Nadal twice erased a set deficit. Then he staved off a trio of match points.

And then, more than 4 hours into the toughest test he’s put his left wrist through since returning from injury, Nadal faltered. He missed a short forehand, pushing it into the net. Nadal knew what he’d done and covered his eyes with both hands. One point later, the match was over.

Nadal was upset in the U.S. Open’s fourth round by 24th-seeded Lucas Pouille of France 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (6) on Sunday, prolonging the 14-time Grand Slam title winner’s quarterfinal drought at major tournaments.

The No. 4-seeded Nadal, a two-time champion at Flushing Meadows, breezed through his opening three matches in Week 1 at the hard-court tournament, dropping only 20 games combined. But Pouille, a 22-year-old with flashy strokes, presented a much greater challenge in the fourth round, pushing Nadal to the limit through entertaining, tense – and intense – exchanges.

This was Pouille’s third career victory in a five-setter – and all have come in his past three matches.

Since losing in last year’s French Open quarterfinals, Nadal has failed to make it beyond the fourth round at a major.

This season, he lost in the first round of the Australian Open. Then he pulled out of the French Open before his third-round match because of a torn tendon sheath in his left wrist, an injury that forced him to withdraw from Wimbledon altogether and miss about 2 1/2 months on tour in all.

After finally pulling even with Pouille by capturing the fourth set, Nadal appeared to nose ahead by breaking to open the fifth, then going ahead 4-2. But Pouille broke back to 4-all.

Soon enough, they were in the tiebreaker, with Pouille holding his first three match points at 6-3.

Nadal wouldn’t concede yet, though, and one forehand winner by him plus two tight forehands by Pouille made it 6-all. Anyone’s match to win.

Given their relative histories – Pouille never had been to a Grand Slam quarterfinal until Wimbledon this year – Nadal might have been considered the favorite at that moment.

But he blinked. Pouille played conservatively, hitting short shots and making sure they landed in. On one such seemingly easy ball to exploit, Nadal moved forward and whipped that big forehand of his, only to see his reply smack the net.

That made it 7-6 in the tiebreaker, Pouille’s fourth match point, and he would not let this one slip away. On the 16th stroke of this exchange, Pouille delivered a forehand winner to a corner.

When it ended, Pouille dropped on his back, his tongue sticking out. As he rose, eyes wide – and tongue still wagging – 1983 French Open champion Yannick Noah of France, whose son Joakim recently joined the New York Knicks, spread around high-fives in the stands.

On Tuesday, Pouille will face 10th-seeded Gael Monfils of France for a spot in the quarterfinals.

Monfils advanced with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory over 2006 Australian Open runner-up Marcos Baghdatis, who received a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct for using his cellphone during a second-set changeover. Baghdatis defended himself to the chair umpire by asking whether it was against the rules to check the time; later, speaking to a handful of reporters, he said he was trying to message his wife.

Monfils is quite a character himself: In the middle of one point Sunday, he pretended to lean over to tie a shoelace before quickly resuming play.

The other quarterfinal on that side of the draw will feature yet another Frenchman, No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, against the winner of Sunday night’s last match in Ashe, between No. 1 Novak Djokovic and 84th-ranked Kyle Edmund of Britain.

Tsonga got there by eliminating the last American man in the field, No. 26 Jack Sock, 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-2.

Petra Kvitova to play at French Open

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PARIS — Only two months after picking up her racket for the first time following a knife attack at her home, Petra Kvitova will be playing at the French Open.

The two-time Wimbledon champion said Friday she will make her comeback at Roland Garros, although she still lacks power and strength.

“I knew this day would come,” said Kvitova, who was attacked by an intruder last year. “I’m really happy that really here, the dream comes true.”

Kvitova has missed all season while recovering from surgery on her racket-holding left hand. She sustained damage to the tendons in her left hand, along with injuries to all five fingers and two nerves, during the attack.

Doctors initially thought she would need more time before returning to tennis. But Kvitova’s recovery was faster than expected and she said last month that she was signing up for the French Open, which begins Sunday, in hopes of being able to compete.

“It wasn’t easy, but I’m happy that I work through this and I can play tennis and I can be in the draw,” she said.

Kvitova, who won the Wimbledon title in 2011 and 2014 and climbed as high as No. 2 in the WTA rankings, was not allowed to speak about the attack itself because a police investigation is still ongoing. However, she spoke about the anxiety associated with her dreadful experience.

“I didn’t sleep well the days after, but I wasn’t really staying alone,” she said. “From the beginning I was really feeling really weird when I went in the city or somewhere. I was always staring to the guys and looking if there are no strangers there. But with the time, it’s better.”

Kvitova also provided details on the intense rehabilitation process that preceded her “last-minute” decision to try her luck in Paris.

“I worked very hard behind the scenes,” she said. “From the beginning I had this hand in a splint for two months, and even then I was practicing every day, always putting the splint away and trying to make this scar softer. So from the second day after surgery I started to work with that, which was kind of easy, just passive work with the fingers. I couldn’t move them.”

Kvitova got rid of the splint after two weeks and started to move her fingers slightly. She said she can’t still move them completely.

Kvitova also consulted with a hand specialist in the French city of Grenoble every month and she started practicing with a racket at the end of March.

“I hit a few forehands with soft balls from the net, and it felt very, very weird,” she said. “I didn’t really have touch in the hand for holding the racket. I’m happy that I didn’t have to change any techniques or something. Everything seems OK. Of course the hand doesn’t have that power and the strength yet, but I’m working on it. Hopefully one day will be everything perfect.”

Kvitova will open her campaign on the red clay against 86th-ranked Julia Boserup. She is making her ninth appearance at Roland Garros, where she reached the semifinals in 2012.

“Not many people believe that I can play tennis again. So I’m happy that I can play,” Kvitova said. “I actually already won my biggest fight. I stayed in life and I have all my fingers.”

Nishikori saves three match points in Geneva Open QF win

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GENEVA — Kei Nishikori saved three straight match points in the deciding set before outlasting Kevin Anderson 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6) in the Geneva Open quarterfinals on Thursday.

The second-seeded Nishikori was serving at 4-5, 0-40 before rallying to beat the 62nd-ranked South African, who fired 14 aces without allowing any by his opponent.

Nishikori also trailed in the tiebreaker before creating a second match-point chance with a forehand crosscourt service return for a winner. He clinched with a forehand winner off a looping net-cord ball.

The No. 9-ranked Japanese player will face 33rd-ranked Mischa Zverev of Germany in the semifinals on Friday.

The Russian-born Zverev, who came through qualifying, beat fifth-seeded Steve Johnson of the United States 6-4, 7-5.