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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.

Venus Williams beats No. 1 Kerber in Miami Open quarters

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Venus Williams moved a step closer to her first Key Biscayne title since 2001 when she beat top-ranked Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-3 Wednesday night in the quarterfinals of the Miami Open.

It was Williams’ 15th career win against a No. 1 player, but her first since 2014. Seeded No. 11, she’s into the tournament’s semifinals for the first time in seven years.

Williams’ opponent Thursday night will be No. 10-seeded Johanna Konta, who became the first British woman to reach a semifinal in the tournament by beating No. 3 Simona Halep 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2. No. 2 Karolina Pliskova will play No. 12 Caroline Wozniacki in the other semifinal.

Williams took charge of her quarterfinal match when Kerber double-faulted on the final two points of the opening set, and broke serve twice more early in the second set. She closed out the victory on her fifth match point with a backhand winner.

It was a matchup of offense against defense, with Williams the more aggressive player, charging the net often. Kerber stayed rooted to the baseline and was on the defensive even when she served, facing 13 break points and losing serve five times.

The German will remain No. 1 next week despite her loss. She reclaimed the top ranking this month after Indian Wells, replacing Serena Williams, who is sidelined by a knee injury.

Venus Williams improved to 61-13 at Key Biscayne, where she is making her 18th appearance. She won the title in 1998, 1999 and 2001 and considers the tournament her hometown event – she lives 90 minutes north in Palm Beach Gardens.

At 36, Williams was the oldest woman to enter the draw, but she hasn’t been taxed physically while winning every set in her four matches.

On the men’s side, Fabio Fognini became the first unseeded player in 10 years to reach the men’s semifinals at Key Biscayne when he beat 2016 runner-up Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-2. Fognini, 29, who matched his best showing in an ATP Masters 1000 event, will next play the winner of Wednesday night’s match between Rafael Nadal and Jack Sock.

Nishikori was seeded No. 2. Fognini improved to 9-44 against top-10 players, and became the first Italian man to reach a semifinal at Key Biscayne.

Historical marker for tennis great Tilden rejected again

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) A Pennsylvania panel once again rejected a historical marker for Philadelphia tennis great Bill Tilden.

Tilden became the first American to win Wimbledon in 1920 and also won seven U.S. championships. In 1950, The Associated Press voted him the greatest player of the first half of the century.

A year ago, a panel of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission that approves historical markers voted 4-1 against recommending approval of a marker at Philadelphia’s Germantown Cricket Club, citing Tilden’s convictions on charges involving teenage boys in the 1940s.

Karen Galle, coordinator of the historical marker program, confirmed Wednesday that the panel again voted 4-1 against approving the marker in February and that recommendation was among 54 approved by the commission at its March 22 meeting.

“While the significance of this athlete’s tennis career and talent are indisputable, his convictions for sexual misconduct with underage boys preclude recognition,” commission spokesman Howard Pollman said.

Lack of a marker doesn’t diminish Tilden’s accomplishments but approval “may be perceived to dishonor victims of sexual abuse,” Pollman said. Officials have cited the climate in the commonwealth following the sex abuse scandal involving another sports figure, Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky.

Tilden was arrested in Beverly Hills, California, in November 1946, after a 14-year-old boy was caught driving the star’s car erratically. Officers reported that when the teen exited the car, his pants zipper was down. Police charged Tilden with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and he served seven months in jail. He was arrested again in 1949 on allegations that he violated probation by being in the company of another teen boy, and that he groped a third teen. He served 10 months at a prison farm.

Tilden, born to a wealthy Philadelphia family, was featured regularly in magazines, newspapers and newsreels during his career. He was friends with Hollywood elite and played at the White House at the invitation of President Warren Harding. He’s credited with urging children of all economic backgrounds to learn tennis, once a sport only for the wealthy, and modern players still value his manuals on how to play.

After his convictions, Tilden’s Germantown membership was revoked, and his portrait was removed. In recent years, the club has begun to embrace Tilden’s memory, and a group of Philadelphians has been lobbying for a historical marker at the site.