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Gong Show: After let call, Murray loses at Open; Serena wins

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NEW YORK (AP) Andy Murray lost his way, seven consecutive games and, eventually, his riveting five-set U.S. Open quarterfinal against Kei Nishikori after a loud noise from a malfunctioning sound system interrupted a key point, resulting in a do-over.

Whether or not the gong-like sound, and chair umpire Marija Cicak’s let ruling, was the reason that Nishikori wound up coming back to win 1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 on Wednesday, it surely will be what’s most remembered about the back-and-forth, 4-hour match.

After all, Murray’s extended discussions with Cicak and another official about the unusual episode came during a stretch in which he dropped 12 of 14 points.

He went from a lead of two sets to one, plus a break point at 1-all, to ceding the fourth set and trailing 2-0 in the fifth.

“I could have won the match for sure,” said Murray, the No. 2 seed and 2012 champion at Flushing Meadows.

Murray acknowledged a brief dip in play, but preferred to focus on other reasons for allowing the sixth-seeded Nishikori to reach a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time since he was the U.S. Open runner-up two years ago.

“I broke serve enough times,” Murray said. “I just didn’t hold serve enough. That was the difference.”

Perhaps.

But Murray complained about the ruling right away, gave away the next three points to lose the game, then brought it up again with Cicak at the ensuing changeover, saying something similar had happened earlier and play had continued.

“Exactly the same thing,” Murray exclaimed. “And I told you.”

He also spoke to a tournament supervisor about it, pleading his case and saying, “That’s not fair.”

That same type of noise came from the speakers again at 4-1 in the fourth set. It also had happened during a women’s match Monday night between Ana Konjuh and Agnieszka Radwanska.

The U.S. Tennis Association said Wednesday that a “digital audio sound processor” was at fault and would be replaced before the night session.

Despite all the fuss, Murray went ahead 5-4 in the fifth. But he wouldn’t take another game. At 5-all, 30-all, Murray double-faulted to set up break point, and Nishikori converted by reaching for a stretch volley winner.

Murray slammed his racket against the net and cursed. Soon enough, his career-best run of reaching seven straight tournament finals was done.

“I would have loved to have gone further,” Murray said, “but it wasn’t to be today.”

He had won 26 of his previous 27 matches, including a second Wimbledon championship and a second Olympic gold medal, beating Nishikori in straight sets in the semifinals at Rio de Janeiro.

This time, Nishikori came through, helped by a series of effective drop shots and an ability to keep his nerve over the closing three games.

“It was too exciting on the court, but I tried to stay calm,” he said. “It was really tough to stay calm. … There were many ups and downs.”

In the women’s quarterfinals, Serena Williams was broken for the first time in the tournament, and lost a set for the first time, too, but eventually got past No. 5 Simona Halep 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. A year ago in the U.S. Open semifinals, Williams’ bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam ended with a loss to unseeded Roberta Vinci of Italy.

On Thursday, Williams faces 10th-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, who reached the first major semifinal of her career by eliminating the 18-year-old Konjuh 6-2, 6-2. The other women’s semifinal is No. 2 Angelique Kerber vs. two-time runner-up Caroline Wozniacki.

Nishikori will face the winner of Wednesday night’s quarterfinal between 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro and No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka. The other men’s semifinal Friday is No. 1 Novak Djokovic against No. 10 Gael Monfils.

At 3-all in the second set of Murray vs. Nishikori, rain interrupted play for the second time in the match. The retractable roof atop Ashe was shut during the second, longer shower, and the break of about 20 minutes gave Nishikori’s coach, 1989 French Open champion Michael Chang, a chance to run through the concourse to get down to the locker room and consult with his player.

“That helped me a lot to regroup the tactics,” Nishikori said. “I (had) to change something to win the match.”

Maybe that made a difference. Murray also thought playing indoors helped Nishikori fare better in his return games. Indeed, Nishikori took that set by breaking in its last game, as Murray slapped a backhand into the net to close a 15-stroke exchange.

The edge went back to Murray late in the third, when he broke to lead 5-4 as Nishikori missed a backhand. Murray roared and punched the air as he went to the sideline. His coach, eight-time major champion Ivan Lendl, did not exactly mirror that celebratory mood, sitting with chin on hand up in the guest box.

Murray served out that set at love and seemed to be in good shape, up two sets to one. At 1-all in the fourth, though, everything changed.

 

Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping tournaments like Federer

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MONACO (AP) For now, Rafael Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping any major tournaments the way Roger Federer has been sitting out the French Open.

The veterans are back at the top of world tennis, with Nadal needing to win the Monte Carlo Masters this week to avoid losing his top ranking once again to Federer in their seemingly eternal battle for tennis supremacy.

For the second consecutive season, the 36-year-old Federer is skipping the entire clay-court season in order to be at his best on grass.

After coming back from injury to win the Australian Open last year, Federer skipped the clay-court season, won Wimbledon, and retained his Melbourne crown to extend his record tally to 20 majors.

The Swiss star is keeping his aging body fresher by playing a bit less – avoiding Nadal on clay at Roland Garros or elsewhere – and it is working for him.

But Nadal still thinks he can play a full schedule.

“There (are) tournaments that I can’t imagine missing on purpose, because (they are) tournaments that I love to play,” Nadal said on Wednesday. “I don’t see myself missing Monte Carlo on purpose. I don’t see myself missing Wimbledon on purpose, or the U.S. Open, or Australian, or Rome. These kind of events, I don’t see missing (them).”

The 31-year-old Spaniard recently returned from a right hip injury which forced him to retire during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

With his 32nd birthday coming up on June 3 – during the French Open – the 16-time Grand Slam champion accepts he may think differently when he gets closer to Federer’s age.

“Of course, when you get older, you need to adjust a little bit more the efforts and the calendar. But for me (it) is difficult to say I don’t play, for example, grass, or I don’t play hard (courts),” Nadal said. “(It) is not in my plan, but I can’t say `never’ because I cannot predict what’s going to be in the future.”

Nadal is chasing an 11th title at both Monte Carlo and Roland Garros, which begins on May 27.

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

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Thiem reaches third round at Monte Carlo

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MONACO — Dominic Thiem saved a match point and beat Andrey Rublev of Russia 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

Rublev was serving for the match at 5-4, 40-30 but hit a forehand narrowly wide. Fifth-seeded Thiem broke him with backhand pass down the line and held for 6-5.

The Austrian was 15-40 up on Rublev’s serve and clinched victory on his first match point, when Rublev double-faulted with a weak serve into the net.

“I was 10 centimeters from being out of the tournament,” a relieved Thiem said. “But I’m happy that I played two hours and 40 (minutes).”

Thiem has reached the French Open semifinals for the past two years. He next meets 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic or Borna Coric of Croatia, who play their second-round match on Wednesday.

“I’m looking forward to watching Djokovic and Coric in front of the TV, and then playing the winner on Thursday,” Thiem said.

In the second round later Tuesday, fourth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria faced Pierre-Hugues Herbert and seventh-seeded Lucas Pouille played Mischa Zverev.

In remaining first-round play, there were wins for Gilles Simon of France, Marco Cecchinato of Italy and Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.