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Monfils tops Nadal’s conqueror to reach Open SF; Kerber wins

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NEW YORK (AP) Beating Rafael Nadal at the U.S. Open took a lot out of Lucas Pouille, and Gael Monfils took full advantage, reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal since 2008.

The 10th-seeded Monfils beat an error-prone Pouille 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in an all-French quarterfinal that concluded under Arthur Ashe Stadium’s retractable roof.

Monfils, who turned 30 last week, had lost six consecutive major quarterfinals since reaching his only previous semifinal, 8 1/2 years ago in front of a partisan crowd at the French Open. But the entertaining Monfils has been playing the best tennis of his career lately, winning all 15 sets he’s played during this tournament.

“It’s a court I love,” he told the crowd during an on-court interview. “I always say that the French is my home, but this one is my second.”

The 24th-seeded Pouille quite simply ran out of steam, winding up with just about three times as many unforced errors as Monfils, 44-15. He never had won a U.S. Open match or any match that lasted five sets until last week; his 4-hour-plus win against Nadal on Sunday was his third five-setter in a row.

Monfils repeatedly used lobs to try to take points from Pouille.

“I know he was maybe a bit flat today, so he wanted to close at the net,” Monfils said. “And the lob obviously is the best shot.”

He already was ahead 6-4, 4-3 when a brief shower led organizers to shut Ashe’s $150 million cover that is making its debut this year.

Up next for Monfils will be a matchup against No. 1 Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, or No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, whose quarterfinal was scheduled for Tuesday night. Monfils, Pouille and Tsonga gave France a trio of quarterfinalists at the American Grand Slam tournament for the first time in 89 years.

Monfils said he “might watch a little bit” of Djokovic vs. Tsonga, pulling for what he called “a full French semifinal.”

In the day’s first women’s quarterfinal, Roberta Vinci fell apart after losing the opening set on a foot fault, allowing No. 2 seed Angelique Kerber to take the last nine games and win 7-5, 6-0.

Vinci was the runner-up at Flushing Meadows a year ago, reaching her first major final by stunning Serena Williams to end the American’s bid for the first calendar-year Grand Slam in tennis in more than a quarter-century.

But after being two points from taking the first set against Kerber while serving for it at 5-4, 30-all, the No. 7-seeded Vinci faltered badly. She missed a forehand long, then netted a backhand to get broken there – and that was just the beginning of her collapse.

Trailing 6-5, and serving at love-40, Vinci missed her first serve, then was called for a foot fault on a second serve. That resulted in a double-fault, ceding the set.

As she walked to the sideline, Vinci looked at the line judge who made the call and smiled sarcastically, giving him a thumb’s up and applauding with her racket.

It’s a rare ruling in Grand Slam tennis, especially at a critical juncture, although there was, of course, the most famous foot fault of all on the very same court. In the 2009 U.S. Open semifinals, Williams was angered by the same type of call: a foot fault that resulted in a double-fault; in that instance, it set up match point for her opponent, Kim Clijsters. Williams brandished her racket and yelled at the line judge, and the point she was docked for that ended the match.

This time, the call ended the competitive portion of Vinci’s quarterfinal: She managed to take only 10 of 38 points the rest of the way.

Vinci has been dealing with an injured left Achilles tendon – she wore black tape in the shape of a “V” that framed her left calf – and a bad back. Still, her varied game, filled with slices and drop shots and net rushes, gave Kerber fits for most of the first set.

Kerber, who has a chance to overtake Williams at No. 1 in the WTA rankings after the tournament, moved into her third Grand Slam semifinal of the year. She beat Williams to win the Australian Open for her first major championship, then lost to Williams in the Wimbledon final in July.

Kerber’s first U.S. Open semifinal since 2011 will come against an unseeded player, either two-time runner-up Caroline Wozniacki or Anastasija Sevastova.

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.