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Pushed to brink, Williams edges Halep, returns to US Open SF

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NEW YORK (AP) Serena Williams’ serve was broken for the first time at this year’s U.S. Open. Twice, in fact. She dropped a set for the first time in the tournament, too, pushed to the brink by Simona Halep in the quarterfinals.

In a match filled with fantastic shotmaking and enthralling exchanges, neither player budged until Williams righted herself in the third set to emerge with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Halep on Wednesday night to get back to the semifinals at Flushing Meadows.

“I knew that I could play a lot better, and I felt like I kind of lost my rhythm a little bit in the second set. Also, Simona started playing really well. She kept going for shots, and she did what she needed to do,” Williams said. “But I knew if I wanted to win this, I had to step it up in the third set.”

Halep, the 2014 French Open runner-up who was seeded No. 5 in New York, staved off all 12 break points held by Williams in the second set and forced a third.

“I wasn’t very happy about that, but I tried not to let that get me down,” Williams said about all the chances she let slip away. “I tried to stay positive and I knew that if I did, I could just stay in the match.”

Indeed, Williams converted the only break chance she would get – or need – in the deciding set to go ahead 3-1, and was on her way.

She finished with 18 aces, a 50-20 edge in total winners, and won the point on 26 of her 32 trips to the net.

Not bad for someone who entered the U.S. Open with questions about a sore right shoulder that began bothering her after she won Wimbledon in July.

Williams is bidding for her seventh title at Flushing Meadows and 23rd overall at a major tournament – both would be records for the Open era, which dates to 1968.

A year ago in the semifinals, Williams’ attempt to finish off a calendar-year Grand Slam ended with a stunning loss to unseeded Roberta Vinci of Italy.

Her opponent Thursday will be 10th-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, who beat the 34-year-old American’s older sister, Venus, in the fourth round, en route to the first major semifinal of her career. As good as Williams’ serve is, it’s Pliskova who leads the tour in aces in 2016.

Williams, seeded No. 1, had held serve in 37 consecutive games over the past two weeks until Halep broke to get within 3-2 in the opening set. Still, Williams breezed through the rest of that set.

Then came a pivotal segment of the second. Instead of trailing 3-0, which was nearly the case, Halep wound up ahead 3-1.

First, she hung in there to erase seven break points – yes, 7! – in one game to hold for 1-all. Then she got to 15-40 on Williams’ serve, creating two break points that Williams made vanish with three aces in a row, at 117, 109 and 122 mph.

Escape complete? Not quite. Then came two more break points, the last created by a huge Halep backhand that Williams tried in vain to get back with a desperation lefty shot. Williams’ second double-fault of the game followed, and Halep would need to save five more break points before finally cashing in on her fifth set point to send the match to set No. 3.

That’s where Williams once again asserted herself, as she so often does.

In Thursday’s other semifinal, No. 2 Angelique Kerber plays two-time U.S. Open runner-up Caroline Wozniacki. Kerber has a chance to end Williams’ record-tying string of 186 consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the WTA rankings.

As Halep can attest, though, Williams does not relinquish anything easily.

 

Murray turns ankle during win

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The Latest on Wednesday from the Australian Open (all times local):

10:50 p.m.

Top-seeded Andy Murray tumbled to the ground and hurt his right ankle early in the third set of his second-round win over Andrey Rublev at the Australian Open on Wednesday night.

He spoke to the trainer after that game, but didn’t need medical attention and went on to win 6-3, 6-0, 6-2.

A five-time runner-up at the season’s first major, Murray caught the sole of his right shoe on the court and tripped to the ground during the third game. He clutched his right ankle as he rolled on to the court and later was checked out by an ATP trainer during a medical time out.

After taking a 4-1 lead in the final set, Murray went to his courtside chair and said: “I’m all right.”

“It’s a little bit sore, not too serious,” he said in his post-match interview. “I definitely rolled it (but) I was moving OK toward the end, so that’s positive.”

9:35 p.m.

Andreas Seppi rallied from two sets down and saved a match point to beat an unpredictable Nick Kyrgios 1-6, 6-7 (1), 6-4, 6-2, 10-8 in a second-round match Wednesday at the Australian Open.

No. 14-seeded Kyrgios was broken in the 11th game of the final set. Serving for the match at 6-5, Seppi was broken in a game that started with a high-risk, between-the-legs shot by Kyrgios. The Australian won the point.

Two games later, Seppi saved a match point with a stunning forehand down the line and then held. The pressure was back on Kyrgios, who double-faulted on break point to hand Seppi a 9-8 lead.

The 89th-ranked Seppi clinched 3 hour, 9 minute match with an ace in the next game.

Kyrgios, tipped to have all the talent to win a Grand Slam title but not the temperament, was suspended by the ATP Tour following the Shanghai Masters in October when he sped through a match against Mischa Zverev with little effort or apparent care whether he won or lost.

Krygios was fined more than US$40,000 and suspended for eight weeks, a period that was later reduced to three when he agreed to consult with a sports psychologist.

8:55 p.m.

French Open champion Garbine Muguruza has advanced to the third round at the Australian Open with a 7-5, 6-4 win over American Samantha Crawford. Muguruza clinched the match on her first match point when Crawford netted a forehand.

The Spaniard will play Anastasija Sevastova in the third round.

6:35 p.m.

It’s been a disappointing day for the American men at Melbourne Park.

John Isner, the highest-seeded U.S. player in the men’s draw, wasted a two-set-to-none lead and lost in the second round to Mischa Zverev of Germany, 6-7 (4), 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (7), 9-7.

Isner had 98 winners in the 4-hour, 10-minute match, but only converted one of 17 breakpoint chances against Zverev.

Isner was joined on the sidelines by Steve Johnson, Noah Rubin and Ryan Harrison – all second-round losers on Wednesday afternoon.

The one bright spot for the U.S. was 31st-seeded Sam Querrey, who advanced with a 7-6 (5), 6-0, 6-1 win over Australian wild card Alex De Minaur.

Jack Sock, the 23rd seed, was playing later against Karen Khachanov of Russia.

5:35 p.m.

After winning the first two sets of his second-round match, Roger Federer had to really go to work in the third, recovering from 5-2 down and fending off two set points to defeat American qualifier Noah Rubin 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (3).

He held serve at love to force the tiebreaker and, after it got to 3-3, reeled off the last four points to clinch the match in 2 hours, 4 minutes.

Federer is a four-time Australian Open champion but hasn’t lifted the trophy since 2010. In 18 trips to Melbourne Park, he’s never failed to reach the third round.

5:15 p.m.

Eugenie Bouchard is back in the third round at Melbourne Park for the first time in two years, defeating China’s Peng Shuai 7-6 (5), 6-2.

Bouchard, who reached the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2014, finally closed it out after Peng saved three match points on the Canadian’s serve at 5-1 in the second set.

Following her break-out year in 2014, which also saw her reach the Wimbledon final, Bouchard struggled to make it past the fourth round at the slams. Her best result last year was the third round at Wimbledon.

Her next opponent will be either CoCo Vandeweghe or Pauline Parmentier, who played later Wednesday.

“Overall, I’m feeling better with each passing day,” Bouchard said.

4:35 p.m.

Fourth-seeded Stan Wawrinka is into the third round of the Australian Open for the ninth consecutive year after a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over American Steve Johnson on Wednesday.

Wawrinka won his first Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park in 2014 and has followed that up with two more majors – the French Open in 2015 and the U.S. Open last year.

The 31-year-old Wawrinka labored through five sets to win his first-round match against Martin Klizan in 3 hours, 24 minutes. He had a much easier time in the second round, beating Johnson in 1 hour, 52 minutes.

Wawrinka will next play either Viktor Troicki or Paolo Lorenzi.

3:15 p.m.

Defending champion Angelique Kerber marked her 29th birthday – angrily at times – with a 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-2 win Wednesday over fellow German Carina Witthoeft.

Kerber, who beat Serena Williams in the Australian Open final last year, then won the U.S. Open in September, was her own worst enemy in the tiebreaker, double-faulting twice to turn a 3-2 lead into a 4-3 deficit.

Witthoeft, who had won a long rally which caused Kerber to swipe her racket toward the court just ahead of the double faults, won the next three points to level the match.

Kerber also started poorly in the third set, dropping her service, but rebounded to take a 4-1 lead, saving two break points in the fifth game, before closing out the match in 2 hours, 8 minutes.

She will next play the winner of Wednesday’s second-round match between Kristyna Pliskova and Irina-Camelia Begu.

1:55 p.m.

Serena and Venus Williams have pulled out of their scheduled first-round doubles match because of a right elbow injury to Venus, who won her singles match earlier Wednesday in straight sets over Stefanie Voegele.

The Williams sisters were set to play Timea Babos and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in a Show Court 2 match on Wednesday afternoon. The Australian Open confirmed the withdrawal on social media.

The American pair also withdrew from their first-round doubles match in 2015 at Melbourne Park.

The Williams sisters have won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles together, including four at the Australian Open.

1:20 p.m.

Kei Nishikori advanced to the third round in a far more straightforward manner than his five-set opener earlier this week.

The fifth-seeded Nishikori defeated Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 in just over two hours to reach the third round for the seventh consecutive year.

On Monday, he needed 3 1-2 hours before beating Andrey Kuznetsov in the first round.

“(I) was definitely playing much better than first round today,” he said Wednesday. “There were many ups and downs, still too many break points for me. Great to finish in three sets.”

Nishikori has reached the quarterfinals three times at Melbourne Park, but has never advanced beyond that stage. He could play top-seeded Andy Murray in the quarterfinals this year.

12:40 p.m.

Venus Williams, a first-round loser in 2016 at Melbourne Park, is one of the first players into the third round this year after beating Stefanie Voegele 6-3, 6-2 to begin play at Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday.

Williams maintained a perfect 3-0 record against the Swiss player, having beaten her on clay at Madrid, grass at Wimbledon and now hard courts in the year’s first Grand Slam tournament.

Voegele wasn’t helped by four double-faults in the opening set. In the second, Williams broke Voegele’s service with a blistering forehand to the open court to take a 3-1 lead, then broke her serve again in the final game.

Williams lost to eventual semifinalist Johanna Konta in the opening round last year.

The older sister of Serena Williams, Venus Williams has never won the Australian Open. She lost the 2003 final to Serena. Venus’ best recent finish here was a quarterfinal appearance in 2015.

11:15 a.m.

Defending champion Angelique Kerber and top-seeded Andy Murray play their second-round matches on Wednesday in much more pleasant temperatures at Melbourne Park.

A cool change hit the city overnight, dropping temperatures from 38 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) on Tuesday afternoon to about 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) when play began Wednesday.

Venus Williams was first up on Rod Laver Arena, playing Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland. Kerber was to follow against fellow German Carina Witthoeft, followed by Roger Federer against American qualifier Noah Rubin.

Murray was scheduled to play the last match on Wednesday night at Rod Laver.

Venus and Serena Williams were scheduled to play their opening doubles match on Wednesday afternoon.

Seppi posts comeback win over Kyrgios

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The audacious between-the-legs shot by Nick Kyrgios. His missed match point. The nerveless break when Andreas Seppi was serving for a second-round upset win.

Three days into the Australian Open, Seppi’s 1-6, 6-7 (1), 6-4, 6-2, 10-8 comeback win Wednesday over the enigmatic Kyrgios rated as the match of the tournament.

Purely for talking points, it’ll be hard to beat.

The night match on a crowded Hisense Arena featured a stunning down-the-line forehand winner from Seppi to save a match point in the fifth set.

Two games earlier, when Seppi was serving for the match, an apparently nonchalant Kyrgios hit a ‘tweener’ from near the baseline, defying tennis wisdom. He won the point, and it will feature on highlight clips. But the No. 14-seeded Kyrgios missed a bigger opportunity at his home Grand Slam.

The 21-year-old Australian was broken in the 11th game of the fifth set. Serving for the match at 6-5, Seppi was broken in a game that started with that unusual Kyrgios shot.

Seppi, who have his 33rd birthday next month, subsequently saved a match point with the forehand down the line. He later explained it was a shot he had “missed a hundred times in practice (but) I made it today in an important moment.”

He held serve, returning the pressure to Kyrgios. A quarterfinalist at Wimbledon in 2014 and the Australian Open in 2015, Kyrgios double-faulted on break point to hand Seppi a 9-8 lead.

The 89th-ranked Seppi duly clinched the 3-hour, 9-minute match with an ace.

Kyrgios, who sustained a knee injury playing basketball several weeks ago, was circumspect about the loss.

“It’s obviously disappointing, but it was ultimately a pretty fun match,” Kyrgios said. “He’s a great guy and he deserved it, so… I’m not going to beat myself up about it. It could have gone either way.”

Kyrgios, tipped to have all the talent to win a Grand Slam title but not the temperament, was suspended by the ATP Tour following the Shanghai Masters last October when he sped through a match against Mischa Zverev with little effort or apparent care whether he won or lost.

Krygios was fined more than US$40,000 and suspended for eight weeks, a period that was later reduced to three when he agreed to consult with a sports psychologist. He said Wednesday he’s still seeing the psychologist and “it’s going very well.”

His on-court demeanor has divided public opinion. On Wednesday, he was mostly on his best behavior, except for some shouts to his courtside box.

There were some boos from the crowd at the end, and Krygios noticed.

“Obviously it’s not the greatest thing to hear,” he said. “I didn’t have the best preparation coming into the Australian Open. Pretty banged up, my body. But getting booed off, definitely not the best feeling.”

He said his knee issues would likely force him to pull out of doubles with his partner Daniel Evans.

Seppi had a match point against Kyrgios two years ago but lost. He settled the score in Melbourne, and will advance to the third round against Steve Darcis.

“He played a few good points, especially the first one, the tweener, I didn’t expect that,” Seppi said. “It was important to keep on going, keep focusing.

“The last time I was two sets to love up and I lost … and I just kept telling myself `keep fighting.’ I don’t know, maybe it was meant to be.”