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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.

 

Top-seeded John Isner wins 3rd Hall of Fame title

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NEWPORT, R.I. — Top-seeded John Isner beat Australian qualifier Matthew Ebden 6-3, 7-6 (4) on Sunday for his third Hall of Fame Open title.

The hard-serving American also won the grass-court event in 2011 and 2012. He has 11th career titles, all at the ATP World Tour 250 level.

“It’s hard to win a tournament,” Isner said. “It’s no small feat to come out here and be the last man standing. I’m very happy about that. It’s been two years since I won a tournament, so I had that weighing on my mind.”

Isner became the second player to win an ATP title without facing a break point since records began in 1991. Tommy Haas also accomplished the feat in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2007.

“I’m very happy with how I played all week,” Isner said. “It was a perfect week and I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Ebden was playing his first tour-level final.

“It’s a lot of reward for a lot of hard work, a lot of years of sacrifice,” Ebden said. “It’s disappointing, but at the same time I have to be happy with my week.”

Roddick, Clijsters among Tennis Hall of Fame inductees

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NEWPORT, R.I. — Andy Roddick says jokingly he can now keep Roger Federer from a unanimous selection for the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

As a new inductee, Roddick gets to vote on future candidates. He jested ahead of his enshrinement on Saturday that he’ll use it to get back at Federer, who stood in his way during at least four Grand Slam finals.

Roddick joins inductees Kim Clijsters, six-time Paralympic medalist Monique Kalkman and journalist and historian Steve Flink. Tennis instructor and innovator Vic Braden was to be inducted posthumously.

Roddick won one Grand Slam and lost to Federer in the finals four times. He says he doesn’t ask himself what would have happened if he hadn’t come along at the same time of perhaps the greatest player.

He says the first text he got when he woke up Saturday was from Federer. Says Roddick: “He makes it extremely hard not to like him as a person.”