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Raonic beats Nadal, keeps Brisbane title defense on track

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BRISBANE, Australia — Rafael Nadal was up a set and had a break point against defending champion Milos Raonic when he sent a forehand just wide.

It was a mistake the 14-time Grand Slam champion wouldn’t recover from.

Raonic made the most of the reprieve, holding serve in that fifth game of the second set and then attacking Nadal’s serve in the eighth to swing the momentum his way in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 quarterfinal win Friday at the Brisbane International.

The top-seeded Raonic broke Nadal’s serve again to start the third set, and calmly held on for only his second win in eight matches against the Spaniard.

Raonic served 23 aces and hit 50 winners to just 19 for Nadal, who could only convert one of his seven break-point opportunities.

As well as the big, deep service returns, Raonic also repeatedly went to the net, trusting his instincts and putting pressure on Nadal.

“Today the mentality behind the match was what sort of kept me around,” Raonic said. “Some moments things weren’t looking great. I wasn’t efficient coming forward. I was missing some shots I shouldn’t be. I was rushing.

“But at least I kept myself there, and I was able to always recuperate the next point. That’s what I have to be most proud of.”

Nadal, coming back from a layoff after an injured left wrist curtailed the end of his 2016 season, beat Raonic in an exhibition tournament last week. But Raonic played with more intensity in Brisbane, and Nadal said a couple of lapses were costly.

“Probably if I put that passing shot forehand cross, I had the break in the second set, big chance that we will be here one hour before with a victory,” Nadal said. “That passing shot was long, and that’s it. Then he had the break and match changes.”

Nadal said three wins at the exhibition tournament, two wins and a close result in Brisbane gave him confidence his progress was good ahead of the Australian Open, where he is desperate to make amends for a surprising first-round exit last year.

Still in contention to start back-to-back seasons with a Brisbane title, Raonic will play seventh-seeded Grigor Dimitrov – a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 winner over No. 4 Dominic Thiem – in the semifinals.

U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka and third-seeded Kei Nishikori will meet in the other semifinal match.

The second-seeded Wawrinka beat unseeded Kyle Edmund 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-4 to reach the semifinals in his first trip to the Brisbane tournament.

In the previous three years, Wawrinka won the title in Chennai in the first week of the season before heading to Australia for the season’s first major.

Wawrkina has a 4-3 lead over Nishikori in career head-to-heads, including the semifinals at the U.S. Open last year, but Nishikori won two of the three meetings in 2016.

Nishikori has now reached the semifinals four times in seven visits to the Brisbane International, needing just an hour for a 6-1, 6-1 quarterfinal win over Australian wild-card entry Jordan Thompson.

“I think I played one of the best matches so far, really dominating from the baseline and serving good today,” Nishikori said. “Everything was working well.”

U.S. Open finalist Karolina Pliskova will play Alize Cornet in the women’s final on Saturday.

Cornet was leading 4-1 when French Open champion Garbine Muguruza retired with a right thigh injury. Pliskova beat sixth-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-4 in the other semifinal match.

“A little bit of luck never killed anybody,” said Cornet, who finished last year ranked No. 46 but now expects to be seeded at the Australian Open. “I’m just going to take it. I really enjoy the fact that I’m in the final. It’s a big day for me, yeah.”

Muguruza didn’t think the injury setback would trouble her at the Australian Open.

“It will not stop me,” Muguruza said. “Cornet was playing good. I couldn’t match her level today. I had some pains, and I thought it was smarter to take care of my body.”

Tsonga levels for France in Davis Cup final against Belgium

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LILLE, France (AP) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga swept past Steve Darcis 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 to put France level with Belgium on the opening day of the Davis Cup final on Friday.

Tsonga’s comfortable win over the 76th-ranked Darcis evened the tie at 1-1 ahead after Belgium’s top player David Goffin had dispatched Lucas Pouille in straight sets.

Tsonga missed several chances to move ahead early in the first set but finally broke for a 5-3 lead with a deep forehand attack on his fourth break point. The Frenchman then claimed five consecutive games and served out the second set at love with a drop shot that hit the net cord and dribbled over for a winner.

Tsonga continued to play consistent and occasionally brilliant tennis in the third, including a series of reflex volleys.

Dimitrov defeats Goffin to win ATP Finals title

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LONDON — Grigor Dimitrov claimed the biggest title of his career at the season-ending ATP Finals on Sunday, prevailing on his fifth match point to beat David Goffin of Belgium 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

“It’s such an honor to play here,” Dimitrov said. “This week has been one of the best I’ve ever had.”

The sixth-seeded Bulgarian won in 2 hours, 30 minutes, 15 seconds for the longest final since the tournament returned to a three-set format in 2008.

Dimitrov won all five of his matches at the O2 Arena to become the first player to win the elite tournament on debut since 1998, when Alex Corretja of Spain triumphed in Hanover.

Goffin saved three match points on his own serve, but Dimitrov kept his cool, taking the second opportunity on his own delivery to close it out.

By reaching the final, Dimitrov had already secured a career-high No. 3-ranking to end the year. Goffin also moves up to a career-best No. 7.

The final lasted more than 11 minutes longer than Roger Federer took to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2011. It was a nervous start as both players failed to hold serve in the opening three games before Goffin settled down to control the opener as Dimitrov struggled with his timing.

However, Dimitrov fought his way back into the set. He leveled in the eighth game before breaking once more in the 12th to snatch the set in which Goffin hit eight more winners.

Dimitrov’s confidence carried into the second set, where he brought up the first break point in the sixth game, only for Goffin to produce a stunning cross-court backhand winner to save it. The momentum back with him, Goffin broke the following game for a 4-3 lead and calmly closed out the set.

Having come from behind to beat Federer in Saturday’s semifinal, Goffin had every reason to be confident and could have gone ahead. But he wasted four break points in the opening game – they would turn out to be his only chances in the decider.

Dimitrov was more clinical, striking in the sixth game to take control. Goffin tested Dimitrov’s nerve by saving three match points on his own serve, before saving one on Dimitrov’s. However the Belgian’s resistance came to an end as he netted a backhand volley, leaving Dimitrov in tears.

(This story has been corrected to show it was the longest three-set final since the tournament returned to a three-set format in 2008, not longest three-set final ever.)