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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.”

Anderson beats Querrey to win New York Open title

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) Kevin Anderson had already dealt with the disappointment of falling short in a final in New York.

His surprising run to the U.S. Open final last summer jump-started his climb back into the top 10, but his loss to Rafael Nadal was a painful reminder that he kept coming up short at the finish line.

Back in New York this week, he finally got the ending he wanted.

The top seed won the first New York Open on Sunday, beating No. 2 seed Sam Querrey 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1) for his fourth career ATP Tour title.

Anderson came into Sunday 3-11 in ATP Finals, with one loss already this year.

“I have been runner-up quite a few times in my career,” Anderson said. “One of the big goals I had for this year was to try to be a bit more successful in that final stage. I fell a little short earlier this year in India and it feels great to come through and get today’s win. So, gives me a lot of confidence for the year.”

The South African dominated the tiebreaker after a tight third set, winning the first six points and leading Querrey to slam his racket to the court in frustration.

Anderson will move to career-high ninth in the ATP rankings Monday, continuing a strong rise that began in nearby Flushing Meadows when he reached his lone Grand Slam final as the world’s No. 32 player, the lowest-ranked U.S. Open finalist since the inception of the rankings in 1973.

He won his first title since 2015, when he made his only other appearance in the top 10 when he was ranked 10th for one week in October. Anderson won four consecutive three-set matches in the tournament’s first year at Nassau Coliseum after moving from Memphis, Tennessee.

“Obviously, during U.S. Open was a terrific few weeks for me. It was tough to lose in the finals so it feels very special to get today’s win,” Anderson said.

Querrey remained at 10 ATP titles, snapping a three-match winning streak in finals. He would have risen to a career-best No. 11 with a victory.

Querrey had held serve in 37 of 38 games entering this week before Anderson broke him in the second game of the final for a 2-0 lead. Querrey broke right back and broke Anderson again later in the set to move ahead.

The second set started the same way. Anderson broke again in the second game, but this time held in the third to seize control of the set en route to a 5-0 lead.

“I just kind of lost a little bit of momentum,” Querrey said. “He picked his game up, he started making a few more first serves. Feel like he was hitting the ball a little bigger, making a few more. Then I kind of got some momentum back at the end of the second there but it was kind of too little, too late.”

In the doubles final, the second-seeded team of Max Mirnyi of Belarus and Philipp Oswald of Austria edged Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Artem Sitak of New Zealand 4-6, 6-4, 10-6 in a match tiebreaker. For the 40-year-old Mirnyi, it was his 100th career ATP Tour final, with 96 having come in doubles.

Federer overpowers Dimitrov to win 97th career title

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ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) Roger Federer came to the ABN AMRO World Tournament aiming to secure a return to the top of the world rankings. He achieved that goal Friday. On Sunday, he put an exclamation point on a remarkable week by winning the tournament for good measure.

Federer overpowered an ailing Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 6-2 in less than an hour to win his 97th career title.

“What a week it’s been. Absolutely amazing,” Federer said. “The goal was to make the semis and I won the tournament so of course I’m incredibly excited and so, so happy.”

The 36-year-old Swiss extended his domination over the player once dubbed “Baby Fed” for the similarities in their playing style, registering his seventh victory in as many meetings.

Federer’s third title at the Rotterdam tournament comes a day before he officially returns to the top of the rankings, more than five years after he was last world No. 1.

He will become the oldest person to hold the No. 1 position when the rankings are updated on Monday. It’s been more than five years since Federer was last No. 1, and 14 years since he first reached the top spot.

Federer, who has 20 Grand Slams to his name, said his next target is 100 career titles. He moved a step closer Sunday.

Federer said ahead of the final that the more aggressive player would win and Dimitrov started the strongest, winning his first game to love as he slammed powerful forehands and backhands past Federer.

But the Swiss great quickly started matching Dimitrov’s groundstrokes and converted his first break point in the fifth game. Federer broke Dimitrov again to go up 5-2 and then served out the set.

Federer kept the pressure on Dimitrov in the second set, breaking the Bulgarian in the first game and continuing to dominate on his way to victory in just 55 minutes.

Federer won a massive 82 percent of points on his service compared to 55 percent for Dimitrov.

After his strong start, the Bulgarian appeared to be struggling physically, but said afterward that he simply wasn’t good enough.

“Against Roger in the current situation he is in you can’t play any less than 100 percent,” Dimitrov said.