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Nadal holds off Zverev to reach 4th round at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia —¬†Rafael Nadal held back time, for one tournament at least, when he rallied for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-2 win over German teenager Alexander Zverev to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open.

The 14-time major winner is on the comeback after an extended injury layoff, yet he finished stronger in the 4-hour, 6-minute match on Rod Laver Arena as Zverev tightened up with cramping and nerves.

“I enjoyed a lot this great battle. I was losing the last couple of times in the fifth set and I said to myself, today’s the day,” said ninth-seeded Nadal, who had lost eight of the previous nine times he’d trailed 2-1 in a best-of-five set match.

His 30-year-old legs, conditioned by 236 Grand Slam matches, carried him all the way.

Zverev’s creative shot-making in the first set and during the tiebreaker in the third gave the 19-year-old a confident start. But Nadal, the champion here in 2009, didn’t let him get too far in front.

In an exchange of breaks in the fifth set, Nadal broke to open, then dropped his own serve, before breaking Zverev again.

Nadal attributed his comeback to two important things.

“Well, fighting – and running a lot,” he said. “I think you know, everybody knows how good Alexander is – he’s the future of our sport and the present, too.”

Nadal, who had two months off with an injured left wrist at the end of 2016, will get another veteran next – either Philipp Kohlschreiber or Gael Monfils.

In another gripping five-setter, but on an outside court, wild-card entry Denis Istomin followed his upset win over defending champion Novak Djokovic with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory over Pablo Carreno Busta.

No. 8 Dominic Thiem beat Benoit Paire 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 to set up a fourth-round match against No. 11 David Goffin, who ended Ivo Karlovic’s run 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

Serena Williams reached the fourth round without dropping a set, staying on course in her bid for a record 23rd Grand slam title.

Williams beat fellow American Nicole Gibbs 6-1, 6-3 and didn’t face a break point until she was serving for the match.

Dropping serve in that game was her only lapse in a match that then extended just beyond the hour – to 63 minutes to be precise.

“I don’t have anything to prove in this tournament here. Just doing the best I can,” Williams said. “Obviously I’m here for one reason.”

Williams started the tournament with difficult assignments in the first two rounds, but also got through those – against Belinda Bencic, with a career-high ranking of 7, and Lucie Safarova, a French Open finalist in 2015.

“She makes the court feel very, very small,” Gibbs said. “I was definitely feeling a lot of tension from early on in the match and it was showing in my serve and my forehand. I was catching the net a lot – the net felt 10 feet high today.”

Williams will next play No. 16 Barbora Strycova, who beat No. 21 Caroline Garcia 6-2, 7-5.

Ekaterina Makarova led by a set and 4-0 but had a mid-match fade, needing three sets and almost three hours to finally beat WTA Finals champion Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-3.

“An amazing fight,” Makarova said of her first win over sixth-seeded Cibulkova, the 2014 finalist at Melbourne Park. “I got, to be honest, a bit tight at 4-0 in the second set. But I’m still here.”

She’ll now take on last year’s semifinalist Johanna Konta, who beat former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-1, in a rematch of their fourth-round encounter here last year.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni continued her unlikely run with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 win over Maria Sakkari, and so did American qualifier Jennifer Brady.

Before this week, the 34-year-old Lucic-Baroni hadn’t won a match at Melbourne Park since her debut at the Australian Open in 1998. The 19-year gap in between match wins at a Grand Slam tournament broke the record set by Kimiko Date-Krumm.

Lucic-Baroni, a semifinalist at Wimbledon in 1999, next plays No. 116-ranked Brady, who had never played in the main draw of a major before she qualified for this week.

The 21-year-old American had a 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over 14th-seeded Elena Vesnina on Show Court 2.

Nastase banned from Fed Cup and Davis Cup until 2019

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LONDON — Ilie Nastase has been banned from the Fed Cup and Davis Cup until 2019 because of his foul-mouthed comments and bad behavior as Romania’s captain during a Fed Cup match against Britain.

In addition to the ban, the International Tennis Federation said Friday the 1973 French Open champion will not be able to work in an official capacity for a further two years, until 2021.

The 71-year-old Nastase was also fined $10,000. He has three weeks to appeal the decision.

“Mr. Nastase made a comment about Serena Williams’s unborn child that was highly inappropriate and racially insensitive,” the ITF said.

Nastase also “made advances of a sexual nature towards Anne Keothavong, the captain of the Great Britain team” and “made abusive and threatening comments to the match officials and to members of the Great Britain team.”

Although he will have to sit out ITF events, the ban does not apply to Grand Slam, ATP or WTA tournaments, which are not under the governing body’s jurisdiction.

Nastase was provisionally suspended in April after he speculated about the skin color of the baby that Williams is expecting and for outbursts during a Fed Cup match between Romania and Britain.

He previously acknowledged making mistakes and having shortcomings, but stressed “the cause I fight for is tennis, the sport I really love, which I cannot separate from my life.”

As Fed Cup captain, Nastase hurled abuse at British player Johanna Konta, Keothavong and the umpire. The referee ejected Nastase.

Nastase, a former top-ranked player, was barred from the French Open and was not invited to the Royal Box at Wimbledon, where he was a two-time finalist.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

World Cup of Tennis put on hold for at least a year

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LONDON–The International Tennis Federation is putting off its proposal for a World Cup of Tennis Finals for another year.

The ITF said last month it wanted to combine next year’s Davis Cup and Fed Cup finals into one event to raise the profile of the two national team competitions. But on Thursday, the governing body said it would not put the motion to a vote at its annual general meeting next month in Vietnam.

Other proposals, such as reducing the men’s matches to best-of-three sets and possibly skipping the final match of the series if it is already decided, will still go before member nations for ratification at the Aug. 4 meeting in Ho Chi Minh City.

“We promised change and are already delivering change with a significant series of reforms,” ITF President David Haggerty said in a statement. “Taking another year to build consensus around the World Cup of Tennis Finals will allow us to finalize an even stronger recommendation to the AGM.”

Last month, the ITF said it wanted to start staging the World Cup of Tennis in November 2018 in Geneva. The Swiss city was to host the event for three years at its 18,000-seat Palexpo.

The ITF said then that it had made the announcement of the host city well in advance in an effort to follow the successful model used by the Super Bowl and Champions League final.

But that has now been put on hold as the governing body tries to sell its idea to its voting members.

“This decision shows that we do not act unilaterally,” Haggerty said, “and are working with all our stakeholders to find the best solution for tennis.”

Haggerty also announced the creation of a World Cup of Tennis Finals task force. Board members Katrina Adams and Bernard Giudicelli have been appointed as co-chairs.

“The World Cup of Tennis Finals will unlock considerable new revenue for investing back into the sport through the ITF’s member nations,” Haggerty said. “Investment in the development of the next generation remains the priority of the ITF and its national associations.”