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Nadal beats Monfils, reaches 30th Grand Slam quarterfinal

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Rafael Nadal beat sixth-seeded Gael Monfils in four sets Monday to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament for the 30th time, prompting talk of a potential Australian Open final against Roger Federer.

The veterans have a long way to go to get there.

For the 30-year-old Nadal, his first priority is against No. 3-seeded Milos Raonic.

With No. 1-ranked Andy Murray and No. 2 Novak Djokovic – the two most consistent performers in the last six years at Melbourne Park – upset in the first week, Wimbledon finalist Raonic is the highest-ranked player in the draw.

He advanced to the last eight here for third straight year with a 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 13 Roberto Bautista Agut.

Nadal is the only major winner still in contention on the bottom half of the draw, although he hasn’t added to his tally of 14 majors since the capturing the French Open in 2014.

Federer, in the top half of the draw, plays Mischa Zverev on Tuesday, and would have to beat him and either Stan Wawrinka or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – the other quarterfinalists playing Tuesday – to advance to the final.

Nadal’s 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win over U.S. Open semifinalist Monfils in the fourth round was his first over a top 10 player at a Grand Slam since that run to his last title at Roland Garros. It also ended a four-match streak against top 10 players.

“Being in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam after couple of years not being there is very special for me,” said Nadal, who last progressed this far at the 2015 French Open.

It also showed that after a couple of months off to rest his injured left-wrist, he is still a contender at the majors. He hasn’t won an Australian title since 2009.

He went up a break early in the first two sets, had his chances in the third before Monfils rallied, and then traded breaks in the fourth before breaking the acrobatic Frenchman to win. Overall, he converted six of 17 break-point chances.

Raonic hit 33 aces and 75 winners but had nine double-faults and 55 unforced errors, and seemed to get on a roll after spiking his racket into the court in frustration in the ninth game of the third set.

In the other quarter, No. 15 Grigor Dimitrov closed with an ace to hold off No. 117 wild-card entry Denis Istomin 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-1. Istomin, who upset six-time champion Novak Djokovic in the second round, needed repeated treatment on his tiring legs in the third and fourth sets.

He will next play No. 11 David Goffin, a 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-2 winner of No. 8 Dominic Thiem.

Serena Williams kept her bid for an Open-era record 23rd major title on track with a 7-5, 6-4 win over No. 16-seeded Barbora Strycova to reach the quarterfinals here for the 11th time.

Despite four service breaks – two in the first four games – and 46 unforced errors, and with the fluky net cord and the off-balance, scrunched-shouldered backhand that bounced flatly and clinched her the first set on her eighth set point, she ground down Strycova.

“It’s good to know I have a Plan B, or Option 2. I wasn’t serving my greatest today, also she was putting a lot of returns in there,” said Williams, who had a first-serve percentage of 45, and made four double-faults. “I feel like it was really good for me to win on probably not my best day, which is always good, because sometimes you rely on one shot and if it goes off, and then, like, what happens now?

“It was really good for me to almost lose that so I know my other game is going pretty good, too.”

Next up, she’ll face 2016 semifinalist Johanna Konta, who beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-4.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1999 as a 17-year-old and, after a long, difficult time off the tour, she has returned to the quarterfinals of a major for the first time since.

She beat U.S. qualifier Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-2 and will next play U.S. Open finalist Karolina Pliskova, who ended Australia’s involvement in the singles draws with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Daria Gavrilova.

Whatever comes of it, the 34-year-old Lucic-Baroni said she’d make the most of the moment.

“I felt kind of a little bit of unfinished business,” she said. “I still wanted to play on a stage like this, on a full court like this. Come out, play, have these wins, be in a quarterfinal of a Slam.”

Nadal into 3rd round; Wozniacki saves 2 MPs to advance

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Rafael Nadal had to wait while Caroline Wozniacki saved two match points and worked her way back into the Australian Open in the preceding match on Rod Laver Arena.

Nadal, the 2017 runner-up, wasted no time in reaching the third round, dropping only one service game – while serving for the match – and making just 10 unforced errors in a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4) win over Leonardo Mayer on Wednesday.

“It’s an important victory for me, I mean, he’s a tough opponent. Leonardo is a player with big potential,” said Nadal, who won the French and U.S. Opens last year but had his preparation for Australia delayed because of an injured right knee. “After a while without being on the competition … second victory in a row, that’s very important.”

There was more drama earlier on the center court and Margaret Court Arena, when second-seeded Wozniacki and 2008 runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had to come back from big deficits.

Wozniacki was 5-1 down and facing two match points in third set against No. 119-ranked Jana Fett before deciding she had no choice but to attack.

“That was crazy,” Wozniacki said after winning the last six games in a memorable 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory. “I don’t know how I got back into the match. I was like, `This is my last chance.

“At 5-1, 40-15, I felt like I was one foot out of the tournament. She served a great serve down the T – it was just slightly out. I was kind of lucky.”

Wozniacki won the next nine points, and 24 of the 31 points played from when she first faced match point. She clinched a 75-minute third set on her first match point when Fett netted a backhand.

The former No. 1-ranked Wozniacki will next play No. 30 Kiki Bertens, who beat Nicole Gibbs 7-6 (3), 6-0.

Tsonga rallied from 5-2 in the fifth to overcome Denis Shapovalov 3-6, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5 in a 3-hour, 37-minute match that contained one of his nonchalant between-the-legs shots on an important point. And 38-year-old Ivo Karlovic overcame Yuichi Sugita 7-6 (3), 6-7 (3), 7-5, 4-6, 12-10.

Marta Kostyuk came from the other angle, the 15-year-old qualifier followed up her first-round win over 25th-seeded Peng Shuai with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over wild-card entry Olivia Rogowska.

The Australian Open junior champion last year, who entered the season-opening major ranked No. 521, Kostyuk became the youngest player since Martina Hingis in 1996 to win main draw matches at the season-opening major.

Things will get harder for her now, against fellow Ukrainian and No. 4-seeded Elina Svitolina, who had a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 win over Katerina Siniakova.

Another Ukrainian, Kateryna Bondarenko, beat No. 15-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-3 and will next play No. 19 Magdalena Rybarikova.

Belinda Bencic had a letdown two days after upsetting Venus Williams, losing 6-1, 6-3 to Thai qualifier Luksika Kumkhum.

Bencic, who combined with Roger Federer to win the Hopman Cup for Switzerland earlier this month, saved three match points on her serve before netting a backhand to give No. 124th-ranked Kumkhum a spot in the third round for the first time.

“I tried to reset and focus on the next match,” Bencic said. “I think it was also a very tough second round, for me the toughest I could get.”

French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko struggled at times before beating Duan Yingying 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.

Among the seeded men advancing were No. 6 Marin Cilic, who beat Joao Sousa 6-1, 7-5, 6-2, and No. 10 Pablo Carreno Busta, who was leading 6-2, 3-0 when Gilles Simon retired from their second-round match with a thigh injury.

No. 23 Gilles Muller outlasted Malek Jaziri in five sets, Kyle Edmund had a straight-sets win over Denis Istomin – who beat then defending-champion Novak Djokovic in the second round here last year – and No. 28 Damir Dzumhur beat John Millman.

Ryan Harrison beat No. 31 Pablo Cuevas 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-4.

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More AP coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/AustralianOpen

Major moment: McDonald takes 3rd-ranked Dimitrov to 5 sets

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Mackenzie McDonald knew he was ready to turn pro after his junior year at UCLA. He had just won the NCAA singles and doubles titles and believed he was ready to take the next step.

After his surprise showing at this year’s Australian Open, he certainly made the right decision.

The 22-year-old McDonald emerged from qualifying to give a scare to No. 3-ranked Grigor Dimitrov in the second round of the Australian Open on Wednesday night, taking the Bulgarian to the distance at Rod Laver Arena before eventually falling 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 0-6, 8-6 in nearly 3+ hours.

“I was soaking it all in,” McDonald said. “It was a long match and I enjoyed every single moment of it.”

McDonald, who entered the tournament ranked No. 186, failed to get through qualifying at the majors three times last year, but his luck changed at this year’s Australian Open where he defeated French journeyman Stephane Robert in three sets in the last qualifying round to claim a spot in the main draw.

McDonald then beat fellow qualifier Elias Ymer of Sweden in the first round – his first win anywhere at the elite tour level. It was the boost he needed after struggling on the lower-tier pro circuits following his decision to leave college in 2016.

“Especially when you’re starting out, you have doubts,” he said after his first-round match. “You feel like some times are really rough, especially like when you lose early at a Future or Challenger (tournament). . You just have to stay really level-headed with this sport.”

Going into the second-round match against Dimitrov, McDonald was the heavy underdog. The highest-ranked opponent he had ever faced was No. 69 Rajeev Ram in Newport in 2016.

But instead of being overawed by the situation, McDonald broke ATP Finals champion Dimitrov’s serve to capture the first set and then hung in when the more experienced Bulgarian stormed back to claim the next two.

McDonald appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself as he took the fourth set 6-0 and extended the match deep into the fifth, pumping his fists after winners and repeatedly waving his arms over his head to rally the crowd to his side.

“I know how close I was to winning,” McDonald said afterward. “But he’s a good player. He’s been out here a while. I’d overall say there’s so many more positives than negatives.”

Fellow American Sam Querrey knows McDonald well, having spent time with him in California, and he’s not surprised by his rapid improvement in the last couple years.

“Even when he was in college, he was a freshman, a couple times I’d give him a ride home after practice and he’d ask me questions the entire car ride home, like, `What do you do on your forehand here?,’ `What’s the travel like?”‘ Querrey said. “He was just like always super inquisitive, so I’m glad to see it’s paying off.”

McDonald has also practiced with Dimitrov, and spent time hitting with Roger Federer. His success also shows there’s a path for tennis players who decide to go to university instead of turning pro in their teenage years.

“I went to college and I didn’t really have as many opportunities to play as many ATPs as some of these other guys,” he said. “Once you go (pro), you have to give it your all. That’s what I feel I’ve been doing since I stepped foot out of UCLA.”