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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.”

Raonic withdraws from Miami Open with hamstring injury

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Milos Raonic has pulled out of the Miami Open after aggravating a right hamstring injury that sidelined him for nearly a month.

The No. 3-seeded Raonic withdrew before Sunday’s match against American qualifier Jared Donaldson, who advanced to the fourth round.

Raonic said his injury became progressively worse after his opening match, his first since Feb. 25. He expects to be sidelined at least two weeks and perhaps longer.

The Canadian said he hasn’t made it through an entire tournament healthy since Wimbledon last July.

Nadal advances to start bid for first Key Biscayne

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Rafael Nadal’s first fist pump Friday followed his second point in the Miami Open, when he kissed a forehand off the sideline to win a long rally.

He accompanied the celebratory gesture with a skip in his step and then hit the accelerator, holding every service game to beat Dudi Sela 6-3, 6-4.

Thus began Nadal’s latest bid to win Key Biscayne.

“A lot of big motivation,” he said.

He’s playing the tournament for the 13th time and has never won it, although he was the runner-up in 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2014. At 0 for 12, it’s Nadal’s longest drought at any event, and perhaps the most glaring gap in the 14-time Grand Slam champion’s resume.

Does it bug him? He won’t admit to any frustration, but lets slip that he still remembers the exact score when he was two points from the title in the third set versus Novak Djokovic.

That was six years ago.

“Against Novak – 6-5, 15-30,” Nadal said. “It didn’t happen.”

The Spaniard has always enjoyed the atmosphere in Miami, where Latin fans give him enthusiastic support, and he likes the tournament’s hard courts. He’s simply overdue.

“I’m trying my best every year,” Nadal told the stadium crowd after dispatching Sela. “I’ve been very close four times. I will try to give myself another chance.”

Nadal is 15-4 this year and pleased with his play. He lost to Roger Federer in the Australian Open final, and again in the fourth round at Indian Wells last week.

Against Sela, Nadal served well, erased the only two break points he faced and overcame the occasional errant groundstroke on a windy afternoon.

“It was very difficult to find the right feelings,” Nadal said. “These kind of days, what you have to do is try to win. That’s what I did, and I’m happy with that.”

Making Nadal’s title bid easier will be the absence of six-time champion Djokovic and two-time champion Andy Murray, both out with elbow injuries.

But No. 3-seeded Milos Raonic is back. He won in his first match since Feb. 25, beating Viktor Troicki 6-3, 7-5. Raonic had been sidelined by a right leg injury.

“I’ve prepared the best I can for this tournament,” Raonic said. “I’m not necessarily in the best position right now, but fortunately it’s a long tournament. Doesn’t mean things can’t change and I can’t get better throughout this event.”

No. 2 Kei Nishikori beat Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-3. No. 7 Marin Cilic lost to Jeremy Chardy 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

In women’s play, Elena Vesnina made a quick exit only five days after winning the biggest title of her career. Seeded 13th, Vesnina lost her opening match to wild card Ajla Tomljanovic 3-6, 6-4, 7-5.

Vesnina beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Indian Wells final.

In a match that took two days because of rain, No. 6 Garbine Muguruza rallied past Christina McHale 0-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4. No. 3 Simona Halep beat Naomi Osaka 6-4, 2-6, 6-3. American qualifier Taylor Townsend eliminated No. 25 Robert Vinci 6-3, 6-2.