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Nadal wins, keeps prospects of Roger-Rafa final alive

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Another Roger vs. Rafa final is still in the mix at an Australian Open with an almost retro vibe.

They’re on opposite sides of the draw, and each is a semifinal win away from a classic showdown at Melbourne Park, where Roger Federer is bidding for an 18th major title, and where Rafael Nadal is targeting his 15th.

Nadal saved six set points in the second set against one of the best servers in the business on Wednesday, beating third-ranked Milos Raonic 6-4, 7-6 (7), 6-4.

With that, he earned a spot in the semifinals at a Grand Slam for the first time since winning the French Open in 2014. He’ll next play 25-year-old Grigor Dimitrov, the only player in the last quartet who has yet to turn 30.

Federer and No. 4 Stan Wawrinka will contest an all-Swiss semifinal the night before Nadal returns to Rod Laver Arena to play Dimitrov. Having three 30-somethings in the semifinals equals the Open era-mark set in 1968 at Roland Garros. There’s also three 30-something women in the semifinals.

Nadal didn’t want to overcomplicate matters and talk about generational things. He didn’t want to think too far ahead to a final, or to Baby Fed – as Dimitrov has been dubbed for his similar backhand and style – while he savored his quarterfinal win.

“Let me enjoy today, the victory, being in semifinal,” the 30-year-old Spaniard said. “For me, is great news again. Is a good start of the season.

“Now I have a very tough match against Dimitrov.”

Dimitrov has lost seven of his eight matches against Nadal, but the 2014 Wimbledon semifinalist is growing in confidence after winning the Brisbane International title at the start of the month after a period in the tennis doldrums.

“In order to win a slam, there’s no shortcut,” the Bulgarian said. “If you think about it, I mean, when have you seen an easy semifinal or something like that? You got to work for it. I have to fight.”

Federer and Nadal, who dominated the sport for so long until the emergence of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, know that more than most. Both are returning from extended injury layoffs and showing signs that the time off has worked. The 35-year-old Federer was out for six months resting his left knee since a semifinal exit at Wimbledon. He hasn’t won a major since Wimbledon in 2012 but has reached three finals since then.

Nadal is coming back from a couple months off with an injured left wrist, and he has been building momentum. His wins over Alexander Zverev and Gael Monfils in the third and fourth rounds gave him confidence, and his quarterfinal victory over Raonic, who beat him two weeks ago in Brisbane, highlighted his rapid improvement.

Four-time Australian Open champion Federer has come through some matches on the other side of the draw, too, beating Grand Slam finalists Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori in the third and fourth rounds and overwhelming Mischa Zverev in the quarterfinals only two nights after the German had ousted top-ranked Murray from the tournament.

If not for Nadal, Federer may have won many more majors. The muscular left-hander has beaten Federer in six of their eight Grand Slam final meetings and has a 23-11 record overall, including big victories in Australia in the 2009 final and in the semifinals in 2012 and ’14. But he recognizes the Swiss star as the undisputed most successful player in the modern game.

“What happens on the other side of the draw, I think is great for tennis that Roger is there again after an injury, after a lot of people talk about always the same things, that probably he will never be back,” Nadal said. “The real thing is that he’s back and he’s probably ready to win again, fighting again to win a major. And that’s good for the fans because Roger is a legend of our sport.

“I am happy to be there, too. I am focused on my semifinals.”

Serena Williams at No. 1 despite not playing since January

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Serena Williams is briefly back at No. 1 in the WTA rankings, despite not playing a match since January. She also plans to take the rest of 2017 off because she is expecting a baby.

Thanks to a calendar quirk, Williams moved up one spot Monday from No. 2, swapping places with Angelique Kerber.

The return to No. 1 , which gives the 35-year-old American her 317th week there, comes less than a week after Williams let the world know via Snapchat that she is pregnant. The baby is due in the fall, and spokeswoman Kelly Bush Novak says Williams will take the rest of this season off and intends to return to the tour next year.

 

Rafael Nadal beats Albert Ramos-Vinolas to win 10th Monte Carlo Masters

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MONACO (AP) Defending champion Rafael Nadal easily beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-1, 6-3 in an all-Spanish final on Sunday to win the Monte Carlo Masters for the 10th time and clinch the 70th title of his career.

It was Nadal’s first title of the season, having lost his previous three finals – two of those to Roger Federer.

Nadal faced little opposition on his way to becoming the first player to win 10 tournaments at the same venue in the Open era, and the first to reach 50 on clay. He was previously level on clay titles with Argentine Guillermo Vilas.

“When I came here for the first time (in 2003) I reached the third round after coming through the qualifiers,” Nadal said. “Ten titles is something I never dreamed of. See you next year.”

The only final the 30-year-old Nadal has lost at Monte Carlo was to Novak Djokovic in 2013.

Ramos-Vinolas never looked like posing a threat.

Appearing in his first Masters final, the 15th-seeded Ramos-Vinolas saved three break points in his first service game and was 0-40 down in his next. Nadal served out the set in 30 minutes with an ace.

Nadal’s 29th Masters title moves him one behind Djokovic’s record. He will also have his sights set on a 10th title in Barcelona next week – Nadal’s previous career title was there, almost one year ago.

Since then, Federer has beaten him in finals at the Australian Open and the Miami Masters, either side of a win for big-serving American Sam Querrey at Acapulco, Mexico. Federer also beat Nadal in the fourth round at Indian Wells, but the 18-time Grand Slam champion skipped Monte Carlo this year.

Ramos-Vinolas had lost his two previous matches to Nadal in straight sets – both in Barcelona. He competed better in the third set, holding to love in the seventh game to provoke sympathetic applause, but a second career title never looked realistic.

Ramos-Vinolas saved two match points after matching Nadal’s aggression, but a poor unforced error gave Nadal a third match point and Ramos-Vinolas double-faulted to lose in 1 hour, 16 minutes of a one-sided contest.

Nadal’s celebrations were somewhat muted, and he gave Ramos-Vinolas a sympathetic pat on the back. Nadal tilted his head back and put both hands on his head as his achievement began to sink in, while his opponent buried his head into a towel.

He never really stood a chance against the player widely considered the greatest ever on clay.

Nadal’s 70 titles are three better than Djokovic, who is a year younger. Nadal is fifth on the all-time list, but seven behind John McEnroe. Further ahead, the 35-year-old Federer has 91; Ivan Lendl 94 and Jimmy Connors is a long way away with 109.

Nadal watched smiling as each of his Monte Carlo trophy presentations over the years was played on the big screen.

The first photo, of him raising the trophy in 2005 as a distinctly shy 18-year-old who was taking tennis by storm, made Nadal laugh.

There was nothing amusing for his opponents.

He won every year after that – including the next three finals against Federer, who could never crack him on clay. Djokovic did, in the 2013 final. Stan Wawrinka won in 2014 and Djokovic again in 2015, comfortably beating Nadal in the semis.

Nadal looked emotional when the Spanish national anthem was played.

His first appearance in Monte Carlo was as a 16-year-old in 2003, when he beat Slovak Karol Kucera in the first round. That win was impressive enough, but he then stunned the tennis world by knocking out defending French Open champion Albert Costa in a second-round match that finished as night was falling.

It was the start of Nadal’s stellar career on clay.

He will be among the favorites at the French Open this year, which was the last of his 14 Grand Slam wins in 2014.

Nadal will be hunting for a 10th title at Roland Garros, too.