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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.”

Wozniacki beats Pavlyuchenkova for Pan Pacific title

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TOKYO — Caroline Wozniacki overwhelmed Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-0, 7-5 to retain her Pan Pacific Open title on Sunday.

The victory gives Wozniacki, also champion in Tokyo in 2010, her first title of the year. The Dane had lost all six of her previous finals in 2017.

“This was my seventh final of the year – it gets harder to get that last win,” said world No. 6 Wozniacki, who has now won at least one title every year since 2008. “I’ve been putting myself in a position to win all year. It was really important for me to stay focused and positive.”

Wozniacki had crushed world No.1 Garbine Muguruza 6-2, 6-0 in the semifinals and a similar score looked on the cards here Sunday.

“The court suits my game. She plays powerfully so it was important for me to make her move around early on. In the first set everything was going my way. In the second set she served better, so it was tricky for me to break.”

The first set lasted only 20 minutes as Pavlyuchenkova struggled to get a foothold.

“I was really disappointed in the first three games,” said the Russian. “I felt I was a bit unlucky and really believe if I had turned those points round and won the games, it may have been a different match. I was a little down on myself and missed more than I should.”

The Russian fought harder in a second set that went with serve until the 12th and final game.

Yet she failed to earn a break point in the match and appeared outclassed in her first Premier-level final since Moscow in 2015. Semifinal opponent Angelique Kerber was the only seed she faced this week before third-seeded Wozniacki.

“It’s disappointing to lose no matter which round it is, even more disappointing in the final,” said Pavlyuchenkova, who needed three sets to win all four of her matches en route to the final.

“I felt a little flat due to the previous matches. I didn’t have so much energy left.”

Federer beats Kyrgios as Europe wins first Laver Cup

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PRAGUE — Roger Federer rallied to beat Nick Kyrgios 4-6, 7-6 (6), 11-9 Sunday and clinch the new Laver Cup tournament for Europe on Sunday.

The three-day competition at Prague’s O2 Arena pitted a team of the best six European players against the top six from the rest of the world.

Seen by some as a tennis version of the Ryder Cup in golf, the inaugural Laver Cup was played on an unusual black hard court.

Rafael Nadal, Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem and Tomas Berdych also formed the European team, while Sam Querrey, John Isner, Jack Sock, Denis Shapovalov and Frances Tiafoe played for the world.

The tournament is to honor Rod Laver, an 11-time major champion who won two calendar-year Grand Slams.

Chicago will host it in 2018.