A fit-again Federer is back in an Australian Open final

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Back in October, Roger Federer joined his rival, Rafael Nadal, to inaugurate the new tennis academy on the Spaniard’s home island of Mallorca.

Both of them were injured – Federer was recovering from knee surgery, Nadal had an ailing wrist. And neither knew when they’d return to top form and perhaps contend for Grand Slam titles again.

It turns out the wait wasn’t long. Federer beat Stan Wawrinka on Thursday to reach his first Australian Open final since 2010, and Nadal could join him with a victory in his semifinal match with Grigor Dimitrov on Friday.

“I was on one leg. He had the wrist injury. And we were playing some mini-tennis with some juniors and we’re like, `This is the best we can do right now,”‘ the 35-year-old Federer said of their time together in Mallorca.

“We would have never thought that we were going to be here, potentially playing in a final.”

Few people would have given either player much of a chance to get this far.

Federer’s 2016 season was marred by an injury he sustained following the Australian Open when he twisted his knee while drawing a bath for one of his four children. He returned swiftly after surgery, but fell on the knee during his semifinal loss at Wimbledon and was sidelined the rest of the year.

Coming into this year’s Australian Open with a low seeding of 17th, Federer didn’t expect he’d win more than a few rounds. Particularly when he saw a draw that included potential match-ups with top-10 players Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka.

But the 17-time major winner swept past Berdych and Nishikori, and Murray was upset by Mischa Zverev.

Then, with the crowd urging him on against Wawrinka, Federer fended off two break points in the pivotal fifth set to beat his countryman 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3 and reach the 29th major final of his career.

Suddenly, the aging veteran hobbling around “on one leg” has a chance to capture Grand Slam title No. 18.

And he’s winning energy-sapping, lengthy matches, too. With his five-set wins over Nishikori and Wawrinka, it’s the first time since the 2009 French Open that Federer has won two five-setters in the same tournament.

“I’ll leave it all out here in Australia and if I can’t walk for another five months, that’s OK,” he said.

Federer looks back on his six-month injury layoff now as a positive step to returning fully healthy and ready to compete with the top players again.

“What I’ve just come to realize is when you don’t feel well, you have too many problems going on, you just won’t beat top-10 players,” he said. “You can play them tight. You might win one of them. You just can’t win back-to-back.”

Nadal has realized this, as well. He also took two extended breaks last year to let his wrist heal properly – and looks fresher here in Melbourne. He’s back in a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time since he won the last of his 14 majors at the 2014 French Open.

“Of course, it would be unreal to play (Nadal) here,” Federer said. “I think it’s very special for both of us, this tournament, already.”

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.