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.”

Top-seeded Halep survives marathon match

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Top-seeded Simona Halep served for the match four times before prevailing 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 over American Lauren Davis in a marathon match at Rod Laver Arena.

Halep saved three match points in the 22nd game of the third set at 0-40 and Davis saved five break points in the 23rd game in the 3 hour, 45-minute match. The final set took 2 hour, 22 minutes and Halep won on her first match point when Davis hit a forehand wide along the sideline.

Davis twice had medical timeouts in the final set to have blisters on both feet treated.

Halep will play the winner of Saturday’s later match between local hope Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka.

In other women’s third-round matches, sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat Lucie Safarova 7-6 (6), 7-5 and No. 8 Caroline Garcia beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3, 5-7, 6-2. Garcia will play Madison Keys in the fourth round.

 

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

Wozniacki still in frame for return to No. 1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Caroline Wozniacki had just been beaten by Kim Clijsters in the 2012 Australian Open quarterfinals, causing her to lose her No. 1 ranking on the WTA Tour, and she had some fighting words.

“I will get it back eventually, so I’m not worried,” she said. “The media talks to me like I’m finished … the fact is I still have quite a few good years in front of me.”

Fast forward to this year’s Australian Open, where Wozniacki’s win in the third round on Friday leaves her with a chance to regain the No. 1 ranking – six years later.

If so, it would be the longest gap between stints at the top since the WTA’s computer rankings were introduced in 1975. She might take some solace from the fact that the current longest streak between players returning to No. 1 is held by Serena Williams at 5 years, 29 days.

The 27-year-old Wozniacki also faced criticism during her first stay at No. 1 – which included year-end top rankings in 2010 and 2011 – that she’d never won a major, unlike Williams’ current 23. And that hasn’t changed either.

Maybe this year.

On Friday, two days after she came back from a 5-1 deficit and saved two match points in the third set to beat Jana Fett in the second round, she had a 6-4, 6-3 win over Kiki Bertens that wasn’t without late drama, both with closing out the match, and with her criticism of the chair umpire.

Wozniacki had to save four break points while serving for the match but clinched it on her fourth match point.

After coming so close to being knocked out of the tournament, she sounded like a gambler with cash in her pocket.

“Right now, playing with house money,” Wozniacki said in an on-court television interview. “Nothing to lose. I got a second chance. I’m just going to try and take it and see how far I can go.”

Wozniacki wasn’t happy with chair umpire Renaud Lichtenstein. She had complained about a few line calls, and that the court was slippery in several areas.

“I’ve never had this guy before … but I think he did a poor job today,” Wozniacki said. “If the court is wet, I think it’s normal to ask for a towel. I don’t think someone needs to be rude, and I told him so. I think there were some questionable calls, as well.”

Watching from Wozniacki’s support section was former NBA player David Lee. In November, the former New York Knicks forward proposed to her during a holiday on the French Polynesian island of Bora Bora.

“All I’ll say is it was a surprise, it was amazing,” Wozniacki said earlier this week of Lee’s proposal. “Had the best off-season. We had a great time traveling a little bit, exploring some new places. I was really recharged when I finally got back on the court again.”

Perhaps enough to get her back to No. 1.