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Nadal says he needs to peak to beat Dimitrov in semifinals

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Even with such vast experience on the big occasion of a Grand Slam, Rafael Nadal is nervous. His jitters aren’t eased by an impressive 7-1 head-to-head lead over Australian Open semifinal rival Grigor Dimitrov.

For a start, the 14-time major winner is aware Dimitrov broke through against him last time, in Beijing less than four months ago. And the emerging Bulgarian picked up where he left off late last year by winning the singles title in Brisbane three weeks ago in the perfect lead-up to the season’s first major championship.

“He’s a player that has an unbelievable talent, unbelievable potential,” Nadal said. “He started the season playing unbelievable.

“It’s going to be a very tough match for me. I hope for him, too. I’m going to try to play my best because I know he’s playing with high confidence.”

Nadal certainly won’t shy from another challenge and he draws strength from his own form that accounted for German teenager Alexander Zverev, Frenchman Gael Monfils and then big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic.

“I think all of them are top players. So that’s very important for me because that means that I’m competitive and playing well,” said Nadal, who won the Australian title in 2009. “Very happy that after a lot of work, to be in this round again. Is a special thing for me, especially here in Australia.”

Nadal reversed the recent loss to Raonic in Brisbane, where he was returning from a couple of months off to rest his injured left wrist. He went in with a more aggressive approach in Melbourne, taking the ball earlier to force errors as he surged to his 50th Grand Slam win at Melbourne Park and into his 24th major semifinal.

“Even moments he played so good from the baseline, I was there trying to stop his aggressive shots and don’t lose court, don’t lose meters behind the baseline. That’s an important change for me,” Nadal said. “I feel very happy for my attitude. I hit some great passing shots. That’s good news for me. When I make that happen, it’s because I’m playing well.”

No. 15-seeded Dimitrov conceded only nine games to 11th-seeded Belgian David Goffin in a clinical warm-up for his semifinal with Nadal.

He’s fit and fresh after rebuilding a ranking that slipped to 40 last July, his lowest standing for more than three years.

“I just kept doing the things that I was believing in,” he said, paying tribute to his coach Daniel Vallverdu and fitness trainer and others who “were there for me at the tough time.”

“I never felt that I was doing something wrong. I just felt that I was not playing and practicing well, not doing the right things. But with the right set of people, things started to slowly move forward for me. Now I think I’m just in a good place.”

Dimitrov said he had the talent and the preparation to reach his first Grand Slam final.

“I feel like I have all the tools to go further and my job isn’t over yet.” He said. “I’m ready to go the distance.

“Just going forward with the confidence that I have built up also from the previous tournament. With each match I’ve been feeling better and better – It just all comes pretty natural right now.”

Dimitrov had the luxury of watching the Nadal-Raonic duel Wednesday night while relaxing in his hotel room, staying in for the night to focus on his Open advance.

“Right now I’m enjoying the fight, that’s for sure. I’m enjoying running down every ball. When you feel physically good and you feel to kind of get into a match, that gives you a different perspective as soon as you get out on the court,” he said. “Whoever you play, you know you’re going to get your chance.”

Surprise 2009 US Open quarterfinalist Melanie Oudin retires

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Melanie Oudin is retiring from professional tennis, eight years after her captivating run to the U.S. Open quarterfinals as a teenager.

The 25-year-old American announced her decision in a series of posts on Twitter on Friday.

“Tennis has given me so much and I will always be grateful,” Oudin wrote. “It wasn’t exactly the entire career I had dreamed of, but in life things don’t always go as planned.”

Oudin has dealt with a series of health problems in recent years. Those included a diagnosis of rhabdomyolysis (rab-doe-my-OL-uh-sis), a muscle-damaging condition which may be caused by intense exertion, in 2013, and a procedure to address occasional episodes of an accelerated heartbeat the following year.

She has not played a professional match since entering lower-level ITF tournaments last season.

“Unfortunately, since the end of 2012, I have been struck with numerous health issues and injuries. I would work so hard to come back after being out, and then something else would happen,” Oudin wrote. “It has definitely taken a toll on me mentally and physically over the last five years or so.”

Oudin has been ranked as high as 31st but is now outside the top 400.

She won one WTA singles title, on grass at Birmingham, England, in 2012, and teamed with Jack Sock to win the U.S. Open mixed doubles championship in 2011. Oudin also was a member of the U.S. Fed Cup team.

At the 2009 U.S. Open, as an unseeded and unknown 17-year-old from Marietta, Georgia, the 70th-ranked Oudin pulled off a series of stunning results, upsetting four higher-ranked women – including Maria Sharapova and Beijing Olympic gold medalist Elena Dementieva – to become the youngest quarterfinalist at Flushing Meadows since Serena Williams in 1999.

The vivacious teen whose shoes were stamped with “BELIEVE” during those magical, memorable two weeks in New York closed her three-tweet message to fans and others Friday with that very same word, in all capital letters for emphasis.

“I will definitely miss competing. … I am very proud of how I always competed with lots of heart throughout my whole career,” she wrote.

“I am sad to leave the sport I know and love,” Oudin said, “but I am very optimistic about what the future holds for me.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Dimitrov, Keys reach Western & Southern Open’s 3rd round

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MASON, Ohio (AP) Seventh-seeded Gregor Dimitrov defeated Feliciano Lopez 7-6 (5), 6-4 on Wednesday to reach the Western & Southern Open’s round of 16.

Sixteenth-seeded Madison Keys easily reached the women’s round of 16 in Cincinnati for the first time on her fourth try, needing just 50 minutes to zoom past Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-1. Keys, a right-hander who withdrew from last week’s Rogers Cup in Toronto with a left forearm injury, next will meet fourth-seeded Garbine Muguruza, the Wimbledon champion.

“I definitely thought I played really well,” Keys said. “I don’t know if I was the zone, press, but everything was going well. It was falling into place, and I didn’t have to rush anything.”

Keys was happiest about finishing quickly in the humid, 80-some-degree conditions.

“I definitely didn’t want to be out there a long time,” she said. “I wasn’t out there that long, but I was still drenched. I was happy to get back inside into the air conditioning.”

After being forced to a tiebreak in the first set, Dimitrov raised his level of play in the second with 13 winners to Lopez’s four. Dimitrov finished with 28 winners, twice as many as Lopez.

Other seeded women reaching the third round in this U.S. Open warmup were eighth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova, with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Yulia Putintseva, and Anastasija Sevastova, with a 6-2, 7-5 win over Roberta Vinci. Qualifier Camila Giorgi advanced with a 7-6 (1), 5-7, 6-3 win over Daria Gavrilova.

Men reaching the third round on the third full day of play included David Ferrer, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-1 over Janko Tipsarevic, and Yuichi Sugita, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1 over qualifier Joao Sousa.