AP

Nadal edges Dimitrov to set up title match against Federer

2 Comments

MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal has fended off Grigor Dimitrov in five long sets to set up a vintage title match against Roger Federer at the Australian Open, where every singles finalist is aged 30 or over.

Nadal completed the 30-plus finals quartet Friday night when he repelled Dimitrov 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 in the energy-sapping, 4-hour, 56-minute semifinal.

Federer, 35, and the Williams sisters — 36-year-old Venus and 35-year-old Serena — had clinched their spots in the finals on Throwback Thursday.

With Federer and Nadal both returning from injuries, and neither having won a major since mid-2014, a ninth Grand Slam final between two of the previously most dominant men in the sport was considered an extreme long shot at Melbourne Park.

Nadal, returning from a couple of months off to rest his injured left wrist after an up-and-down 2016 that started with a shocking first-round exit in Australia, was ranked No. 9.

Federer, off for six months with an injured left knee, was ranked No. 17.

Together, they’ve won 31 Grand Slam titles. On Sunday, Federer will be aiming to extend his men’s record to 18. Nadal will be hoping to cut the gap and move into outright second on the all-time list by winning his 15th.

Federer loves tennis, and most likely would have been watching Friday night’s match at some point as a spectacle.

Nadal had to endure it.

“Grigor was playing unbelievable. It was a great match. I feel very happy to be part of it, I enjoyed it a lot,” he said. “To qualify for the final in a match like this means a lot to me.”

Against the 25-year-old Dimitrov, dubbed ‘Baby Fed’ for the similarities he has with Federer’s style, Nadal showed signs of the brute strength and determination that carried him to the top of the rankings for 141 weeks in total from the day after winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics — after spending 160 consecutive weeks at No. 2 behind Federer.

Dimitrov won the Brisbane International title earlier in the month, where Nadal was ousted in the quarterfinals, and was playing his second major semifinal. He also had a 1-7 record against Nadal heading into the match.

But he hit 20 aces, moved with precision, broke Nadal’s serve four times, and pounded the Spaniard with 79 winners.

After clinching his 21st win in 24 major semifinals, Nadal dropped to the court and lay face down for several seconds before getting up and embracing Dimitrov at the net.

It will be the first time in the Open era that all four singles finalists are older than 30.

Nadal leads Federer 23-11 in their career meetings, and is 9-2 in Grand Slam matches, including 6-2 in finals.

Federer, despite winning four titles in Australia, hasn’t beaten Nadal on Rod Laver Arena.

The Williams sisters practiced at Melbourne Park on Friday, the day ahead of the women’s final where Serena is aiming for an Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam title.

Venus Williams hadn’t been to a major final since losing the 2009 Wimbledon final to her sister, and won the last of her seven Grand Slam titles the previous year in southwest London with victory over her sibling.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova combined for their second Australian Open women’s doubles title with a 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-3 win over Andrea Hlavackova and China’s Peng Shuai.

Mattek-Sands and Safarova won the title here in 2015 — the first of their four major titles together — but were unable to defend in 2016 because of illness.

Maria Sharapova wins her 1st title since doping ban

AP Images
2 Comments

TIANJIN, China (AP) Maria Sharapova won her first WTA title since returning from a doping ban after defeating Aryna Sabalenka to win the Tianjin Open on Sunday.

The Russian, a tournament wild card, overcame Belarusian teenager Sabalenka 7-5, 7-6 (8) despite trailing heavily in both sets.

Sharapova last won a title at the Italian Open in May 2015.

The former top-ranked player and owner of five major titles, including the 2006 U.S. Open, tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January 2016. That led to a 15-month doping ban, which expired in April.

“Such a special, special tournament, and victory for me, one that I’ll remember forever,” Sharapova said. “Sometimes you never know when it will all come together but it happened to me this week in Tianjin.”

Sharapova displayed resilience as she came from behind in both sets to overcome her 19-year-old opponent.

Sabalenka led 4-1 in the opener and 5-1 in the second before relenting to Sharapova’s greater big-match experience. It was Sharapova’s 36th WTA singles title.

The 30-year-old Sharapova played in her first Grand Slam tournament following the ban at the U.S. Open in August, where she reached the fourth round. Sunday’s result will lift Sharapova up to No. 57 in the world rankings.

Federer beats Nadal to win Shanghai Masters title

Associated Press
2 Comments

SHANGHAI (AP) Roger Federer extended his winning streak over Rafael Nadal this year to four matches after beating the top-ranked Spaniard 6-4, 6-3 to win the Shanghai Masters on Sunday.

The Swiss 19-time grand slam winner, who still trails Nadal 23-15 in their overall head-to-head record, didn’t face a break point and started and ended the match with service breaks.

“I don’t know what my expectations were going in,” Federer said. “I thought I might struggle early on because it was a late finish last night.

“I had no nerves before the match, surprisingly. I think I was pretty clear about how I wanted to play the match. I started off very well and relaxed from then on.”

Despite his dominance in 2017, Federer doesn’t rate his chances of catching Nadal in their head-to-head record.

“It’s not going to happen. We don’t have enough years left on the tour. We ranked too good so we play each other only in finals at the moment… You can’t win them all against Rafa, to be honest. He’s too good of a player,” Federer said.

Federer took advantage of three of seven break point opportunities in the match to snap Nadal’s 16-game winning streak, which included his China Open victory last week.

Federer, who has won the last five encounters between the pair dating back to the 2015 Basel final, also beat Nadal in the Australian Open final, a round of 16 match at Indian Wells and the Miami final this year.

“Have been a very difficult match for me,” Nadal said. “He played very fast and he played well.

“Of course was not the best match for me of the week. When somebody plays better than you, sport is not very difficult. That’s the real thing, no? When you play against somebody that is better than you in most of the things that really matters in this sport, in this kind of surface, then it’s tougher.”

The Shanghai Masters is Federer’s 94th career title, moving him into a tie with Ivan Lendl in second place on the Open era list.

Nadal arrived on court with a bandage under his right knee, the same leg he twice smacked with his racket after losing his serve for the first time this week in the semifinal.

Federer said he was surprised to see the wrap and didn’t feel Nadal was struggling with his movement.

In his post-match press conference, Nadal elected not to discuss the knee injury, saying, “I don’t want to talk about that now, sorry, but after losing final is not the moment.”

When asked if he would play upcoming tournaments in Basel, Switzerland and Paris, Nadal refused to confirm his participation.

Federer took advantage of a third break point in the first game of the match with a winning backhand passing shot. He broke Nadal’s serve again on a second break point in the fifth game of the second set when Nadal sailed a backhand crosscourt wide. In the final game, Nadal netted a forehand at 15-40 to end the 72-minute match.