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Nadal edges Dimitrov to set up title match against Federer

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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.

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.