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Nadal snaps winless streak vs. Djokovic to reach Madrid final

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MADRID — Rafael Nadal ended his seven-match winless streak against Novak Djokovic with a 6-2, 6-4 win that put him in the Madrid Open final again on Saturday.

Nadal overpowered Djokovic, and converted on his third match point to earn his first victory against the second-ranked Serb since the 2014 French Open final. Nadal had lost 15 straight sets against Djokovic, and won only one of the last 12 matches against him in four years.

It was another categorical win in what has been a superb season for the fifth-ranked Nadal, who will be trying to win his third straight title on Sunday. He can also tie Djokovic with 30 titles in Masters 1000 events.

It was Nadal’s 14th straight victory, and his tour-leading 33rd for the year.

The four-time Madrid champion will play the title game against Dominic Thiem of Austria or Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay.

It will be the Spaniard’s eighth final at his home tournament, and the first since losing to Andy Murray in 2015. Nadal last won in Madrid in 2014.

“I can’t be any happier,” Nadal said. “It means the world to me to make it to another final here in Madrid.”

Nadal has been playing some of his best tennis this year. He’s reached six finals this season and is coming off consecutive titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

“It was an important match for me because it meant continuing with the good dynamic that I’ve been carrying for several months,” Nadal said. “I knew that I had to play well. It’s true that he made some mistakes, but he fought until the end.”

Djokovic hasn’t reached a final since winning his first tournament of the year in Doha. This was his first semifinal since he won that title in January.

“I did try my best,” Djokovic said. “It wasn’t a very high quality of tennis from my side. Just his quality was very high. He managed to do whatever he wanted really, especially in the first set.”

Djokovic didn’t have to play the quarterfinal in Madrid because Kei Nishikori withdrew before the match because of a wrist injury. This was Djokovic’s first tournament since splitting with longtime coach Marian Vajda.

With Cristiano Ronaldo and Olympic great Nadia Comaneci watching courtside, Nadal was aggressive from the start, and had 20 winners, including seven off his backhand.

He conceded only two break opportunities to Djokovic, who converted one early in the second set. Nadal had six break chances, converting two in each set.

Nadal’s other titles in Madrid came in 2005, 2010 and 2013-14.

It was the 50th meeting between the two players, with Djokovic still ahead 26-24.

Nadal, Muguruza win ITF player of the year awards

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LONDON — Rafael Nadal and Garbine Muguruza have won the International Tennis Federation’s player of the year awards.

At 31, Nadal becomes the oldest ITF men’s world champion after a season in which he won a 10th French Open and a third U.S. Open.

The Spaniard also became the oldest player to finish the year at No. 1 since the ATP rankings began in 1973.

Muguruza dropped only one set en route to her first Wimbledon title and finished the year at No. 2 behind Simona Halep.

“Becoming ITF world champion in such a competitive year is amazing for me,” said Muguruza, who is also Spanish. “(Nadal) is a great role model for all of us, so it is a great moment for tennis in Spain.”

Kuznetsova out of Australian Open after left wrist surgery

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova has withdrawn from next month’s Australian Open after having surgery on her left wrist.

Tennis Australia on Friday said No. 12-ranked Kuznetsova and China’s Sasai Zheng, with a right knee injury, were the only players ranked in the top 100 who are confirmed as not playing the Jan. 15-28 tournament at Melbourne Park.

Serena Williams, who was pregnant while winning the 2017 Australian Open title and gave birth to her first child in September, “is anticipated to return,” Tennis Australia said.

Williams could equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles with another win at Melbourne Park. Serena Williams’ ranking has dropped to No. 22 during her break from the tour.