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Belgium sets up Davis Cup final against France

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BRUSSELS (AP) David Goffin and Steve Darcis won their reverse singles matches as Belgium defeated 28-time champion Australia 3-2 in the Davis Cup semifinals on Sunday to set up a title match with France in November.

Back with the France Davis Cup team, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga earlier sent his country to its 18th final by defeating Dusan Lajovic 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-2 in Lille.

Belgium recovered from a 2-1 deficit on the indoor clay of the Palais 12 in Brussels.

France will host the final from Nov. 24-26.

With Tsonga’s win, the French reached an unassailable 3-1 lead and the teams decided against playing the final rubber.

Belgium trailed after Saturday’s doubles but managed to turn things around in front of a buoyant crowd. David Goffin first rallied past Nick Kyrgios 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 before Steve Darcis defeated Jordan Thompson 6-4, 7-5, 6-2.

Goffin, who had not beaten Kyrgios in three previous matches, returned well and played astute tennis to counter his opponent’s big shots, extending his excellent Davis Cup record to 15 wins from 16 singles matches.

Goffin dropped his serve only once and fell onto his back after hitting two aces in succession to serve out the match after a three-hour battle.

“Everything is in the timing, I think,” Goffin said about his returns, adding “I see the ball earlier than the others so maybe that’s why I have a good return.”

Darcis was set to take on John Millman in the decisive rubber but Australia captain Lleyton Hewitt changed his lineup to send Thompson instead. The move did not pay off as Darcis put on a dominant display, converting five of seven breakpoints. He hit 34 winners and sealed the match on his first chance with a backhand volley that hit the net cord.

France avenged its loss to Serbia in the 2010 final and qualified for its first final since losing to Switzerland in the title match three years ago.

France won the last of its nine titles in 2001 against the Australians while Belgium will be chasing its first trophy in the team event after losing two finals.

“I’m relieved and happy,” said France captain Yannick Noah. “To win the Davis Cup is something extraordinary. Hopefully I will be able to win it with theses lads.”

Noah already captained France to the 1991 and 1996 Davis Cup titles. As a player, he also won the French Open in 1983.

The French did a lap of honor after Tsonga won the decisive point against a depleted Serbian team that gave the hosts a tough challenge.

Tsonga won his second point for France after defeating 22-year-old debutant Laslo Djere in straight sets on Friday to level the tie at 1-1. Two-time Grand Slam champions Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert then gave the hosts a 2-1 lead when they beat Filip Krajinovic and Nenad Zimonjic in the doubles match.

Tsonga, who had decided to skip the Davis Cup this year, changed his mind and made a successful return to the French team.

He was overpowered by his rival in the first set but improved and recovered in the second by upping his game when it mattered, after a double fault from Lajovic gave him an early break.

The third set was close with neither player giving in on the red clay of the Pierre Mauroy stadium. Lajovic was the first to crack despite saving two set points in the tiebreaker when he dumped a backhand return into the net.

Tsonga missed three break chances in the opening game of the fourth set but converted the fourth after Lajovic made two consecutive unforced errors – a double fault and a forehand in the net. The Frenchman then held to love and broke again as Lajovic showed signs of fatigue following his five-set win over Lucas Pouille on Friday. Tsonga then served out the match.

Keys sends US into second straight Fed Cup final

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AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France (AP) Defending champion United States will play in a second consecutive Fed Cup final after defeating France on Sunday.

Madison Keys secured the decisive point for the visiting team by beating Pauline Parmentier 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the second reverse singles. Keys’ victory gave the defending champions an unassailable 3-1 lead over France in their semifinal.

The 13th-ranked Keys, a late replacement for CoCo Vandeweghe, came back from a 4-1 deficit in the first set and made the decisive break in the ninth game of the second set with two consecutive winners.

“The girls did so well, both today and yesterday. We are very fortunate to have such a strong group and now we are looking forward to what is going to be a great final,” U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said.

Parmentier fought hard until the end and saved two set points in the opener, but ultimately surrendered to Keys’ deep groundstrokes. The Frenchwoman had the chance to break back while trailing 5-4 in the second set but Keys used her big serve to win the next three points and seal the match.

The U.S. will play the Czech Republic in the final.

Earlier, Sloane Stephens had given a 2-1 lead to the U.S. with a 6-2, 6-0 thrashing of Kristina Mladenovic.

The U.S. Open champion delivered a ruthless display against the 20th-ranked Mladenovic and prevailed in 54 minutes. Stephens hit 16 winners and converted five of six break chances at the 6,700-capacity Arena Pays d’Aix on indoor clay.

“That was a really good one. You never anticipate a scoreline like the way it turned out but it was really solid,” Stephens said. She also won her first singles match on Saturday.

The Americans extended their winning record to 12-2 against the French.

The Czech Republic qualified for the final by defeating Germany 4-1 in Stuttgart.

Nadal beats Nishikori to win Monte Carlo Masters

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MONACO — Rafael Nadal won a record 31st Masters title after beating Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2 in the Monte Carlo Masters final on Sunday.

Nadal also became the first man in the Open era to win the same title 11 times – 13 years after his first title here – and moved one ahead of rival Novak Djokovic for career Masters titles.

“It’s great to have this trophy in my hands again,” Nadal said.

It gave him a 76th title overall and ensured the Spaniard keeps his top ranking ahead of Roger Federer.

Nishikori was chasing a first Masters title, but the Japanese player took 11 minutes to hold for 1-1.

He got some brief hope, breaking Nadal with a superb passing shot at full stretch to lead 2-1, but meekly surrendered the next four games.

“I knew it was going to be tough even though I was up break,” said Nishikori, who complained of tiredness. “My legs were very heavy today, playing three sets (for) three days in a row (before the final). It wasn’t easy physically.”

The second set was a procession and Nadal won on his first match point with a stinging backhand winner.

Nadal’s celebration was brief and low key. He thrust both hands into the air, and then jogged over to offer Nishikori a sympathetic hug after beating him for the 10th time in 12 meetings.

Nishikori saved a set point with a sharp, angled volley at the net. But Nadal was in relentless mood and sealed it on his next chance with a crisp forehand winner.

“It’s not easy to describe when you are coming back from injury and you start the clay-court season in this way,” Nadal said.

Nishikori is still working his way back to form and full fitness, after missing the 2017 U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open because of a torn tendon in his right wrist.

“It was a great week for me, I had an injury and couldn’t play for a long time,” said Nishikori, whose ranking has slipped to 36.

Nadal has not dropped a set in seven matches since coming back from a recurrence of a right hip injury that forced him to abandon during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

The injury relapse subsequently forced him out of the Mexico Open and Masters tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami, but Nadal now looks back to his ruthless best on clay.

He has his sights firmly set on an 11th title at Barcelona next week and then an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.