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Cilic joins elite group by reaching Australian Open final

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Marin Cilic is in exclusive company at the Australian Open.

With his 6-2, 7-6 (4), 6-2 semifinal win over 49th-ranked Kyle Edmund, Cilic became only the second man from outside the “Big Four” to reach the final at season-opening major in a decade.

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have dominated the men’s finals since 2009, with only 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka breaking the quartet’s court occupation in the championship match.

The 29-year-old Cilic, the first Croatian to make the final at Melbourne Park, could face the founding member of the “Big Four” in the final on Sunday. That’s if defending champion Federer can get past Hyeon Chung on Friday.

Cilic lost to Federer in last year’s Wimbledon final, where he was injured and struggling at the end. This time, he has held off No. 10 Pablo Carreno Busta and top-ranked Rafael Nadal and thinks, with two days to rest before the final, he’ll be in better shape.

“I’m feeling really, really good physically,” he said. “I played a great tournament so far with my level of tennis.

“I improved it comparing to end of the last year. I’m playing much, much more aggressive – feeling really excited about the final, too.”

It’ll be a third major final for Cilic, who beat Federer in the semifinals at the 2014 U.S. Open before going on to win his breakthrough Grand Slam title.

He reached the semifinals in Melbourne in 2010, then waited 16 more majors to surpass that level by reaching that U.S. Open final.

The long wait didn’t bother him. Besides, his 10 attempts to reach the Australian final equaled an Open era record held by 1980 runner-up Kim Wawrick.

Cilic was under pressure early against Edmund and had to fend off break points in the opening game. He held and quickly got on top in the first set and, after maintaining his composure in a nervy second-set tiebreaker, quickly established a break in the third set.

“I think in that second set, I was just a little up and down with my game. I wasn’t getting enough returns back to put pressure on him in his service games,” Cilic said. “I noticed that in the third game in third set, when I broke him, he just let a couple balls go past him. … I was seeing with this movement he was a little bit restricted so I just tried to move the ball around.”

Cilic didn’t face another break point after the opening game and took advantage of his experience, while Edmund got heated in his first major semifinal match, arguing with the chair umpire over a call in the fifth game of the second set and demanding the tournament supervisor come onto court to explain the ruling. It just delayed the inevitable.

Wins over U.S. Open runner-up Kevin Anderson in the first round and in the quarterfinals over third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov took a toll on Edmund, who needed a medical timeout.

“Well, obviously just disappointed I lost, but yeah, I mean, it’s been a really good couple of weeks for me,” he said. “Just got the experience of going deep in a Slam for the first time and all the stuff that comes with it. Playing a couple matches on Rod Laver.

“Obviously disappointed right now, but can be very happy with the way I’ve gone about things. Played a lot of tough matches. Won some tough matches. Beat good players.”

Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping tournaments like Federer

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MONACO (AP) For now, Rafael Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping any major tournaments the way Roger Federer has been sitting out the French Open.

The veterans are back at the top of world tennis, with Nadal needing to win the Monte Carlo Masters this week to avoid losing his top ranking once again to Federer in their seemingly eternal battle for tennis supremacy.

For the second consecutive season, the 36-year-old Federer is skipping the entire clay-court season in order to be at his best on grass.

After coming back from injury to win the Australian Open last year, Federer skipped the clay-court season, won Wimbledon, and retained his Melbourne crown to extend his record tally to 20 majors.

The Swiss star is keeping his aging body fresher by playing a bit less – avoiding Nadal on clay at Roland Garros or elsewhere – and it is working for him.

But Nadal still thinks he can play a full schedule.

“There (are) tournaments that I can’t imagine missing on purpose, because (they are) tournaments that I love to play,” Nadal said on Wednesday. “I don’t see myself missing Monte Carlo on purpose. I don’t see myself missing Wimbledon on purpose, or the U.S. Open, or Australian, or Rome. These kind of events, I don’t see missing (them).”

The 31-year-old Spaniard recently returned from a right hip injury which forced him to retire during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

With his 32nd birthday coming up on June 3 – during the French Open – the 16-time Grand Slam champion accepts he may think differently when he gets closer to Federer’s age.

“Of course, when you get older, you need to adjust a little bit more the efforts and the calendar. But for me (it) is difficult to say I don’t play, for example, grass, or I don’t play hard (courts),” Nadal said. “(It) is not in my plan, but I can’t say `never’ because I cannot predict what’s going to be in the future.”

Nadal is chasing an 11th title at both Monte Carlo and Roland Garros, which begins on May 27.

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

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Thiem reaches third round at Monte Carlo

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MONACO — Dominic Thiem saved a match point and beat Andrey Rublev of Russia 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

Rublev was serving for the match at 5-4, 40-30 but hit a forehand narrowly wide. Fifth-seeded Thiem broke him with backhand pass down the line and held for 6-5.

The Austrian was 15-40 up on Rublev’s serve and clinched victory on his first match point, when Rublev double-faulted with a weak serve into the net.

“I was 10 centimeters from being out of the tournament,” a relieved Thiem said. “But I’m happy that I played two hours and 40 (minutes).”

Thiem has reached the French Open semifinals for the past two years. He next meets 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic or Borna Coric of Croatia, who play their second-round match on Wednesday.

“I’m looking forward to watching Djokovic and Coric in front of the TV, and then playing the winner on Thursday,” Thiem said.

In the second round later Tuesday, fourth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria faced Pierre-Hugues Herbert and seventh-seeded Lucas Pouille played Mischa Zverev.

In remaining first-round play, there were wins for Gilles Simon of France, Marco Cecchinato of Italy and Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.