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Wozniacki beats Mertens, reaches 1st Australian Open final

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Caroline Wozniacki has reached the Australian Open final for the first time with a 6-3, 7-6 (2) win Thursday over Elise Mertens, moving within one win of a Grand Slam breakthrough.

It’s her first Grand Slam final anywhere outside of the United States, where she lost U.S. Open finals in 2009 (to Kim Clijsters) and 2014 (to Serena Williams).

Wozniacki appeared to be coasting against the 22-year-old Mertens, getting breaks in the middle of each set. But she began getting tight when she was serving for the match at 5-4: From 30-15, she double-faulted twice and Mertens passed her with a forehand winner in between to make it 5-5.

The No. 37-ranked Mertens lifted, holding her serve at love and then having two set points in the next game before Wozniacki eventually held a game that lasted almost 8 1/2 minutes.

Wozniacki dominated the tiebreaker and put memories of her last Australian Open semifinal behind her – she had match points against Li Na in the semifinal in 2011, but was unable to convert.

This time, experience helped.

“It means so much to me. I got really tight at 5-4. I kind of felt head against the wall,” she said. “I knew I had to try and stay calm.

“Once she had set points. I thought, `OK, now you just have to go for it … she’s nervous now too.”

Mertens, who trains at Clijsters’s academy in Belgium, was appearing in the semifinals on her debut at Melbourne Park and in just her fifth Grand Slam tournament. She had won 10 matches in as row after successfully defending her Hobart International title two weeks ago.

She took out No. 4-seeded Elina Svitolina in straight sets in the quarterfinal but was struggling to match a consistent Wozniacki until late in the second set.

Wozniacki’s win moves here a step closer to potentially regaining the No. 1 ranking, a position she hasn’t held in six years.

No. 1-ranked Simona Halep was playing two-time major winner Angelique Kerber later Thursday in the second of the semifinals.

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More AP coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/AustralianOpen

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

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

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.