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Federer returning to top of ATP rankings at 36

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ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) Roger Federer added another highlight to his age-defying career resurgence Friday, returning to the top of the world rankings for the first time in more than five years and becoming the oldest player to reach the top spot.

“What an amazing run its been and a journey it’s been for me … to clinch world No. 1,” Federer said.

Beating leading Dutch player Robin Haase 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 in the quarterfinal at the ABN AMRO World Tournament means the 36-year-old Federer becomes the oldest player – male or female – to top the world rankings, surpassing Andre Agassi, who held the record at age 33.

“Getting to No. 1 and enjoying it right here at 36, almost 37 years old is an absolute dream come true,” Federer said. “I can’t believe it.”

Federer will leapfrog 31-year-old Rafael Nadal to No. 1 when the rankings are updated on Monday.

Also a record will be the five-years-plus which have elapsed since Federer was last No. 1, and the 14 years since he first reached the top spot.

On Monday, he will extend his record of 302 weeks at No 1 since the rankings began in 1973. Pete Sampras is a distant second with 286 weeks at the top. Novak Djokovic is the closest currently active player, with 223 weeks at No. 1.

“Reaching No. 1 is one of, if not the ultimate achievement in our sport,” Federer said.

“Sometimes at the beginning you get there just because you play so well. Later, you sometimes try to fight it back and you wrest it back from somebody else who deserved to be there, and when you’re older you feel like you have to put maybe double the work in. So this one maybe means the most to me throughout my career.”

Federer, the 2005 and 2012 ABN AMRO champion, plays either Andreas Seppi or Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals on Saturday.

Federer won the Australian Open in January for his 20th Grand Slam title and edged closer to the top of the rankings. He had not originally planned to play in Rotterdam but accepted a wild card when it became clear he might be able to take back the top spot.

Haase made clear he was going to make Federer fight, and broke him in the ninth game and fired an ace to take the set 6-4.

But Federer stepped up a gear and blew Haase away in the second set, reeling off 11 straight points to race to 3-0 in taking the set 6-1.

Federer then broke Haase twice early in the third for 3-0, and swept to the victory.

Earlier, Grigor Dimitrov beat Andrey Rublev 6-3, 6-4 to reach the semifinals, where he will meet 2017 finalist David Goffin, who progressed when his quarterfinal opponent Tomas Berdych pulled out sick.

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.

 

Nadal beats Dimitrov, one win from record 31st Masters title

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MONACO (AP) Rafael Nadal remains on course for a record 31st Masters title after beating Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-1 in the Monte Carlo Masters semifinals on Saturday.

The top-ranked Spaniard never looked in trouble as he beat the fourth-seeded Bulgarian for the 11th time in 12 career meetings.

If Nadal wins Sunday’s final, he will earn a 76th career title and also keep his No. 1 ranking. Should he lose, Roger Federer will reclaim the top spot.

Nadal faces either third-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany or Kei Nishikori of Japan, who play later Saturday.

In the opening game, Dimitrov came out firing. He pressured Nadal with two superb lobs, forcing a backhand smash wide from the Spaniard for deuce. But Nadal held a tight first game lasting eight minutes, and then broke Dimitrov for 2-0.

Dimitrov found his range, broke Nadal back and held for 3-3. The next two games were even, with Dimitrov matching Nadal in the rallies.

The 16-time Grand Slam champion held for 5-4 and then Dimitrov cracked, serving consecutive double faults and hitting a wild forehand long to trail 15-40. He saved one set point but Nadal was in ruthless mode and took the next chance.

It appeared that Nadal was gaining his usual momentum on clay – and two consecutive love breaks and three easy holds made it 5-0 to the Spaniard in the second set.

Dimitrov explained his collapse this way.

“I think I played smart against him. I kind of know his pattern a little bit better,” Dimitrov said. “But it was my fault when I got broken. Simple as that. Two double-faults, it’s just definitely not acceptable, especially when you play against him on that surface.”

Dimitrov finally held, drawing polite applause, but Nadal served out the match with ease. He clinched victory on his first match point when Dimitrov patted the ball wide following a brief exchange.

“You see me with a smile. I’m a positive person,” Dimitrov said. “Deep down, I’m hurt. I hate losing. Simple as that.”

Nadal shares the Masters record with Novak Djokovic, whose 30 wins include two here.

Nadal’s victory at Monte Carlo last year made him the first men’s tennis player in the Open era to win the same title 10 times. He then won a 10th title at Barcelona and the French Open.