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Kasatkina routs Kerber at Indian Wells

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Daria Kasatkina kept her focus for all of 58 minutes.

That’s how long it took to dispatch former No. 1 Angelique Kerber 6-0, 6-2 in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday.

The 20-year-old Russian hasn’t dropped a set in four matches at Indian Wells, knocking out U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens and No. 2-ranked Caroline Wozniacki along the way.

“Maybe, yeah, from the side or with the score it looks like it was simple, but of course it’s not,” Kasatkina said. “I knew that in one moment if I will lose focus just for a second, they will come back and then the big battle, five hours again, will start.”

No chance against Kerber.

The German never managed a break point against Kasatkina’s serve. The Russian connected on 82 percent of her first serves, winning 22 of 32 first-serve points.

“This one I will try to forget as fast as possible,” Kerber said.

In the men’s quarterfinals, Borna Coric of Croatia upset No. 7 seed Kevin Anderson 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3) for his first win in four tries against the South African.

Coric next faces either No. 1 Roger Federer or Chung Hyeon of South Korea, who were to meet Thursday night.

Besides Stephens and Australian Open winner Wozniacki, Kasatkina has beaten the other current Grand Slam titleholders in the past year: French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza.

That’s part of the reason for her impressive rise in the rankings over the last three years, and she’s guaranteed to make her highest move yet as a result of her deep run in the desert. She came into the tournament at No. 19, two spots lower than her career-best. She could move to 15th or 16th, and has a shot at the top 10 if she would win the title.

But that’s more than she cared to consider, especially against Kerber.

“Actually, my head was quite empty,” she said, smiling.

Whenever she can get away, Kasatkina can be found in Barcelona. Her favorite soccer team is there, and she loves the architecture, the seaside location, and the food, with paella and tapas her top choices. And a little bit of wine, too, even though she’s not 21.

“In Europe it doesn’t matter,” she said. “With good company, of course, you can have a glass or two.”

Kasatkina will play either No. 8 seed Venus Williams or 27th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain in the semis.

Regardless of the opponent, she wants to play at night.

“I just want to be on the central court, prime time,” she said, smiling. “In the evening, something special is coming from here, from the heart.”

The other women’s semifinal is already set: No. 1 Simona Halep against Japan’s Naomi Osaka, another 20-year-old making a huge run through the draw. Osaka’s victims have included Maria Sharapova, No. 31 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 5 Karolina Pliskova.

 

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.