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A shocker: Collins tops her idol, Venus Williams, in Miami

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Danielle Collins’ favorite player, for as long as she can remember, has been Venus Williams.

Clearly, she wasn’t star-struck when facing her idol.

Collins got the biggest win of her pro career Wednesday night, shocking the eighth-seeded Williams 6-2, 6-3 in the Miami Open quarterfinals. Collins needed to survive two qualifying matches before making the main draw at Key Biscayne, and will now meet sixth-seeded Jelena Ostapenko in Thursday’s semifinals.

“The first time I saw Venus in the locker room, I nearly cried,” Collins said. “I mean, I’ve idolized her my whole life. She’s been my favorite player for forever. This is such a special moment, I’m just trying to wrap my head around it.”

Collins topped U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys earlier this month at Indian Wells and made a much bigger statement with this win. She threw both fists into the air when Williams couldn’t handle a serve on Collins’ second match point, and even the three-time champion at Key Biscayne gave her a big smile when they shook hands at the net.

“I’m just starting to finally put all of the pieces together,” said Collins, the 2014 and 2016 NCAA champion at Virginia.

Collins, No. 93 in the world for a few more days, will more than double her career earnings when the money from Miami arrives. She came to Key Biscayne with $305,385 in career earnings, which she’ll add at least $327,965 to now that she’s in the semifinals. And she’s going to soar in the world rankings, to no lower than 67th.

No qualifier has ever gone this deep at Key Biscayne, though Collins looked perfectly comfortable on the stage. She rarely faced trouble, offered confident fist pumps for much of the night and set the tone by breaking Williams – one of her idols, someone who’s been playing pro matches for about as long as the 24-year-old Collins has been alive – with her opening chance in each set.

And now Collins, who took the more-unusual path through college to pro life, still has a shot at becoming perhaps Miami’s most surprising champion.

“You don’t have to do it the traditional way,” Williams said.

For as easy as Collins made it look Wednesday night, John Isner had an even easier time in his quarterfinal.

The big-serving Isner made the Miami semifinals for the second time in four years, needing just over an hour to overpower South Korea’s Hyeon Chung 6-1, 6-4. The 14th-seeded Isner finished with 13 aces, won all but one of his 32 first-serve points and avenged a loss to the 19th-seeded Chung at Auckland in his first match of the year back in January.

“I played extremely well,” said Isner, who dropped six of his first eight matches of 2018 before arriving in Miami. “Every match I’ve played in this tournament, I’ve gotten better. I’ve gotten stronger and that’s a very, very good sign.”

He’ll hope that trend continues in the semifinals.

Isner – who ousted second-seeded Marin Cilic earlier this week – will next face either No. 5 seed Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina or No. 20 Milos Raonic of Canada. Del Potro and Raonic play late Wednesday night in another quarterfinal.

Isner was broken twice by Chung when they met in Auckland. He faced only one break point on Wednesday.

“It’s perfect conditions,” said Isner, who lost to Novak Djokovic in the 2015 semifinals at Key Biscayne. “I’ve played well here in the past and I’m so happy that I’m playing well here again.”

Ostapenko got her spot in the semifinals by ousting fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) and now will get the upstart Collins with a berth in Saturday’s final at stake. The other women’s semifinal is Thursday afternoon, with No. 13 Sloane Stephens set to meet three-time Miami champion Victoria Azarenka.

Keys sends U.S. into second straight Fed Cup final

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AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France — 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.