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Isner wins US opener vs. Belgium at Davis Cup quarterfinals

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) John Isner beat Joris De Loore

6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (8), 6-4 Friday night giving the United States a 1-0 lead over Belgium in the Davis Cup quarterfinals.

Isner, who moved up to ninth in the world after winning the Miami Open last weekend, kicked off the quarterfinals at Belmont University with a victory taking 3 hours, 14 minutes.

“It’s big absolutely,” Isner said of his win. “The first match is critical. We’re in a battle to three points. We have the advantage right now. So I’m very happy I was able to do my part, so to say, to put our team up.”

Sam Querrey, ranked 14th in the world, plays Ruben Bemelmans in the other singles match as the United States looks for its first spot in the Davis Cup semifinals since 2012.

The U.S. came in 4-0 all-time against Belgium in the Davis Cup with Belgium playing without both David Goffin and Steve Darcis because of injuries. That left De Loore, ranked 319th, to take on Isner in a big mismatch on paper.

The American cruised through the first set in 26 minutes. De Loore held serve in the second and with the tiebreaker tied at 4-4, took advantage of consecutive mistakes by Isner.

The American hit a forehand long before putting a backhand into the net on his own serve. Then he missed on a 140-mph serve and hit a forehand into the corner long on set point.

De Loore opened the third set by breaking Isner, winning the game with a forehand winner after pushing the game to deuce.

The Belgian also had a chance to break Isner in the seventh game only to see Isner hold and then break back to even the set at 4-4. De Loore fought off a set point down 15-40 to force a second straight tiebreaker. Isner took the final three points to go up 2-1.

Isner converted his sixth match point with a backhand for the win.

“The crowd was crucial,” Isner said. “They were awesome out there.”

The winner will play either Croatia or Kazakhstan in the semifinals Sept. 14-16.

The other three quarterfinals all split Friday with Spain’s Rafael Nadal, the world’s top-ranked player, beating Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 after Alexander Zverev downed David Ferrer 6-4, 6-2, 6-2. Marin Cilic beat Dimitry Popko 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 for Croatia before Mikhail Kukushkin downed Bora Coric 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-2 tying it up for Kazakhstan.

Italy and France split after Fabio Fognini needed 3 hours, 31 minutes to beat Jeremy Chardy 6-7 (6), 6-2, 6-2, 6-3. France’s Lucas Pouille had the lone five-set match of the day, beating Andreas Seppi 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 6-1.

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

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.