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US Open men’s final features No. 1 Djokovic, No. 2 Federer

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NEW YORK (AP) The blockbuster U.S. Open final between No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Roger Federer on Sunday is tantalizing for so many reasons.

They have built a long and riveting rivalry, this duo with a combined 26 major trophies – a record 17 for Federer, nine for Djokovic.

This matchup will be their 14th at a Grand Slam tournament, more than any other pair of men in tennis’ Open era, which dates to 1968. Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have played each other 13 times at majors, Federer and Nadal 11, and John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl 10.

It will be the fourth Federer vs. Djokovic meeting in a Grand Slam final, with Federer winning at the 2007 U.S. Open, and Djokovic winning at Wimbledon each of the past two years.

And it is their 42nd head-to-head match overall, with Federer barely ahead, 21-20.

“It’s just a straight shootout,” Federer said, “and I think that’s the cool thing about our rivalry. It’s very athletic.”

He explained that he doesn’t feel as if either of them needs to adjust style or tactics too much for their matches, and that in many ways, they know how to deal with the other’s strengths and styles.

“We can both handle … whatever we present to one another,” Federer said. “It’s very even.”

At the moment, Djokovic is the best baseliner around, contorting his body this way and that, going from defense to offense in a blink, and maybe the best returner around, too. While so much attention was paid to Serena Williams’ oh-so-close bid to complete the Grand Slam, Djokovic has gone 26-1 at majors in 2015, with titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and a runner-up finish at the French Open in between.

Federer, 34, is playing a brilliant brand of attacking tennis and serving as well as ever, broken twice in 82 games this tournament.

Both should be well-rested for Sunday, because both are coming off remarkably easy semifinal victories Friday that each lasted only about 1 1/2 hours. Djokovic beat defending champion Marin Cilic 6-0, 6-1, 6-2 in the most lopsided semifinal in New York in the Open era. Federer eliminated two-time major champion Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 6-3, 6-1.

Djokovic will be playing in his sixth final at the U.S. Open, but the only one he won came in 2011.

Federer, a five-time U.S. Open champion, is into his first final at Flushing Meadows since 2009. Each of the following two years, he lost in the semifinals to Djokovic, each time 7-5 in the fifth set, each time after Federer held two match points.

After his 2011 loss, Federer scoffed at the return winner Djokovic hit to erase a match point, comparing him to a kid who swings away with his eyes closed because, well, he’s got nothing to lose.

“I never played that way,” Federer said that day. “I believe in the hard-work’s-going-to-pay-off kind of thing, because early on, maybe I didn’t always work at my hardest. So for me, this is very hard to understand how can you play a shot like that on match point. But, look, maybe he’s been doing it for 20 years, so for him it was very normal. You’ve got to ask him.”

Lately, it’s been Djokovic’s coach, Boris Becker, who has been quoted as criticizing Federer, including voicing a distaste for the Swiss star’s latest maneuver. The “SABR” – it stands for “Sneak Attack by Roger” – is when Federer races forward on an opponent’s second serve and essentially half-volleys a return while heading to the net.

“It’s an exciting shot for him. For the player (on the) opposite side of the net, not so much,” Djokovic said, noting he hasn’t considered trying it. “So I have nothing else to say about that.”

A reporter told Federer that Becker reportedly characterized the “SABR” as something that disrespects opponents.

“No, it’s not disrespectful,” Federer replied. “Pretty simple.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Nadal-Djokovic semifinal suspended after 3rd set

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LONDON (AP) It was the kind of tennis that Wimbledon’s Centre Court crowd would gladly have watched all night long.

The show being put on by Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was so good it could have been an instant classic had they been able to finish their semifinal before the tournament’s 11 p.m. curfew.

Instead, the two players – and a disappointed audience – were sent home after the third set on Friday with Djokovic leading 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9) following a tense tiebreaker that had more entertaining rallies than some entire matches.

The two players didn’t even get onto the court until after 8 p.m. because of an earlier marathon semifinal won by Kevin Anderson and when Djokovic converted his second set point in the tiebreaker – having saved three of Nadal’s – the clock had ticked a couple of minutes past 11. That left organizers no choice but to call it a night, although the announcement from the chair umpire led to a scattering of boos from some fans who clearly wanted more.

Most of them will have to watch the rest on TV.

The match will resume at 1 p.m. local time on Saturday, before the women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber. At stake is a place in Sunday’s men’s final against the man who was partly at fault for keeping Nadal and Djokovic out there so late. Anderson’s win over John Isner lasted 6 + hours and went to 26-24 in the fifth set.

Djokovic-Nadal had clearly been the headline act of the day – they have five Wimbledon titles between them and met in the 2011 final while Anderson and Isner had never made the semifinals before – and their tennis was at another level from the earlier match. Even Anderson said he could feel during his match that the crowd would rather be watching the next one.

“They’ve paid to see two matches, and they came pretty close to only seeing one match,” Anderson said. “I can feel the crowd (get) pretty antsy for us to get off the court. They’ve been watching us for over six hours.”

While Anderson-Isner was mostly a serving duel with a few longer rallies thrown in, Djokovic and Nadal repeatedly slugged it out from the baseline, chasing each other around the court and coming up with spectacular winners from every corner.

Many of the best points came in the tiebreaker, including a 23-shot rally that Nadal finished off with a forehand half-volley drop shot to set up his first set point.

It was one of three successful drop shots from the Spaniard in the tiebreaker alone, but Djokovic answered with one of his own to save the second set point at 7-6.

He eventually went up 10-9 with the help of a backhand passing shot and an errant shot into the net by Nadal brought the entertainment to an end – for now.

It led to the unusual situation of both players leaving the court to a huge ovation – and applauding the fans in return – but without there being a clear winner or loser.

To be continued.

Former No. 1 Kerber tops Ostapenko; into second Wimbledon final

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LONDON – It was clear right from the opening game of Angelique Kerber’s Wimbledon semifinal how things were going to go. She was not going to dictate or control much.

She was, instead, going to employ spectacular defense and solid, steady play, while letting her opponent, Jelena Ostapenko, be the one to determine the outcomes of nearly every point.

It worked. The 11th-seeded Kerber reached her second final at the All England Club by avoiding too many mistakes and using a seven-game run to seize control for a 6-3, 6-3 victory over the 12th-seeded Ostapenko on Thursday.

“These are the matches I was working for as a young kid,” Kerber said, “and to stand here again in the final at Wimbledon is great.”

Kerber is a former No. 1 and a two-time major champion, both coming in 2016 at the Australian Open and U.S. Open. That was also the year the German was the runner-up at Wimbledon, losing to Serena Williams in the title match.

She could find herself up against Williams yet again: The 36-year-old American was scheduled to face No. 13 Julia Goerges of Germany in Thursday’s second semifinal on Centre Court.

Williams took a 19-match Wimbledon winning streak into the day. She won the grass-court tournament the last two times she played it, in 2015 and 2016, before missing it last year while pregnant. Williams gave birth to a daughter in September.

The left-handed Kerber was mainly a passive participant in the early going against Ostapenko. That first game consisted of eight points: Three were unforced errors by Ostapenko, including a double-fault to begin the proceedings; the other five were winners by her, including a 100 mph ace to close the hold.

Five games in, Ostapenko led 3-2, and the numbers were still tilted toward her. She had 14 winners and 10 unforced errors, while Kerber had three winners and – this was key – zero unforced errors.

There were no drawn-out points in the early going, no lengthy baseline exchanges, essentially because Ostapenko wouldn’t allow it. The Latvian plays an aggressive brand of first-strike tennis that carried her to the 2017 French Open title as an unseeded 20-year-old.

Kerber, in contrast, bides her time, working the back of the court to get everything back over the net, often kneeling to get low enough to reach shots.

Eventually, Kerber’s style ruled the day. She went on a half-hour run in which she took the last four games of the first set and took a 3-0 lead in the second. Ostapenko’s strokes were missing and she grew increasingly frustrated, slapping a thigh after a miss or leaning forward and putting her hands on her knees after others. By the time she flubbed a backhand while falling behind 5-1 in the second, she dropped her racket and screamed.

It took Kerber two tries to serve out the victory, getting broken to 5-2. But unlike in the quarterfinals, when she needed seven match points to win, this time it required only two, with the match ending – fittingly enough – on a forehand by Ostapenko that sailed wide.

The final tally told the story: Ostapenko had far more winners, 30-10, but also far more unforced errors, 36-7.