Djokovic eyeing Aussie title after beating Federer

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Like Serena Williams before him, Novak Djokovic moved into another Australian Open championship decider with a relatively untroubled semifinal win.

Top-ranked Djokovic had a 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory over No. 3 Roger Federer. Hours earlier on Rod Laver Arena, Williams advanced to within one win of another Grand Slam milestone, beating Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0, 6-4 in a semifinal Thursday that was almost a non-contest between the players who’ll be Nos. 1 and 3 in the next women’s rankings.

If six-time champion Williams wins Saturday’s final against No. 7-seeded Angelique Kerber, she’ll equal Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam singles titles, a record in the Open era, and the second-most in history behind Margaret Court’s 24.

The signs were ominous from the beginning for 17-time Grand Slam champion and No. 3-ranked Federer. Djokovic, now into his sixth Australian final – he’s won all five previous – held his first service game at love and broke Federer in the second. After four minutes, Federer was two games down.

The first set was over within 22 minutes. Spectators- including a woman with a sign reading: “Just Married But Willing to Exchange for Federer” – were firmly behind him, applauding Djokovic’s service faults and giving Federer a standing ovation when he broke to go ahead 4-2 in the third set.

The end came quickly in the fourth. Djokovic broke Federer in the eighth game to go up 5-3 – not even a stunning down-the-line shot after he earlier chased down a lob on the same point could save the Swiss star.

Djokovic held three match points in the next game and he clinched it in 2 hours, 19 minutes when Federer netted a backhand. Djokovic, who won three Grand Slam titles last year, took a 23-22 edge in his 45 meetings with Federer.

“Definitely I’ve played unbelievable the first two sets but that’s what is necessary against Roger,” Djokovic said. “He’s been playing on a very high level at this tournament and he dropped only one set. I came up with the right intensity, great concentration.”

Federer said he wasn’t surprised by the early blitz.

“I’ve seen Novak play this well before,” he said. “It’s tough when it’s from the start because obviously you got to try to stop the bleeding at some point. He can get one or two sets all of a sudden … and it’s tough to get back into it.”

In Sunday’s final, Djokovic will face the winner of Friday’s semifinal between No. 2-ranked Andy Murray and Milos Raonic.

“This has been the first Grand Slam that I won back in 2008,” Djokovic said. “Each time I come back … and step on Rod Laver Arena I have this beautiful memory.”

Williams is the overwhelming favorite in her final against Kerber, and not just based on recent form. She continued her perfect streak in Australian Open semifinals, and she has won all six finals she’s contested at Melbourne Park. Now she’s looking for seven wins in seven finals on the same court.

“I definitely block it out,” Williams replied to a question about equaling Graf’s mark. “I was one off last year, too! If I don’t win on Saturday, I’ll still be one off.”

Despite all her success, it is a loss that is inspiring Williams in this tournament. She was two matches away from a calendar-year Grand Slam in 2015 when she lost to Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals.

“Physically I’m feeling a lot better, mentally I needed that break after the Open,” she said, but “I didn’t think I would do this well this fast.”

Kerber ended Sydney-born British player Johanna Konta’s surprising run with a 7-5, 6-2 semifinal win to reach her first Grand Slam final. Konta was the first British woman since 1983 to reach a major semifinal.

Williams’ win over fourth-seeded Radwanska provided yet another reminder of her dominance in the women’s game. She has won 39 of her last 40 Grand Slam matches across six major tournaments.

Williams hasn’t played a left-hander so far this tournament and said that, combined with Kerber’s quarterfinal win over two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, were making her wary.

“She took out a really tough opponent in Victoria. You can’t underestimate Kerber,” Williams said. “She’s beaten me before, too, and pretty good. I know that she brings a lot to the game.”

Williams remained unbeaten in nine matches against Radwanska, whom she beat in the 2012 Wimbledon final.

“She started unbelievable, with such a power and speed,” Radwanska said. “I was just standing there kind of watching her playing.”

AP Sports Writer John Pye contributed to this story.

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”