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Federer confident his knee will hold up on return to action

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MONACO (AP) Roger Federer fully expects his left knee to hold up when he returns to action at the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday, and the 17-time Grand Slam champion feels “mentally and physically” rested after more than two months out.

Seeded third, Federer opens in the second round against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. He leads the Spaniard 3-0 in career head-to-heads.

The Swiss star might be a little rusty, seeing as his last match was a semifinal defeat to top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Australian Open. Shortly afterward he had arthroscopic surgery on Feb. 3 for torn cartilage in his left knee.

Although Federer was scheduled to play at the Miami Masters two weeks ago, he withdrew because of a stomach virus.

That meant he arrived much earlier than usual to practice on the clay courts of Monte Carlo, where he has been runner-up four times: three straight to Rafael Nadal from 2006-08 and to countryman Stan Wawrinka two years ago.

Federer does not have high hopes of an 89th career title, but is using the tournament more as a gauge in the lead up to the French Open in Paris, which begins on May 22.

“I am rested mentally and physically. I feel really good,” Federer said. “Every week that goes by I’m going to get better and then hopefully by Paris that’s where you really want there not to be a problem – seven (matches), five sets, OK, I’m ready for that.”

Depending on how he does here, he will decide whether to play the following clay Masters events in Madrid – starting on May 1 – and Rome the week after.

“I have to wait and see how my knee and my body react,” Federer said. “I have to see what I feel I still need to work on. Is it recovery? Is it training? Is it something specific? I don’t know yet. I will know more in two weeks. Then I can decide.”

Federer, who lost to Frenchman Gael Monfils in the third round here last year, is in the same half of the draw as Djokovic, the defending champion. He won six titles last year, beating Djokovic in two finals at Cincinnati and Dubai.

The 34-year-old’s last title came at his home town of Basel on November 1 when he beat Rafael Nadal in the final. Given his advanced age, Federer views his absence as a useful way of storing up energy that will come in handy later in the season.

“I do believe that whatever rest it is – maybe from injury, maybe from just a training block or a vacation – it all ends up somewhere in a canister where you can pull from it,” Federer said. “You see it with Tommy Haas for instance. He’s been injured for almost three years or more of his career, yet he’s still on tour. Because he’s still mentally fresh. He loves it.”

Federer, who lost to Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year, still strongly believes he can clinch an 18th major.

“I’ve won Paris before and I’ve played so well there over the years as well. Why not there?” he said. “But I definitely think that Wimbledon and the other Slams probably give me a bit of a better chance than the French.”

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.