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Nadal overcomes Monfils to win 9th Monte Carlo Masters title

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MONACO (AP) Rafael Nadal overcame a sloppy performance on his serve to beat Frenchman Gael Monfils 7-5, 5-7, 6-0 on Sunday and win the Monte Carlo Masters for the ninth time.

This was the Spaniard’s first tournament win in Monte Carlo since winning the last of his eight straight titles there in 2012. It is also the record-equaling 28th Masters title for Nadal, bringing him alongside top-ranked Novak Djokovic.

Nadal sank to his knees after sealing victory with a brilliant forehand winner. It took him 2 hours, 46 minutes to finally see off Monfils, who had never won a set against Nadal on clay and lost 11 of their 13 previous matches.

The fifth-seeded Nadal dropped his serve five times against the 13th-seeded Monfils in a topsy-turvy encounter in which they conceded 34 break-point chances between them.

Playing in his 100th career final, Nadal clinched his 68th title, his first this year and his first since winning on clay at Hamburg last August. It was his first Masters win since the Madrid Masters in 2014 and his biggest trophy success since his last French Open title later the same year.

Nadal’s previous final was in January, where he was routed by Djokovic in Doha.

But with Djokovic a surprise second-round loser here, Nadal’s toughest opponent was out of the way and, in a contest between two 29-year-olds with differing career trajectories, Monfils was rank outsider here.

Since they first played each other 11 years ago, Nadal has won 14 Grand Slams and Monfils has never even won a Masters title.

In their previous four contests on clay, Monfils had lost in straight sets and never taken more than three games off Nadal, dating back to their first-ever career encounter here in the second round in 2005.

That was the year of Nadal’s first win and, coming into this match, he had only lost a total of five sets in nine previous finals – two of those in losing to Djokovic three years ago.

At times it seemed Monfils could cause a big upset, hitting some superb winners from sometimes incredible angles and with brutal strength.

But instead it was a 19th defeat in 24 finals and a third in a Masters final, having lost twice in Paris.

He will regret his 51 unforced errors, considering Nadal made 36 and double-faulted four times.

But Monfils double-faulted seven times and collapsed completely in the third set, with Nadal breaking him three further times to make it eight overall in the match.

After his brilliant winning shot on his first match point, Nadal slid on his knees, leant back and soaked up the win for several moments.

With six weeks to go until the French Open in Paris, Nadal will already have one eye on a 10th title at Roland Garros.

But he will need to sort out his serve.

Even in the third round against Austrian Dominic Thiem, Nadal faced 17 break points, saving 15, and he won only 29 percent of points on his second serve against Monfils – including a dismal 17 percent in the second set.

Better opponents would have made Nadal pay.

After the end of the second set, Nadal looked haggard, sweat pouring off his face despite considerably cooler conditions than during the rest of the sun-drenched week. But he was never pushed in a third set lasting just 30 minutes.

Nadal missed a chance to serve out the first set at 5-3 up but double-faulted as Monfils pulled back before holding for 5-5 in the next game – which featured one staggering 33-shot rally.

A rare comfortable hold from Nadal put him 6-5 up, leaving Monfils serving to stay in the set. Instead, he was on the back foot, saving four sets points before a double fault gave Nadal the opener.

Monfils broke Nadal to lead 2-1 in the second set when Nadal sent another errant forehand into the net and then rallied from 0-40 down to hold for 3-1.

Playing with great athleticism, Monfils hit an incredible leaping forehand down the line to force another chance on Nadal’s serve.

But Nadal held and broke Monfils to love in the next game to level at 3-3.

Monfils broke him again with a brilliant forehand winner that landed right on the line for 4-3, only for Nadal to break him for 4-4.

That second set of hugely entertaining yet erratic tennis eventually went to Monfis, but the effort spent clawing his way back had sapped his strength.

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.