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Dynamic doubles duo: Federer, Nadal to team up in Laver Cup

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NEW YORK —¬†Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have faced each other in eight major finals, plan to team up as doubles partners next year during the inaugural Laver Cup.

With a combined 31 Grand Slam titles, Federer and Nadal have committed to the team event, which attempts to create a tennis version of golf’s Ryder Cup.

Named for Australian great Rod Laver, the competition pitting a squad of European men’s players against a group from the rest of the world was first announced in January. On Wednesday, organizers said the first edition would be held in Prague on Sept. 22-24, 2017, indoors at the O2 Arena.

Former rivals Bjorn Borg of Sweden (Europe) and John McEnroe of the U.S. (World team) will serve as captains for the first three years.

Laver, Borg, McEnroe, Federer and Nadal – accounting for 60 major singles titles – gathered at a Manhattan hotel Wednesday for the announcements.

The plan is for the Laver Cup to be held annually, except during Olympic years, two weeks after the U.S. Open, with the location rotating. There will be six men on each team: four based on the rankings after Wimbledon, and two captain’s picks announced after the U.S. Open.

There will be 12 matches played over three days (nine singles and three doubles), with the number of points awarded for victories increasing each day. Each player will take the court once or twice for singles, with at least four of the six taking part in doubles.

All the matches will be best-of-three, but if the first two sets are split, they will go to a 10-point tiebreaker.

Borg hopes that the other half of the “Big Four” – the current top two men in the rankings, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Britain’s Andy Murray – will join Switzerland’s Federer and Spain’s Nadal on the Europe team. McEnroe acknowledged that for now at least, his World squad would be the heavy underdog, though a lot can happen in just over a year.

Beyond the Big Four, Europe boasts 13 of the current top 15 players in the men’s rankings. And active European players have combined for 49 Grand Slam titles; for the rest of the world, it’s just one, by Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro.

Federer’s management company, TEAM8; Brazilian businessman Jorge Paulo Lemann, a former Davis Cup player; and Tennis Australia partnered to create the Laver Cup.

Federer survives scare to advance in Halle

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HALLE, Germany (AP) Defending champion Roger Federer survived two match points against Benoit Paire to reach the quarterfinals of the Gerry Weber Open with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7) win on Thursday.

Paire rallied after losing the first set to take the second, and the Frenchman defended two match points at 6-5 in the decider to force a tiebreaker. Eight minutes later, it was a match point for the 48th-ranked Paire, and again when a mistake from Federer left it 7-6 in Paire’s favor.

But the top-ranked Swiss took the next three points to close the match in just under two hours at the grass-court tournament.

Federer extended his grass-court winning streak to 18 matches, including his titles in Stuttgart last week and at Halle and Wimbledon last year.

Federer skipped the entire clay-court season for the second year in a row and is now just four wins away from matching Jimmy Connors’ all-time record of 174 victories on grass.

Federer next faces Matthew Ebden of Australia, who upset former champion Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Also Thursday, Borna Coric defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-2.

The Croat next faces either Florian Mayer or Andreas Seppi.

Magdalena shows form on grass in Birmingham

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BIRMINGHAM, England — Magdalena Rybarikova, who climbed almost 90 places last year to reach a career-high No. 17 in March, showed she might rise even further after rallying against Kristina Mladenovic 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 Wednesday to advance to the quarterfinals in Birmingham.

The Slovak accelerated toward victory against the former top 10 player from France with an array of slice ground strokes, clever approaches and sharp volleys. The range of shots worked excellently on the lush surface at the grass-court Nature Valley Classic and helped her take control midway through the second set.

Rybarikova last year reached the Wimbledon semifinals. She is a former champion here, winning the title in 2009.

In the first round she beat third-seeded Karolina Pliskova for the loss of only five games but found it tougher against Mladenovic.

“I started to play very well,” Rybarikova said of her improvement from the fourth game of the second set against Mladenovic. “She served great to begin with and I struggled with my returns, but I kept fighting and my game improved a lot.

“I think I’d been a bit passive. The key was when I played more cross-court slices and drops and made an early break in the second set.

“That’s the way I am trying to play on grass. I am thankful that I have the game to do that. This court here really suits my game.”

At the changeover in the fifth game of the second set, Mladenovic’s morale appeared to plunge, and afterward her error ratio rose sharply with her standard dropping significantly.

The third set of a match which lasted nearly two hours took only 22 minutes, and long before the end the outcome had ceased to be in doubt.

Rybarikova next faces Slovenian qualifier Dalila Jakupovic, who on Tuesday overcame a difference in rankings of almost 100 places and saved four match points while beating seventh-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium.

Jakupovic followed up Wednesday by getting past 18th-ranked Naomi Osaka of Japan, who recently beat four former top-ranked opponents. Osaka was forced to retired injured after losing the first set 6-3.