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Frances Tiafoe among young Americans coming of age in Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) More than 13 years after Andy Roddick won the 2003 U.S. Open, the last time an American man triumphed at a Grand Slam, the future of U.S. men’s tennis appears bright.

The next generation of young players, all aged between 18 and 20, is starting to emerge and showing enough promise at this year’s Australian Open to suggest they may be on the cusp of a breakthrough.

Seven made the main draw at Melbourne Park and three were still in contention after the first round.

Frances Tiafoe, who turns 19 on Friday, defeated Mikhail Kukushkin 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-2 on Tuesday, while 20-year-old Ernesto Escobedo beat Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1. They joined 20-year-old Noah Rubin, who won his opener a day earlier to set up a second-round match against Roger Federer.

The others failed to advance, but not before serving notice to the tour’s old guard.

Reilly Opelka, 19, lost a tight five-setter to 11th-seeded David Goffin, while Jared Donaldson, 20, lost to Brazil’s Rogerio Dutra Silva after leading two sets to none. Taylor Fritz and Michael Mmoh, both 19, each put up good fights in defeats to veterans Gilles Muller and Gilles Simon, respectively.

“We’re all really supportive of each other and happy to see all of us doing so well,” Tiafoe said. “Hopefully we can keep going and not stop now.”

Much has been expected of Tiafoe, the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, since he won the Orange Bowl at age 15, the youngest champion in the prestigious 18-and-under tournament’s history.

Tiafoe just missed out on a career-defining win at last year’s U.S. Open, where as a wild card, he led the long-time top-ranked U.S. player, John Isner, by two sets to none before the match slipped away. It was a heartbreaking loss, but one Tiafoe learned from.

“I was like, the next opportunity I’m definitely going to take it,” he said after his first-round win on Tuesday, flashing a wide grin. “Now, getting through relatively comfortable today means a lot. … I really feel like I belong now.”

He next plays another 19-year-old, his close friend, Alexander Zverev of Germany.

Both Opelka and Donaldson, meanwhile, got their own tastes of Grand Slam agony in Melbourne.

Opelka, a 6-foot-11 (2.11 meter) former Wimbledon junior champion with a booming serve and whip-like forehand, had two break points to go up 4-2 in the fifth set against Goffin, but couldn’t convert either and ultimately lost 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

Opelka had never before played a five-set match and was making his debut in the singles main draw of a Grand Slam. Yet he showed grit – and no hint of nerves – deep into the fifth set against a seasoned pro like Goffin, even as he started to cramp and struggled to move.

“I’ve played some guys in the top 10 before so I wasn’t uncomfortable,” he said. “With the way I play, hopefully it really shouldn’t matter who’s on the other side of the net.”

Donaldson’s loss was less expected. The Rhode Island native made a stunning run to the third round of last year’s U.S. Open, upsetting the 12th-seeded Goffin and Viktor Troicki, a former top-20 player.

And he was well on his way to a commanding win over Dutra Silva before the Brazilian stormed back for a 3-6, 0-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 victory.

“Losses like this really define your character,” he said. “So I can be upset and sulk about it or I can get back on the practice court and keep working hard and get better so matches like that don’t happen again.”

Bertens defeats Halep to win Western & Southern Open

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MASON, Ohio — Kiki Bertens served a 109 mph ace , flipped her racket away, fell to her knees and raised both arms. Moments later, she covered her face for a joyous cry, wiping the tears away with her sweat-soaked blue wristband.

One point away from another loss, she had pulled off her biggest win.

Top-ranked Simona Halep let a match point slip away during the second-set tiebreaker, and Bertens rallied for a 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-2 victory and the Western & Southern Open title on Sunday that left her as stunned as everyone else.

“I cannot find words for this moment,” she said.

Playing her first hard-court final, the Dutch clay-court specialist ended Halep’s streak of nine straight wins, including the title at Montreal a week earlier. She’d never beaten a top-ranked player, but wore down Halep at the end of her two draining weeks.

During the week in Cincinnati, Halep had one match suspended overnight by rain and wound up playing twice in one day to reach the semifinals. She controlled the first set on Sunday and had a chance to close it out, leading 6-5 in the tiebreaker.

When that slipped away, she never recovered, playing her worst in the final set – 13 unforced errors that gave Bertens a chance to pull away.

“I am a little bit tired,” she said.

Halep will be ranked No. 1 through the U.S. Open. She fell to 0-3 in Cincinnati finals, finishing as the runner-up in 2015 and each of the last two years.

Bertens has worked on her hard-court game and her confidence on the surface. In three previous appearances in Cincinnati, she won a total of one match. She became the first unseeded player to win in Cincinnati since Vera Zvonareva in 2006.

In the men’s bracket, Novak Djokovic was looking for a breakthrough win against nemesis Roger Federer. Djokovic was 0-5 in Cincinnati, the only ATP Masters 1000 event he hasn’t won. He’d become the first to claim all nine.

Federer has won the tournament an unmatched seven times, going 7 for 7 in the finals. He’s beaten Djokovic three times for the Rookwood pottery trophy.

Djokovic beats Federer for first Cincinnati title

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MASON, Ohio — Novak Djokovic finally mastered the one tournament that’s eluded him, beating nemesis Roger Federer 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday for his first Western & Southern Open championship.

He got the better of a nostalgic rematch — they hadn’t played in two years because of injuries — and broke through in a tournament that Federer has won seven times, never losing a title match.

After Federer’s forehand sailed wide for the deciding point, Djokovic raised both arms and roared. Then he jumped and punched the air before giving his racket to a fan and tossing his sweatbands into the stands.

No need for mementos. That first Rookwood pottery trophy will be enough.

Djokovic is the first to claim all nine ATP Masters 1000 events since the series started in 1990. It had become his personal quest after he lost in the finals five times — three against Federer.

Djokovic leads their all-time series 24-22, doing much better in the biggest matches. He’s 3-1 against Federer in Grand Slam finals and 12-6 overall in championship matches, including wins at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2015.

Djokovic completed a long comeback from elbow surgery by winning his fourth Wimbledon title last month, then set out to get his hard-court game in order for the U.S. Open. He got better as the rainy week went on in Cincinnati, playing his best at the end.

Federer’s serve had been untouchable all week — held for 46 consecutive games. Djokovic broke that streak to go up 4-3 in the opening set, prompting Federer to mutter angrily. Djokovic served out the set, and then traded breaks with Federer early in the second set.

Federer’s game was off — 28 unforced errors — and Djokovic took full advantage. He broke him again to go up 4-3 and served it out.

In the women’s bracket, top-ranked Simona Halep let a match point slip away during the second-set tiebreaker, and Kiki Bertens rallied for a 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-2 victory in her first hard-court final.

Bertens served a 109 mph ace , flipped her racket away, fell to her knees and raised both arms. Moments later, she covered her face for a joyous cry, wiping the tears away with her sweat-soaked blue wristband.

One point away from another loss, she had pulled off her biggest win, one that left her as stunned as everyone else.

“I cannot find words for this moment,” she said.

The Dutch clay-court specialist ended Halep’s streak of nine straight wins, including the title at Montreal a week earlier. She’d never beaten a top-ranked player, but wore down Halep at the end of her two draining weeks.

During the week in Cincinnati, Halep had one match suspended overnight by rain and wound up playing twice in one day to reach the semifinals. She controlled the first set on Sunday and had a chance to close it out, leading 6-5 in the tiebreaker.

When that slipped away, she never recovered, playing her worst in the final set — 13 unforced errors that gave Bertens a chance to pull away.

“I had a match (point), so I was there,” Halep said. “I didn’t take my chance. In the third set , I was empty and I couldn’t fight anymore.”

Halep will be ranked No. 1 through the U.S. Open. She fell to 0-3 in Cincinnati finals, finishing as the runner-up in 2015 and each of the last two years.

“I need a little bit of rest because I’m exhausted,” Halep said. “But I also take the positive from these two weeks. It’s a great confidence (boost).”

Bertens has worked on her hard-court game and her confidence on the surface. In three previous appearances in Cincinnati, she won a total of one match. She became the first unseeded player to win in Cincinnati since Vera Zvonareva in 2006.