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Nadal beats Monfils, reaches 30th Grand Slam quarterfinal

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Rafael Nadal beat sixth-seeded Gael Monfils in four sets Monday to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament for the 30th time, prompting talk of a potential Australian Open final against Roger Federer.

The veterans have a long way to go to get there.

For the 30-year-old Nadal, his first priority is against No. 3-seeded Milos Raonic.

With No. 1-ranked Andy Murray and No. 2 Novak Djokovic – the two most consistent performers in the last six years at Melbourne Park – upset in the first week, Wimbledon finalist Raonic is the highest-ranked player in the draw.

He advanced to the last eight here for third straight year with a 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 13 Roberto Bautista Agut.

Nadal is the only major winner still in contention on the bottom half of the draw, although he hasn’t added to his tally of 14 majors since the capturing the French Open in 2014.

Federer, in the top half of the draw, plays Mischa Zverev on Tuesday, and would have to beat him and either Stan Wawrinka or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – the other quarterfinalists playing Tuesday – to advance to the final.

Nadal’s 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win over U.S. Open semifinalist Monfils in the fourth round was his first over a top 10 player at a Grand Slam since that run to his last title at Roland Garros. It also ended a four-match streak against top 10 players.

“Being in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam after couple of years not being there is very special for me,” said Nadal, who last progressed this far at the 2015 French Open.

It also showed that after a couple of months off to rest his injured left-wrist, he is still a contender at the majors. He hasn’t won an Australian title since 2009.

He went up a break early in the first two sets, had his chances in the third before Monfils rallied, and then traded breaks in the fourth before breaking the acrobatic Frenchman to win. Overall, he converted six of 17 break-point chances.

Raonic hit 33 aces and 75 winners but had nine double-faults and 55 unforced errors, and seemed to get on a roll after spiking his racket into the court in frustration in the ninth game of the third set.

In the other quarter, No. 15 Grigor Dimitrov closed with an ace to hold off No. 117 wild-card entry Denis Istomin 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-1. Istomin, who upset six-time champion Novak Djokovic in the second round, needed repeated treatment on his tiring legs in the third and fourth sets.

He will next play No. 11 David Goffin, a 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-2 winner of No. 8 Dominic Thiem.

Serena Williams kept her bid for an Open-era record 23rd major title on track with a 7-5, 6-4 win over No. 16-seeded Barbora Strycova to reach the quarterfinals here for the 11th time.

Despite four service breaks – two in the first four games – and 46 unforced errors, and with the fluky net cord and the off-balance, scrunched-shouldered backhand that bounced flatly and clinched her the first set on her eighth set point, she ground down Strycova.

“It’s good to know I have a Plan B, or Option 2. I wasn’t serving my greatest today, also she was putting a lot of returns in there,” said Williams, who had a first-serve percentage of 45, and made four double-faults. “I feel like it was really good for me to win on probably not my best day, which is always good, because sometimes you rely on one shot and if it goes off, and then, like, what happens now?

“It was really good for me to almost lose that so I know my other game is going pretty good, too.”

Next up, she’ll face 2016 semifinalist Johanna Konta, who beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-4.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1999 as a 17-year-old and, after a long, difficult time off the tour, she has returned to the quarterfinals of a major for the first time since.

She beat U.S. qualifier Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-2 and will next play U.S. Open finalist Karolina Pliskova, who ended Australia’s involvement in the singles draws with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Daria Gavrilova.

Whatever comes of it, the 34-year-old Lucic-Baroni said she’d make the most of the moment.

“I felt kind of a little bit of unfinished business,” she said. “I still wanted to play on a stage like this, on a full court like this. Come out, play, have these wins, be in a quarterfinal of a Slam.”

Victoria Azarenka misses direct entry for U.S. Open

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NEW YORK — Two-time U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka is ranked just below the cutoff for direct entry into the year’s last Grand Slam tournament.

Azarenka, a former No. 1 and twice the champion at the Australian Open, is No. 108 this week, seven spots outside of an automatic spot in the main draw.

The U.S. Tennis Association announced Wednesday that defending champion and top-ranked Rafael Nadal is one of six past male singles champions in the U.S. Open field, along with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic. Another past title winner at Flushing Meadows, Stan Wawrinka, is ranked 199th this week.

The women’s winners with direct entry based on this week’s rankings are six-time champion Serena Williams, two-time champ Venus Williams, defending champ Sloane Stephens, Maria Sharapova and Samantha Stosur.

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.