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Serena opens up about engagement after reaching quarterfinals

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MELBOURNE, Australia — For three rounds and more than a week, Serena Williams wanted to keep all the focus on her primary objective in Australia.

She hasn’t worn an engagement ring at the Australian Open, and hasn’t really wanted to elaborate much on the marriage proposal from Alexis Ohanian – which she made public late last month by posting a poem on news website Reddit.

The six-time Australian Open champion is in Melbourne aiming for an Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam title. Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, has been at her matches.

After her toughest match at the tournament this year, a 7-5, 6-4 win over No. 16-seeded Barbora Strycova on Monday, she was relaxed enough to reflect on her engagement. She’d just reached the Australian Open quarterfinals for the 11th time, and said she had nothing to lose after struggling with her misfiring serve – she was broken four times, including her first two service games – and making 46 unforced errors.

The 35-year-old Williams was asked, again, about her engagement in a post-match news conference – this time by an Italian journalist who wanted to clarify the reference to Rome in her poem.

“What did I say? I said I was whisked away to Rome?” she said, explaining how Ohanian took her back to where they first met to propose.

Were they introduced, or was it happenstance?

“Literally by chance. It was just — I was sitting down, and he sat next to me,” Williams said. “Yeah, that doesn’t happen anymore, right?

“I live in a movie and in a fairytale in my mind, so I guess eventually it was bound to happen.”

Still, she’s not planning the wedding just yet. As she said to all previous questions about the engagement, she’s here to win another title. With top-seeded Angelique Kerber already out, she also has the chance to regain the No. 1 ranking.

Next up, she’ll face 2016 semifinalist Johanna Konta, who beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-4 to make it fourth-round victories over the Russian in back-to-back years.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni was an emerging talent when Serena and Venus Williams were first making an impact, reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1999 when she was 17. After a long, difficult time off the tour, she has returned to the quarterfinals of a major for the first time since.

Lucic-Baroni beat American qualifier Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-2 and will next play U.S. Open finalist Karolina Pliskova, who had 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 … Come out, play, have these wins, be in a quarterfinal of a Slam.”

Rafael Nadal is coming back from two months off to rest his injured left wrist, and was delighted to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam for the 30th time with his 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win over Gael Monfils. It was Nadal’s first win over a top-10 player at a Grand Slam since his French Open victory in 2014 – the last of his 14 major titles.

“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.

Nadal 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 in the last game to win. Overall, he converted six of 17 break-point chances.

He next plays third-ranked Milos Raonic, the Wimbledon finalist and highest-ranked man still in the tournament after upset losses for top-ranked Andy Murray and defending champion Novak Djokovic.

No. 15 Grigor Dimitrov closed with an ace to hold off wild-card entry Denis Istomin, who upset Djokovic in the third round, 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-1. The Bulgarian will next play No. 11 David Goffin.

Raonic had a 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 13 Roberto Bautista Agut, hitting 33 aces and 75 winners. But he also had nine double-faults and 55 unforced errors, and didn’t really get on a roll until after spiking his racket into the court in frustration in the third set.

The Canadian is conscious he is the highest-ranked player still in the draw, but also of what lies ahead.

“It sort of crosses your mind,” Raonic said. “But it’s very insignificant because there’s a lot for me to even get past that point where it would have been to play potentially against those guys. I’m pretty intent on staying in that moment.”

That’s something Williams is counting on, too.

“I feel like it was really good for me to win on probably not my best day,” Williams said of her wayward serve. “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.”

Sevastova beats Zvonareva in 3 sets at Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Anastasija Sevastova reached the semifinals of the Kremlin Cup by beating Russian veteran Vera Zvonareva 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 on Thursday.

Sevastova, a U.S. Open semifinalist, will next face Tunisian qualifier Ons Jabeur, who upset eighth-seeded Anett Kontaveit 7-5, 6-1.

Jabeur has won six straight matches, including qualifiers. She has never before reached the semifinals on tour.

Nick Kyrgios withdrew from the men’s tournament with what organizers said was an elbow injury, giving Mirza Basic a walkover to the quarterfinals.

More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Rafael Nadal will play in new Davis Cup format

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MADRID — Gerard Pique is not worried about the possible absence of some top players in the revamped Davis Cup, especially since Rafael Nadal has said he will play in the new-look competition when it debuts next year.

The Barcelona defender, who spearheads the company behind the new format of the Davis Cup, said Wednesday that Nadal has told him he will play as long as he is not injured.

“If the No. 1 in the world is playing, that’s more than enough,” Pique said in the official presentation of Madrid as host of the Davis Cup finals for the next two years. “Rafa is very positive about this event, especially because it is taking place in Madrid.”

The new event was developed in a partnership between the International Tennis Federation and the investment group Kosmos, which was founded by the Barcelona and Spain player.

Pique said he knows it will not be easy to have all top-ranked players participating.

“This is a team event, so it’s impossible to have all the top players involved. Some teams won’t qualify, not everybody will be able to play anyway,” Pique said. “Of course we would like to have the top players, but we want to focus on the teams.”

Stars such as Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have already hinted they don’t intend to play. Djokovic said the tournament could be competing with the ATP’s World Team Cup, while Federer said the revamped Davis Cup didn’t seem to be designed for him.

Pique said he already didn’t expect Federer to be playing, noting the Swiss veteran has limited his tournament schedule in recent years and might not “have the legs” to play in the Davis Cup again. He said he still hoped to convince Djokovic, though.

“I have a lot of confidence that we can negotiate and the top players will play,” Pique said.

The new format of tennis’ top team event will be a season-ending, 18-team tournament, but teams will still play matches in February to advance to the championship in November. The Davis Cup has previously been played over four weekends throughout the year.

The first championship will be held next year from Nov. 18-24 on an indoor hardcourt at the Magic Box arena, which already hosts the Madrid Masters. The ITF said players will compete for prize money that will rival what is offered in Grand Slams.

Pique said there is no “perfect date” for the tournament as the tennis calendar is very tight, but he was happy with the week they picked.

“We’ve spoken with everybody,” he said. “We think this is a week that won’t affect any of the other tournaments. We want to be well seen in the tennis world. We are here to help. We think this will be a magical week for the world of tennis.”

The 2018 Davis Cup semifinalists – Croatia, France, Spain and the United States – have already secured their spot in next year’s tournament, along with Argentina and Britain.

Defending champion France will host Croatia in the last Davis Cup final in the current format from Nov. 23-25 in Lille.