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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.”

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.