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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.”

Nadal gets his revenge over Tsitsipas to reach Rome final

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ROME (AP) After losing in the semifinals of three straight clay-court tournaments, Rafael Nadal looked more like his old, dominant self when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-4 Saturday to reach the Italian Open final.

It was a measure of revenge for Nadal after losing to Tsitsipas in three sets at this stage in Madrid last week. The victory should also restore Nadal’s confidence as he seeks a record-extending 12th title at the French Open starting next weekend.

“I’m playing better every match, every weekend,” Nadal said.

Aiming for a ninth trophy in Rome, Nadal’s opponent in Sunday’s final will be either Novak Djokovic or Diego Schwartzman, who were playing later.

Nadal is in the middle of his longest title drought to begin a season since he came onto the scene in 2004. His last trophy came in Toronto last August.

The crowd attempted to encourage Tsitsipas with chants of “Tsi-Tsi-Tsi; Pas-Pas-Pas” but the 20-year-old Greek player couldn’t keep up with Nadal on the long rallies – even though he didn’t play a day earlier after Roger Federer withdrew from the quarterfinals.

Conditions were much slower than on the high-altitude court in Madrid, which favored Nadal and made it tougher for Tsitsipas to execute his attacking game.

Midway through the first set, Nadal produced an awesome forehand winner up the line on the run, drawing a loud roar from the packed Campo Centrale crowd.

Nadal broke Tsitsipas’ serve early in both sets.

In the women’s tournament, Johanna Konta rallied past sixth-seeded Kiki Bertens 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 in nearly three hours to reach the biggest clay-court final of her career.

Konta’s only previous final on clay came recently in Rabat, Morocco, where she lost the title match to Maria Sakkari.

Konta could get a rematch with Sakkari if the Greek qualifier beats fourth-seeded Karolina Pliskova in the other semifinal.

Midway through the first set, Konta surprised Bertens with a drop shot winner during a baseline rally, causing Bertens to fall on her stomach to the clay as she rapidly changed directions. Then in the next game, Konta ran down a drop shot and produced an angled winner.

Bertens was coming off the Madrid Open title.

“She played really smart with the drop shots,” Bertens said. “I was all the time getting myself together and trying to push for more energy. But it was not there.”

The 42nd-ranked Konta served for the first set at 5-4 but was broken at love. But Bertens double faulted to let Konta serve for the second set and Konta got an early break in the third.

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

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

John Isner out of French Open with injury

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PARIS — John Isner has pulled out of the French Open because of an injured left foot, ending his streak of 24 consecutive appearances at Grand Slam tournaments.

The 34-year-old Isner announced his withdrawal Friday on Twitter.

He is ranked No. 11, the top American man, but has not competed since hurting his foot during the Miami Open final March 31.

Isner was a Wimbledon semifinalist last year, his best Grand Slam performance. He hasn’t missed a major since the 2013 Australian Open.

He’s reached the fourth round at Roland Garros three times, including in 2018, and is one of only two men to push 11-time champion Rafael Nadal to a fifth set there.

Isner is best known for winning the longest match in tennis history, 70-68 in the fifth set against Nicolas Mahut in Wimbledon’s first round in 2010. The match lasted more than 11 hours over three days.