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Roger Federer beats Rafael Nadal in dramatic Australian final to win 18th major

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Roger Federer has won his 18th Grand Slam title and put some extra distance on the all-time list between himself and Rafael Nadal, the man he beat 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in a vintage Australian Open final on Sunday.

It was the 35-year-old Federer’s fifth Australian title, his first at a major since Wimbledon in 2012, and it reversed the status quo against his nemesis, Nadal.

Federer had lost six of the previous eight Grand Slam finals he’d played against Nadal, and had only previously beaten the left-handed Spaniard in 11 of their 34 matches.

Both players were returning from extended layoffs for injuries – Federer the left knee; Nadal the left wrist – and were seeded 17th and ninth respectively.

Nadal remains equal second with Pete Sampras on the all-time list, with the last of his 14 majors coming at Roland Garros in 2014.

After four sets where the momentum swung alternately from one player to the next, the fifth had all the tension and drama that these two players are famous for.

Nadal went up an early break and it seemed as if the injury time-out Federer needed after the fourth set may have been an indicator of things to come.

But the Swiss star rallied, and broke back in a pivotal sixth game and took control in a period when he won 10 straight points.

Nadal saved three break points in the eighth game but lost momentum again when Federer finished off a 26-shot rally – the longest of the match – with a forehand winner down the line.

Consecutive forehand errors gave Federer the pivotal break for 5-3, but Nadal made him work for the very last point.

Serving for the match, Federer had to save two break points with an ace and a forehand winner.

At deuce, he was called for a double-fault but challenged the out call on his second serve. The call was overturned, and he got to play two.

Not long after, he fired an ace to get his second match point and hit a forehand crosscourt winner to finish off.

His celebrations were delayed, though, when Nadal challenged the call. Federer watched the replay on the tournament screen, and leaped for joy when it showed his last shot was in. His 100th match at the Australian Open ended with his fifth title at Melbourne Park.

No two players had met more often in Grand Slam finals in the Open era, and Nadal had previously dominated. But they hadn’t met in a major final since the 2011 French Open, won by Nadal.

Three months ago, they were both on breaks when Federer joined Nadal in Mallorca for the opening of the Spaniard’s tennis academy and the pair joked about ever being able to contend for majors again.

Yet here they were, first Grand Slam tournament of the season, renewing the classic rivalry that saw them dominate tennis a decade ago.

The long-odds final – No. 9 against No. 17 – unfolded after six-time champion Novak Djokovic was shockingly upset by No. 117-ranked Denis Istomin in the second round and top-ranked Andy Murray, a five-time losing finalist in Australia, went out in the fourth round to left-handed serve-volleyer Mischa Zverev.

Federer beat Zverev in the quarterfinals and U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka in an all-Swiss semifinal to reach the championship match. The six years between his Australian titles set a record, too, longer than the five years that both Boris Becker and Andre Agassi had between championships in Melbourne.

Bencic beats 2-time defending champ Svitolina in Dubai semi

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Unseeded Belinda Bencic stopped Elina Svitolina’s bid for a third consecutive title at the Dubai Championships by beating her 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3) in the semifinals Friday.

The 45th-ranked Bencic won her third match in a row against a top-10 opponent and will face yet another, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, in Saturday’s final at the hard-court tournament.

Kvitova advanced to her third final of 2019 by edging Hsieh Su-wei 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. The No. 2-seeded Kvitova picked up her tour-high 17th victory of 2019.

Bencic is seeking her third career title, Kvitova her 27th.

Against No. 6 seed Svitolina, Bencic trailed 5-3 in the third set. This was her latest in a string of comebacks. She saved six match points against eighth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka in the third round, then erased a set deficit to beat third-seeded Simona Halep in the quarterfinals.

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Bencic upsets Halep to reach Dubai semifinals

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Unseeded Belinda Bencic rallied to beat second-ranked Simona Halep 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 Thursday to reach the Dubai Championships semifinals.

Bencic, who saved six match points in the previous round against Aryna Sabalenka, failed to capitalize on an early break in the first set but Halep continued to struggle with her serve and was broken seven times in total. Bencic broke for a 5-4 lead in the second and then raced out to a 3-0 lead in the decider, having won six games in a row. Halep, who was playing her ninth match in 13 days after reaching the final in Qatar last week, got one break back but Bencic broke again for a 5-2 lead before converting her third match point.

Second-seeded Petra Kvitova had no such problems, winning the last eight games to oust Viktoria Kuzmova 6-4, 6-0 to book her spot in the last four. Kvitova, the 2013 Dubai champion, needed just 62 minutes to wrap up the win. She will next face Su-wei Hsieh of Taiwan, who came from 5-1 down in the final set to beat fourth-seeded Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 1-6, 7-5. It was the latest upset for Hsieh, who ousted Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber on Wednesday.

In the final quarterfinal, Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain was playing Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.

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