Nadal snaps winless streak vs. Djokovic to reach Madrid final

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MADRID — Rafael Nadal ended his seven-match winless streak against Novak Djokovic with a 6-2, 6-4 win that put him in the Madrid Open final again on Saturday.

Nadal overpowered Djokovic, and converted on his third match point to earn his first victory against the second-ranked Serb since the 2014 French Open final. Nadal had lost 15 straight sets against Djokovic, and won only one of the last 12 matches against him in four years.

It was another categorical win in what has been a superb season for the fifth-ranked Nadal, who will be trying to win his third straight title on Sunday. He can also tie Djokovic with 30 titles in Masters 1000 events.

It was Nadal’s 14th straight victory, and his tour-leading 33rd for the year.

The four-time Madrid champion will play the title game against Dominic Thiem of Austria or Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay.

It will be the Spaniard’s eighth final at his home tournament, and the first since losing to Andy Murray in 2015. Nadal last won in Madrid in 2014.

“I can’t be any happier,” Nadal said. “It means the world to me to make it to another final here in Madrid.”

Nadal has been playing some of his best tennis this year. He’s reached six finals this season and is coming off consecutive titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

“It was an important match for me because it meant continuing with the good dynamic that I’ve been carrying for several months,” Nadal said. “I knew that I had to play well. It’s true that he made some mistakes, but he fought until the end.”

Djokovic hasn’t reached a final since winning his first tournament of the year in Doha. This was his first semifinal since he won that title in January.

“I did try my best,” Djokovic said. “It wasn’t a very high quality of tennis from my side. Just his quality was very high. He managed to do whatever he wanted really, especially in the first set.”

Djokovic didn’t have to play the quarterfinal in Madrid because Kei Nishikori withdrew before the match because of a wrist injury. This was Djokovic’s first tournament since splitting with longtime coach Marian Vajda.

With Cristiano Ronaldo and Olympic great Nadia Comaneci watching courtside, Nadal was aggressive from the start, and had 20 winners, including seven off his backhand.

He conceded only two break opportunities to Djokovic, who converted one early in the second set. Nadal had six break chances, converting two in each set.

Nadal’s other titles in Madrid came in 2005, 2010 and 2013-14.

It was the 50th meeting between the two players, with Djokovic still ahead 26-24.

Linette keeps getting better; into Australian Open semis

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Two days after advancing to her first Grand Slam tournament quarterfinal, unseeded Magda Linette went one better and is into the Australian Open semifinals.

The 30-year-old Linette beat Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 7-5, adding the former No. 1 to the list of top players she has beaten at Melbourne Park during this tournament.

Linette, who had lost seven of nine previous matches against Pliskova, had defeated Anett Kontaveit, Ekaterina Alexandrova and WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in successive rounds.

A player from Poland was favored to reach the latter stages of the tournament, but it was top-seeded Iga Swiatek that everyone would have expected – and not Linette.

“It’s so emotional I can’t really believe it,” Linette said. “I tried to stay composed and took my chances when I could.”

Linette will play No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka, who beat unseeded Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2 in a later quarterfinal. The women’s semifinals are scheduled for Thursday night.

Vekic, who had 13 double faults against Sabalenka, had a succinct appraisal of her serve: “I mean, it was all over the place. But I think mostly in the net.”

The other women’s semifinalists were determined on Tuesday. Two-time former Australian champion Victoria Azarenka will play Wimbledon titleholder Elena Rybakina for a chance to play in Saturday night’s final. Rybakina beat Swiatek in the fourth round.

Later Wednesday, the remaining men’s semifinalists will be determined. Unseeded Americans Ben Shelton and Tommy Paul play before nine-time champion Novak Djokovic takes on Andrey Rublev.

Djokovic will be looking to qualify for his 44th Grand Slam semifinal and a win in that match on Friday would advance him on Sunday night to his 33rd major singles final.

The other men’s semifinal on Friday will see third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas play Karen Khachanov.

Rybakina rules in Australian Open quarterfinal vs. Ostapenko

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MELBOURNE, Australia – Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina advanced to the Australian Open semifinals with a 6-2, 6-4 win over former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

The match on Rod Laver Arena featured a rare rain delay of about 20 minutes while the roof was closed. Rybakina led 3-1 and was holding a break point before the delay. On return, Ostapenko saved the first break point, but Rybakina broke on her next opportunity to go up 4-1 and won the first set 6-2.

In the second set, Ostapenko was up a break but Rybakina leveled with a break of her own. It came on her first break point when Ostapenko had been unable to convert four in the previous game.

Rybakina, who beat top-seeded Iga Swiatek in the fourth round, set up match points with aces, both of which were saved by Ostapenko. But she clinched the match with another ace, her 11th of the match and a tournament-leading 35 overall.

“I was nervous in the last game, but I managed my emotions and played very well.” Rybakina said. “The conditions were different after the roof was closed. But it can happen here, you never know, on the morning one weather and later it changes.”

Rybakina will play the winner of the night quarterfinal between American Jessica Pegula, at No. 3 the highest women’s seed remaining, and two-time champion Victoria Azarenka.

In men’s quarterfinals, 22-year-old American Sebastian Korda played the next match at Rod Laver Arena against No. 18-seeded Karen Khachanov. In a night quarterfinal, third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas plays Jiri Lehecka. The winners of those matches will play each other in the semifinals on Friday.