‘Scared’ a year ago, Federer back at Wimbledon, eyeing No. 8

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LONDON (AP) Write off Roger Federer at your own peril.

The guy’s been considered done by some folks at various times over the years, whether because of age or a bad back or a bum knee or a – gasp! – 4+-season drought without a Grand Slam title.

And yet here he is, about to turn 36 next month, about to tie a record by playing in his 70th major tournament and, lo and behold, back to his old status as a popular pick to take home the title when Wimbledon begins on Monday.

He is seeking an unprecedented eighth men’s championship at the All England Club.

“A player like Roger, as long as he’s playing, you know, he’s going to have a chance to win a Grand Slam. The day he will stop playing, that’s when he will have no chance to win,” said Stan Wawrinka, a three-time major champion who has played much of his career in his Swiss countryman’s considerable shadow.

“We all know as players, we all see on the court, we all see when we practice against him,” said Wawrinka, who is friends with Federer and has teamed with him to win a Davis Cup title and an Olympic gold in doubles.

“For sure, he had some years (that were) a little bit down – with some injury, with some tough results for him. That’s part of a long career.”

The lasting image of Federer at Wimbledon a year ago was of him face-down on the Centre Court turf during the fifth set of a semifinal loss, betrayed by a surgically repaired left knee.

Also tough to forget: The consecutive double-faults in the last game of the fourth set.

He seemed more vulnerable than the tennis world had seen him in more than a decade.

“The fall just really scared me,” Federer said Saturday, fingers clasped as he leaned forward.

Afterward, he recalled, he consulted with several doctors. Federer figured he would need a month off, maybe two. He was told that at least four months off was the proper way to heal. That meant no Olympics, no U.S. Open, no matches at all for the rest of 2016.

All he’s done since coming back this year is go 24-2 with four titles, including a record-extending 18th at a Grand Slam tournament by erasing a fifth-set deficit to beat Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final in January.

That was Federer’s first major championship since Wimbledon in 2012, when he was a mere 30 years old.

Some more time off would come during this season: Federer skipped the clay-court circuit, including the French Open, despite being healthy.

“I was ready to play in Paris,” he said. “I just didn’t feel ready to go yet.”

Federer wanted, he explained, to give himself the best chance to succeed on his best surfaces, grass and hard courts.

“We all felt the same way, that it’s better to save myself and give it all I have for the rest of the season – not just the grass-court season, but looking beyond that, too, all the way to the American summer, staying on a `fast-court tennis’ sort of mindset,” he said.

Leaning back in his chair with arms crossed, he said of missing the French Open: “I kind of never regretted it, even though it hurt.”

He tuned up for Wimbledon by winning a grass-court tournament in Halle, Germany. In the final, he walloped one of the game’s up-and-coming talents – Alexander Zverev, someone 15 years his junior – as if to prove that the kids can wait their turn.

Tennis’ old guard is still in charge of the sport.

Federer, 31-year-old Nadal, and Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, both 30, are the top four seeds at Wimbledon. They’ve combined to win the past 14 titles at the All England Club.

“It’s very even, when we put it all out on the line,” Federer said about the so-called Big 4.

This is Federer’s 19th appearance at Wimbledon, two shy of Jimmy Connors’ record in the Open era. Federer enters with 84 match wins, equal with Connors for the most.

There are concessions to time, Federer acknowledges.

He tried to get through practice Saturday as quickly as possible – “short and sweet, just to get it done” – and then planned to take Sunday off before the grind begins.

The philosophy is the same during matches. An attacking style to shorten points, the occasional serve-and-volley, and the more powerful backhand he displayed in Australia against Nadal all can help save energy.

“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my opponent. I want to take charge, play aggressive myself,” Federer said. “So for that, I need to be fast on my feet and quick in my mind. I just need enough rest so I can play enough inspired tennis.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”

Sonego beats Bublik at Moselle Open to win 1st title of 2022

Winston-Salem Open - Day 5
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METZ, France – Lorenzo Sonego clinched his first title of the season by beating Alexander Bublik 7-6 (3), 6-2 in the Moselle Open final.

The 27-year-old Italian did not drop a set all tournament as he won the third title of his career and first on hard courts.

The unseeded Sonego recovered from 0-40 down in the fifth game of the match and secured victory when the seventh-seeded Bublik sent a backhand return long.

He then danced on court as he celebrated a perfect tournament where he also beat defending champion Hubert Hurkacz in the semifinals.

Sonego’s win will move him up 21 places in the ATP rankings and into 44th place.