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Belgium sets up Davis Cup final against France

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BRUSSELS (AP) David Goffin and Steve Darcis won their reverse singles matches as Belgium defeated 28-time champion Australia 3-2 in the Davis Cup semifinals on Sunday to set up a title match with France in November.

Back with the France Davis Cup team, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga earlier sent his country to its 18th final by defeating Dusan Lajovic 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-2 in Lille.

Belgium recovered from a 2-1 deficit on the indoor clay of the Palais 12 in Brussels.

France will host the final from Nov. 24-26.

With Tsonga’s win, the French reached an unassailable 3-1 lead and the teams decided against playing the final rubber.

Belgium trailed after Saturday’s doubles but managed to turn things around in front of a buoyant crowd. David Goffin first rallied past Nick Kyrgios 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 before Steve Darcis defeated Jordan Thompson 6-4, 7-5, 6-2.

Goffin, who had not beaten Kyrgios in three previous matches, returned well and played astute tennis to counter his opponent’s big shots, extending his excellent Davis Cup record to 15 wins from 16 singles matches.

Goffin dropped his serve only once and fell onto his back after hitting two aces in succession to serve out the match after a three-hour battle.

“Everything is in the timing, I think,” Goffin said about his returns, adding “I see the ball earlier than the others so maybe that’s why I have a good return.”

Darcis was set to take on John Millman in the decisive rubber but Australia captain Lleyton Hewitt changed his lineup to send Thompson instead. The move did not pay off as Darcis put on a dominant display, converting five of seven breakpoints. He hit 34 winners and sealed the match on his first chance with a backhand volley that hit the net cord.

France avenged its loss to Serbia in the 2010 final and qualified for its first final since losing to Switzerland in the title match three years ago.

France won the last of its nine titles in 2001 against the Australians while Belgium will be chasing its first trophy in the team event after losing two finals.

“I’m relieved and happy,” said France captain Yannick Noah. “To win the Davis Cup is something extraordinary. Hopefully I will be able to win it with theses lads.”

Noah already captained France to the 1991 and 1996 Davis Cup titles. As a player, he also won the French Open in 1983.

The French did a lap of honor after Tsonga won the decisive point against a depleted Serbian team that gave the hosts a tough challenge.

Tsonga won his second point for France after defeating 22-year-old debutant Laslo Djere in straight sets on Friday to level the tie at 1-1. Two-time Grand Slam champions Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert then gave the hosts a 2-1 lead when they beat Filip Krajinovic and Nenad Zimonjic in the doubles match.

Tsonga, who had decided to skip the Davis Cup this year, changed his mind and made a successful return to the French team.

He was overpowered by his rival in the first set but improved and recovered in the second by upping his game when it mattered, after a double fault from Lajovic gave him an early break.

The third set was close with neither player giving in on the red clay of the Pierre Mauroy stadium. Lajovic was the first to crack despite saving two set points in the tiebreaker when he dumped a backhand return into the net.

Tsonga missed three break chances in the opening game of the fourth set but converted the fourth after Lajovic made two consecutive unforced errors – a double fault and a forehand in the net. The Frenchman then held to love and broke again as Lajovic showed signs of fatigue following his five-set win over Lucas Pouille on Friday. Tsonga then served out the match.

Nadal-Djokovic semifinal suspended after 3rd set

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LONDON (AP) It was the kind of tennis that Wimbledon’s Centre Court crowd would gladly have watched all night long.

The show being put on by Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was so good it could have been an instant classic had they been able to finish their semifinal before the tournament’s 11 p.m. curfew.

Instead, the two players – and a disappointed audience – were sent home after the third set on Friday with Djokovic leading 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9) following a tense tiebreaker that had more entertaining rallies than some entire matches.

The two players didn’t even get onto the court until after 8 p.m. because of an earlier marathon semifinal won by Kevin Anderson and when Djokovic converted his second set point in the tiebreaker – having saved three of Nadal’s – the clock had ticked a couple of minutes past 11. That left organizers no choice but to call it a night, although the announcement from the chair umpire led to a scattering of boos from some fans who clearly wanted more.

Most of them will have to watch the rest on TV.

The match will resume at 1 p.m. local time on Saturday, before the women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber. At stake is a place in Sunday’s men’s final against the man who was partly at fault for keeping Nadal and Djokovic out there so late. Anderson’s win over John Isner lasted 6 + hours and went to 26-24 in the fifth set.

Djokovic-Nadal had clearly been the headline act of the day – they have five Wimbledon titles between them and met in the 2011 final while Anderson and Isner had never made the semifinals before – and their tennis was at another level from the earlier match. Even Anderson said he could feel during his match that the crowd would rather be watching the next one.

“They’ve paid to see two matches, and they came pretty close to only seeing one match,” Anderson said. “I can feel the crowd (get) pretty antsy for us to get off the court. They’ve been watching us for over six hours.”

While Anderson-Isner was mostly a serving duel with a few longer rallies thrown in, Djokovic and Nadal repeatedly slugged it out from the baseline, chasing each other around the court and coming up with spectacular winners from every corner.

Many of the best points came in the tiebreaker, including a 23-shot rally that Nadal finished off with a forehand half-volley drop shot to set up his first set point.

It was one of three successful drop shots from the Spaniard in the tiebreaker alone, but Djokovic answered with one of his own to save the second set point at 7-6.

He eventually went up 10-9 with the help of a backhand passing shot and an errant shot into the net by Nadal brought the entertainment to an end – for now.

It led to the unusual situation of both players leaving the court to a huge ovation – and applauding the fans in return – but without there being a clear winner or loser.

To be continued.

Former No. 1 Kerber tops Ostapenko; into second Wimbledon final

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LONDON – It was clear right from the opening game of Angelique Kerber’s Wimbledon semifinal how things were going to go. She was not going to dictate or control much.

She was, instead, going to employ spectacular defense and solid, steady play, while letting her opponent, Jelena Ostapenko, be the one to determine the outcomes of nearly every point.

It worked. The 11th-seeded Kerber reached her second final at the All England Club by avoiding too many mistakes and using a seven-game run to seize control for a 6-3, 6-3 victory over the 12th-seeded Ostapenko on Thursday.

“These are the matches I was working for as a young kid,” Kerber said, “and to stand here again in the final at Wimbledon is great.”

Kerber is a former No. 1 and a two-time major champion, both coming in 2016 at the Australian Open and U.S. Open. That was also the year the German was the runner-up at Wimbledon, losing to Serena Williams in the title match.

She could find herself up against Williams yet again: The 36-year-old American was scheduled to face No. 13 Julia Goerges of Germany in Thursday’s second semifinal on Centre Court.

Williams took a 19-match Wimbledon winning streak into the day. She won the grass-court tournament the last two times she played it, in 2015 and 2016, before missing it last year while pregnant. Williams gave birth to a daughter in September.

The left-handed Kerber was mainly a passive participant in the early going against Ostapenko. That first game consisted of eight points: Three were unforced errors by Ostapenko, including a double-fault to begin the proceedings; the other five were winners by her, including a 100 mph ace to close the hold.

Five games in, Ostapenko led 3-2, and the numbers were still tilted toward her. She had 14 winners and 10 unforced errors, while Kerber had three winners and – this was key – zero unforced errors.

There were no drawn-out points in the early going, no lengthy baseline exchanges, essentially because Ostapenko wouldn’t allow it. The Latvian plays an aggressive brand of first-strike tennis that carried her to the 2017 French Open title as an unseeded 20-year-old.

Kerber, in contrast, bides her time, working the back of the court to get everything back over the net, often kneeling to get low enough to reach shots.

Eventually, Kerber’s style ruled the day. She went on a half-hour run in which she took the last four games of the first set and took a 3-0 lead in the second. Ostapenko’s strokes were missing and she grew increasingly frustrated, slapping a thigh after a miss or leaning forward and putting her hands on her knees after others. By the time she flubbed a backhand while falling behind 5-1 in the second, she dropped her racket and screamed.

It took Kerber two tries to serve out the victory, getting broken to 5-2. But unlike in the quarterfinals, when she needed seven match points to win, this time it required only two, with the match ending – fittingly enough – on a forehand by Ostapenko that sailed wide.

The final tally told the story: Ostapenko had far more winners, 30-10, but also far more unforced errors, 36-7.