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Nadal, Federer advance to Shanghai final for 38th encounter

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SHANGHAI — Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will face each for the 38th time after advancing Saturday to the Shanghai Masters final.

Top-seeded Nadal defeated Marin Cilic of Croatia 7-5, 7-6 (3) in the first semifinal, and second-seeded Federer was stretched to three sets before posting a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina.

Nadal, who won a tour-best sixth title of the season at the China Open last week, improved his current winning streak to 16 matches. The Spaniard, who has 16 Grand Slam men’s singles trophies, won the French and U.S. Open titles this season.

Federer, looking for his sixth title this year, won the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year to increase his Grand Slam men’s singles record to 19 titles.

Nadal holds a 23-14 winning record over Federer, but Federer has won their last four meetings, including all three this season. Nadal has won 14 of 23 finals against Federer.

“I’m not sure what the stat is because most of them, half of them, maybe, were in finals and that’s why the rivalry is so special,” Federer said. “I enjoy playing against him even if the head-to-head is not in my favor. He’s one of the guys who’s made me a better player. I don’t want to thank him for that, but it made me go back and rework my game.”

Del Potro went for an MRI on Friday night after falling and hurting his left wrist but showed little sign of the injury bothering him against Federer. The Argentine said his wrist was hurting after the match.

Federer, who lost in the quarterfinals to del Potro at the U.S. Open this year, looked shaky in the opener but found his form for the final two sets. He broke 16th-seeded del Potro on a fifth break point in a contentious sixth game of the second set. When Federer missed out on the fourth break point, the Swiss hit a ball in anger across the court. During the changeover after the seventh game, an annoyed del Potro asked why Federer wasn’t given a warning for the outburst.

“Getting that break and then holding is always key … especially with all the twists and turns in tennis,” Federer said. “If you blink at the right time your back can be against the wall.”

Nadal, who was a finalist here in 2009, has now beaten Cilic in five of their six matches.

Nadal hadn’t lost his serve in 32 service games but fourth-seeded Cilic broke him twice, in the sixth and 10th games of the second set.

At 30-40 in the sixth game, Nadal netted a forehand volley to surrender his serve for the first time, and responded by twice angrily banging his racket on his leg, just above the knee.

“Is true, sometimes I get frustrated too,” Nadal said.

Nadal failed to take advantage of his first match point when he made a forehand error at 40-30 in the 10th game, and went on to have his serve broken.

Leading 6-3 in the second-set tiebreaker, Nadal prevailed on his second match point when Cilic netted a service return.

Nadal said there were “mistakes with my serve in the second, that’s the only thing. For the rest, I am happy.”

Nadal saved three set points on his own serve when 5-4 down.

The Shanghai Masters wants to expand to a 10 or 11 day event, increase its draw size from 64 to 96, and raise prize money to more than $10 million, starting in 2019.

The ATP board is expected to discuss Shanghai’s request next month.

Duckhee Lee downplays deafness, wins ATP tournament debut

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Duckhee Lee tossed the ball into the air for his first serve in an ATP tournament match, and blasted it past his opponent with a loud pop.

The 21-year-old South Korean never heard it. He was born deaf.

The tour’s first deaf professional player says he doesn’t want to be defined by the disability that he has overcome well enough to play at the sport’s highest level.

His first appearance in a top-level tournament will last at least until the second round. Lee beat Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 7-6 (4), 6-1 in the first round of the Winston-Salem Open on Monday, earning a matchup with No. 3 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland.

As much as the opening-round victory meant to Lee and his career, it might have meant even more to hearing-impaired athletes in all sports.

“Don’t be discouraged and if you try hard, you can do anything, you can achieve anything you want,” Lee said through an interpreter, adding that he “doesn’t want people to get discouraged and get down about their disability.”

The ability to hear carries a particular importance in tennis. Players often insist on silence during points so they can hear the ball off their opponent’s strings and identify the spin in a split-second.

Lee makes up for it with his eyes, sharpening his focus on his opponent’s swing, how that player makes contact and the speed and spin of the ball as it’s racing toward him.

Complicating things further, he also doesn’t speak English, reads lips instead of using sign language, and relies on hand gestures from umpires making calls.

Because he can’t hear the score announcements, he keeps track of points and games in his head – which can be more difficult in smaller events that don’t have courtside scoreboards. It led to a hiccup early during his main-draw debut when he lined up to serve after a game had been decided.

“I think (the umpire) forgot to give the signal” at times during the match, he said, adding that he “was hoping he would give in and out signals.”

The debut in Winston-Salem marked the next step up the tennis ladder for Lee, who started playing tennis at age 7 – the year after he realized he was deaf, though doctors had diagnosed his condition as a toddler.

“People made fun of (me) because of the disability and said (I) shouldn’t be playing,” Lee said, adding that his motivation was to “enjoy (my) life by overcoming my disability.”

Lee made his debut on the ITF Futures Tour at 14 and won eight titles before he turned 18, then reached three finals of the ATP Challenger Tour, including one in June, falling to Dudi Sela at the Baptist Health Little Rock Open in Arkansas. He brought a No. 212 world ranking to the central North Carolina hardcourts.

He’ll always remember his first ATP-level victory – and not just because of the result. Lee was two points away from sealing the victory when thunderstorms forced a weather delay of nearly 5 hours. He and Laakonsen came back to the court at roughly 10:15 p.m. – and wrapped up their match in 87 seconds.

When he was asked how he spent the delay, Lee got his point across with pantomime, mimicking someone playing table tennis and shooting basketball, because there was both a pingpong table and pop-a-shot machine in the players’ lounge. He smiled as his translator said how “he loves the facility here.”

Amanda Anisimova out of U.S. Open after father’s death

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NEW YORK — American teenager Amanda Anisimova withdrew from the U.S. Open on Tuesday because of the recent death of her father and coach, Konstantin.

A statement from family members, released by Anisimova’s representatives, said: “We are shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of our father. We appreciate the outpouring of love and support during this difficult time and ask that you respect our privacy.”

The U.S. Tennis Association announced that Anisimova had pulled out of the year’s last Grand Slam tournament, where main-draw play begins Monday.

Anisimova, who was born in New Jersey to Russian parents and moved to Florida when she was 3, is currently ranked 24th and would have been seeded for the U.S. Open.

She is an up-and-coming star in women’s tennis who reached the semifinals at the French Open in June at age 17.

Anisimova upset defending champion Simona Halep in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, before losing to eventual champion Ash Barty in three sets.

Her first WTA title came in April at Bogota, Colombia.

As a junior, Anisimova won the 2017 U.S. Open girls’ title, beating Coco Gauff in the final.