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No. 1 Nadal remains on track for first Paris Masters title

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PARIS (AP) Rafael Nadal remains on track for an elusive Paris Masters title after beating Pablo Cuevas 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals on Thursday.

He has not reached the final since losing to David Nalbandian in his first appearance 10 years ago. Nadal improved to 4-1 overall against Cuevas and next plays Serbian qualifier Filip Krajinovic for the first time.

“He had a very successful season, winning a lot of challengers, and now he’s playing well on the tour,” Nadal said of Krajinovic. “When you’re winning a lot of matches you’re in a good dynamic.”

Cuevas competed well in spells against a nervy Nadal, who was erratic on serve and made countless unforced errors in a gritty contest.

One of the most glaring came at 5-5 in the second-set tiebreaker, when Nadal hit an easy forehand into the net to give Cuevas a set point. After a brief rally, Nadal hit a backhand long and Cuevas leveled the match.

Nadal had some strapping under his right knee before the deciding set, then raced into a 3-0 lead before the jitters came back.

“It’s not the moment to talk much about the knee,” he said. He also was elusive about whether it might prevent him from playing in the season-ending ATP Finals next week in London.

“Anything can happen in one week and a half,” Nadal said. “But if nothing strange happens then I’m going to be there.”

Nadal was not moving with his customary speed around court in the third set but held comfortably enough for 5-2. He clinched victory on his first match point when Cuevas sent a return wide.

Nadal is guaranteed to finish the year with the top ranking for the fourth time. A maiden victory here would give him a record 31 Masters titles, one more than Novak Djokovic.

In the late match, No. 3 Marin Cilic faced No. 14 Roberto Bautista Agut.

Earlier in the third round, Juan Martin del Potro moved closer to securing the last spot for the finals by beating Robin Haase 7-5, 6-4.

Del Potro, who lost to Roger Federer on Sunday in the Swiss Indoors final, is in 10th place in the race to qualify for the tournament. Only the top eight players will compete in London and there is one place left, to be taken in Paris.

“I would love to reach London once again. It could be a fantastic moment for me,” said del Potro, who was way back in 47th place in the race before the U.S. Open. “I’m excited to keep improving for this kind of surprise.”

Del Potro has a tough challenge next, against big-serving American John Isner.

The ninth-seeded Isner, last year’s runner-up to Andy Murray, hit 25 aces as he beat sixth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria 7-6 (10), 5-7, 7-6 (3).

Seventh-seeded David Goffin of Belgium was through to the finals in London, despite a surprise loss to unseeded Julien Benneteau 6-3, 6-3. The Frenchman reached the quarters of a Masters for the first time since Shanghai in 2014 in his final tournament before retiring.

Goffin will have waited nervously on the result of Frenchman Lucas Pouille’s result against Jack Sock. But Pouille’s 7-6 (6), 6-3 loss to the American sent him through, at Pouille’s expense, making him the first Belgian to qualify for the season finale.

“I would have preferred to have qualified by winning and Lucas is a friend,” Goffin said. “But I am still so happy to have qualified.”

Dominic Thiem went out early again, falling to Fernando Verdasco 6-4, 6-4.

Since losing to Del Potro in the fourth round of the U.S. Open, the fifth-seeded Austrian has won only two matches in five tournaments.

Verdasco next plays Sock. Krajinovic advanced with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 win against Nicolas Mahut.

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.