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Venus, Stephens, Isner out of Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens were upset early and the bleak opening day for Americans continued at the Australian Open on Monday with the women going 0 for 8 by mid-afternoon and John Isner joining them as a first-round casualty.

In her first match at Rod Laver Arena since a Williams sister was guaranteed to win the final almost 12 months ago, Venus Williams lost her opener to Belinda Bencic and ensured the title won’t stay in the family.

Venus lost last year’s final to younger sister Serena, who clinched an Open era-record 23rd major but hasn’t played a Grand Slam tournament since then because of her pregnancy and the birth of her first child.

The 6-3, 7-5 loss for Venus Williams was her first in five career meetings with Bencic, who lost to Serena in the first round last year.

“I don’t think I played a bad match. She just played above and beyond,” said seven-time major winner Venus Williams, who was playing her 18th Australian Open. “I just have to give her credit for that.

“I didn’t play so bad, I wasn’t missing every shot. Just didn’t work out.”

Bencic, who was born a couple of months after the last time there was no Williams in the second round at the Australian Open (1997), hit 32 winners, had 12 unforced errors and converted five of 11 break-point chances. Williams had 26 unforced errors and 22 winners.

Bencic credited playing with Roger Federer at the Hopman Cup – where they teamed up to win for Switzerland – with helping her recent improvement. She also had a new attitude against Williams, and she had Federer’s parents in the crowd for support.

“I was thinking a lot about the last matches. For the first matches, I think I had a little bit too much respect, played a little bit careful and safe,” Bencic said. “This time I really tried to come out and hit it big.”

U.S. Open champion Stephens was the first American to fall, losing 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2 loss to No. 34-ranked Zhang Shuai, followed by Williams and No. 10-seeded CoCo Vandeweghe, a semifinalist here and at the U.S. Open last year, who was feeling sick and frustrated in her match which Timea Babos rallied to win 7-6 (4), 6-2.

CiCi Bellis, the WTA’s Newcomer of the Year, was also among the eight U.S. women who were out by mid-afternoon – 16 are in the singles draw.

“Tennis is definitely a roller coaster,” Stephens said, reflecting on her eight-match losing streak since her Grand Slam breakthrough last September. “But I have learned to just not panic. It will be OK.”

No. 13-seeded Stephens had a chance to serve for the match in the 10th game of the second set but dropped her serve. She was outplayed in the tiebreaker and in the third set.

“For me now it’s not that great,” Stephen said, “but it’s nothing to panic about.”

No. 16 John Isner of the U.S. lost in four sets to Australian Matt Ebden.

Ryan Harrison bucked the trend for the Americans, beating Dudi Sela in five sets, advancing along with third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov – who beat qualifier Dennis Novak 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 – No. 10 Pablo Carreno Busta, No. 23 Gilles Muller, No. 30 Andrei Rublev and No. 31 Pablo Cuevas.

U.S. Open finalist and No. 11-seeded Kevin Anderson was the highest-ranked man eliminated, losing in five sets to Kyle Edmund – the only British man in the draw after five-time finalist Andy Murray withdrew.

No. 27 Philipp Kohlschreiber lost to Yoshihito Nishioka in five sets.

The 20-year-old Bencic saved five break points in the eighth game before a rain delay caused an almost half-hour suspension of play as the roof was closed on Rod Laver Arena. She returned on a roll, winning the next six points to hold serve and then clinch the set.

Vandeweghe was leading in her first set before a rain delay on Hisense Arena, but sickness and irritation caught up with her.

She yelled an obscenity near the end of the second set and that, combined with a time violation in a changeover while she waited for a banana, led to a point penalty.

“I felt like she was being quite in-your-face about her `Come ons.’ So it was more just explaining it to the umpire,” Vandeweghe said. As for the banana, she added: “I was just trying to wait for what I asked for to come and the chair umpire deemed that it wasn’t a good enough reason to wait for anything.”

Of the other U.S. women out in the first round, Sofia Kenin lost to No. 12 Julia Goerges – who extended her winning streak to 15 matches – Bellis lost to No. 30 Kiki Bertens, Alison Riske lost to Kirsten Flipkens and Taylor Townsend lost to No. 19 Magdalena Rybarikova.

French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko made a positive start with a 6-1, 6-4 win over 37-year-old Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open winner, and No. 15 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat Kateryna Kozlova.

Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig had a 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 win over former U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur.

Other seeded players falling included No. 24 Dominika Cibulkova, the 2014 Australian Open finalist who lost to Kaia Kanepi, and No. 31 Ekaterina Makarova.

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.