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Cilic joins elite group by reaching Australian Open final

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Marin Cilic is in exclusive company at the Australian Open.

With his 6-2, 7-6 (4), 6-2 semifinal win over 49th-ranked Kyle Edmund, Cilic became only the second man from outside the “Big Four” to reach the final at season-opening major in a decade.

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have dominated the men’s finals since 2009, with only 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka breaking the quartet’s court occupation in the championship match.

The 29-year-old Cilic, the first Croatian to make the final at Melbourne Park, could face the founding member of the “Big Four” in the final on Sunday. That’s if defending champion Federer can get past Hyeon Chung on Friday.

Cilic lost to Federer in last year’s Wimbledon final, where he was injured and struggling at the end. This time, he has held off No. 10 Pablo Carreno Busta and top-ranked Rafael Nadal and thinks, with two days to rest before the final, he’ll be in better shape.

“I’m feeling really, really good physically,” he said. “I played a great tournament so far with my level of tennis.

“I improved it comparing to end of the last year. I’m playing much, much more aggressive – feeling really excited about the final, too.”

It’ll be a third major final for Cilic, who beat Federer in the semifinals at the 2014 U.S. Open before going on to win his breakthrough Grand Slam title.

He reached the semifinals in Melbourne in 2010, then waited 16 more majors to surpass that level by reaching that U.S. Open final.

The long wait didn’t bother him. Besides, his 10 attempts to reach the Australian final equaled an Open era record held by 1980 runner-up Kim Wawrick.

Cilic was under pressure early against Edmund and had to fend off break points in the opening game. He held and quickly got on top in the first set and, after maintaining his composure in a nervy second-set tiebreaker, quickly established a break in the third set.

“I think in that second set, I was just a little up and down with my game. I wasn’t getting enough returns back to put pressure on him in his service games,” Cilic said. “I noticed that in the third game in third set, when I broke him, he just let a couple balls go past him. … I was seeing with this movement he was a little bit restricted so I just tried to move the ball around.”

Cilic didn’t face another break point after the opening game and took advantage of his experience, while Edmund got heated in his first major semifinal match, arguing with the chair umpire over a call in the fifth game of the second set and demanding the tournament supervisor come onto court to explain the ruling. It just delayed the inevitable.

Wins over U.S. Open runner-up Kevin Anderson in the first round and in the quarterfinals over third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov took a toll on Edmund, who needed a medical timeout.

“Well, obviously just disappointed I lost, but yeah, I mean, it’s been a really good couple of weeks for me,” he said. “Just got the experience of going deep in a Slam for the first time and all the stuff that comes with it. Playing a couple matches on Rod Laver.

“Obviously disappointed right now, but can be very happy with the way I’ve gone about things. Played a lot of tough matches. Won some tough matches. Beat good players.”

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.