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.”

U.S. sweeps Uzbekistan, advances to group stage in Davis Cup

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The United States swept its way into the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals, getting the winning point in a 4-0 victory over Uzbekistan from the doubles team of Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek.

They beat Sergey Fomin and Sanjar Fayziev 6-2, 6-4, after Tommy Paul and Mackenzie McDonald had won singles matches in Tashkent.

Ram is No. 3 in the ATP Tour doubles rankings and partnered with Joe Salisbury to win the last two U.S. Open men’s doubles titles. But the Americans opted not to use Ram last year in the final round, when they dropped the doubles match in a 2-1 defeat against Italy in the quarterfinals.

Krajicek was making his Davis Cup debut, having reached No. 9 in the doubles rankings late last year.

“They had five great days of preparation, and as anticipated they came out really sharp and got the early break in the first set. And after that it was like two freight trains, there was no stopping them,” interim captain David Nainkin said.

Denis Kudla then beat Amir Milushev 6-4, 6-4.

The winners of the 12 qualifiers being held this weekend advance to the Davis Cup Finals group stage in September, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

In other matches:

France 3, Hungary 2: On indoor hard courts in Tatabanya, Hungary, Ugo Humbert won it for the French with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Fabian Marozsan. Adrian Mannarino had forced the deciding match by beating Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (6), 6-2.

Serbia 4, Norway 0: On indoor hard courts in Oslo, the visitors, playing without top-ranked Novak Djokovic, put away the match when Filip Krajinovic and Nikola Cacic edged Viktor Durasovic and Herman Hoeyeraal 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Hamad Medjedovic then outlasted Durasovic 6-4, 6-7, 10-4.

Sweden 3, Bosnia 1: On indoor hard courts in Stockholm, Mikael Ymer sent the hosts through by beating Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.

Lesia Tsurenko to face Zhu Lin in Thailand Open final

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine reached her first final in four years after the top-seeded Bianca Andreescu retired with a shoulder injury during their semifinal match at the Thailand Open.

Tsurenko, in search of her fifth WTA title, was leading the 2019 U.S. Open champion 7-5, 4-0 when the Canadian stopped playing.

The former world No. 23 fought from 3-5 down to take the first set and reeled off eight straight games before Andreescu retired with a right shoulder problem.

“Bianca is such an amazing player. She is capable of hitting all kinds of shots and gave so much trouble today,” said the 33-year-old Tsurenko, now ranked 136th. “But I was just fighting and I told myself positive things that I can do it. Unfortunately, she had to retire.”

The Ukrainian last lifted a WTA trophy in Acapulco in 2018 and hasn’t been to a final since Brisbane in 2019.

She will face Zhu Lin of China in the final.

“She had some good wins in the Australian Open,” Tsurenko said. “She is one of the dangerous players in this tournament. She is going to give a good fight.”

In the all-Chinese semifinal earlier, Zhu benefited from a barrage of unforced errors from Wang Xinyu and prevailed 6-2, 6-4 for her first WTA final.

The world No. 54 player, who reached the last 16 at the Australian Open in January, relied on her solid baseline game to force errors.

“It was very windy, so I tried to be patient and keep my first serves in,” said the 29-year-old Zhu, who will team up with Wang in the doubles final against Hao-Ching Chan and Fang-Hsien Wu of Taiwan.