Federer in record 7th Aussie Open final after Chung retires

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) It took just over an hour for Roger Federer to fix one anomalous statistic in his extraordinary career.

Defending champion Federer, who was leading Hyeon Chung 6-1, 5-2 when the Korean retired in the second set of their Australian Open semifinal on Friday night, is within one win of a 20th Grand Slam singles title.

Going into the match against Chung, Federer had a below-par semifinals record at Melbourne Park, only six wins out of 13.

After 1 hour and 2 minutes under the closed roof on Rod Laver Arena, he’s on par, 7-7 (but still well below his marks at the other majors: 11-1 at Wimbledon, 7-3 at the U.S. Open, and 5-2 at Roland Garros).

It wasn’t how Federer expected to advance.

“You do take the faster matches whenever you can because there’s enough wear and tear on the body,” he said. “The thought process is not like `What would have been better?’

“That’s why this one feels bittersweet. I’m incredibly happy to be in the finals, but not like this.”

Chung tried everything to disguise the pain of the raw patches on his left foot which, his agent explained, were “blisters under blisters under blisters.”

Federer knows the feeling. He also sensed something wrong with Chung’s movement.

“I’ve played with blisters in the past a lot, and it hurts a lot. And at one point, it’s just too much and you can’t take it anymore – you can’t go on,” he said. “He’s played such a wonderful tournament, so credit to him for playing so hard again today.”

Federer’s conversation rate for finals in Australia is much better – the only time he lost a championship match was in 2009 against Rafael Nadal.

So he’s well poised for Sunday’s match against No. 6-seeded Marin Cilic. Cilic has had an extra day of rest but Federer was hardly taxed on Friday night, and occupied for only an hour.

The final will be Federer’s record seventh at the Australian Open and 30th at a Grand Slam.

Cilic was hampered by blisters when he lost to Federer in last year’s Wimbledon final, but he has made a relatively pain-free run through the other half of the draw, including a quarterfinal win over an injured Nadal.

Even if Chung had been fit, he was trying to reach his first ATP final against a player who has won 95 titles, 19 of them Grand Slams.

Chung had an incredible run at Melbourne Park, becoming the first Korean to reach a semifinal at a tennis major and attracting plenty of attention for beating No. 4-seeded Alexander Zverev in the third round and six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic in the fourth.

But it took a toll. He needed a pain-killing injection before the match, and a medical timeout to re-tape his left foot after going down a break in the second set. He played only two more games before he quit.

“I did right thing. If I play bad on the court, it’s not good for the fans and audience as well,” he said. “I really hurt. I can’t walk no more.”

The 36-year-old Federer predicted a bright future for Chung, 15 years younger. Chung also believed the experience will prepare him better for the rigors of best-of-five-set tennis at Grand Slams.

“For sure. I play really good in (the) last two weeks. I make first round 16, quarters and semis – I play (Zverev), Novak, Roger,” he said. “I can play better and better in the future.”

With victory, Federer ensured one of the so-called Big Four – with Nadal, Djokovic, Andy Murray – has featured in the final since 2005. Stan Wawrinka’s win over Nadal in 2014 was the only final since 2008 that didn’t feature two of the Big Four.

Top-ranked Nadal lost to Cilic in the quarterfinals, Djokovic fell to Chung, and Murray, a five-time Australian Open runner-up, withdrew to have surgery on his hip, leaving their collective reputation for dominance in Australia on Federer.

He didn’t let anyone down in a clinical dismantling of the No. 58-ranked Chung, who won the Next Gen ATP Finals in November.

Earlier, Timea Babos of Hungary and Kristina Mladenovic of France became the first players from their respective countries to lift the Australian Open women’s doubles crown.

Babos and Mladenovic combined to beat the Russian pair of Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 6-4, 6-3.

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”