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New York Open tennis tournament arrives on Long Island

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NEW YORK — New York no longer has to wait for the U.S. Open for top-level tennis.

The New York Open debuts next week at Nassau Coliseum, the new home for a tournament that has attracted many of the best American men’s players and hopes it can someday get the best in the world.

The tournament couldn’t afford a Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal in Memphis, but the move to Long Island opens new doors.

“As a concerned American, seeing tournaments sort of dry up in this area and go to different parts of the world, it’s of sort of particular importance for me and would like to see this be successful,” said tennis Hall of Famer John McEnroe. “I’m certainly hopeful that people will come out.”

That’s what tournament operators were expecting when they moved the event out of Memphis, where it was held for four decades and counts McEnroe among its former champions. But the venue capacity of 2,500 and market size made growth impossible there, and it had become a field of up-and-comers instead of guys already at the top.

But the Coliseum, which re-opened last year after a two-year renovation, will have a reconfigured seating capacity of about 6,000 for the two-court event. It will feature black courts – the tournament successfully petitioned the ATP Tour to use the color – and provides modern locker rooms and lounges for the players. Sell enough tickets, and that becomes appearance fee potential for someone at the top of the rankings.

“We now can competitively go to a Roger Federer – he may never want to play based on schedule, his calendar and his schedule – but you can at least go to a Roger Federer and say, `Listen, we can pay you, because we actually have the opportunity to be able to sell enough seats,”‘ said tournament director Josh Ripple.

“So from a pure business standpoint, being at NYCB Live and being here in New York provides us the ability to attract those players. We’re not attracting Roger Federer in 2018. But you know in 2019 or 2020, we can go out and be competitive and we can make an offer for a player like that. We could never do that in Memphis.”

McEnroe has signed on as a tournament ambassador and will play a pair of exhibition matches Sunday on the event’s opening night, which includes a match between U.S. Open women’s champion Sloane Stephens and Canada’s Genie Bouchard.

The main draw begins Monday with a field that includes U.S. Open runner-up Kevin Anderson, Americans John Isner and Sam Querrey, and former Memphis champion Kei Nishikori. Hyeon Chung was in the field but had to pull out because of the blisters that forced him to retire from his semifinal loss to Federer at the Australian Open.

The year’s first major was a dismal one for the U.S. men, but McEnroe thinks they can bounce back next week. The field also includes young Americans Ryan Harrison – the last champion in Memphis – Steve Johnson, Frances Tiafoe and Jared Donaldson.

“Obviously, the Americans had a pretty horrific event down in Australia, so guys like John Isner and Sam, they’re going to be back more in their element and something to prove there,” McEnroe said. “So hopefully, you have these guys making a run and then you get a couple guys to surprise you and spark some interest in the fans out there as well.”

Perhaps Anderson will rediscover his form in New York, where he reached his first Grand Slam final last September before losing to Nadal. The South African, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 11, is coming off a first-round loss in Australia. Querrey and Isner are also in the top 20 but were eliminated quickly in Melbourne before teaming for the Americans’ first-round victory over Serbia in the Davis Cup.

“Kevin and John and Sam all had poor Opens in their eyes, and so for them to get back on track as quickly as possible – they got the Davis Cup win – but this would be nice to be back in the column, get some points and get back on track to try to get themselves to a top-10 ranking,” McEnroe said.

Ripple hopes they’ll tell other players about a positive experience at the tournament. The 28-player singles field is already deeper than last year and he believes it will only grow stronger during what will be at least the next 10 years in New York.

“I think that the guys and the tour itself are going to be really happy and impressed,” Ripple said, “and that is what we’re counting on.”

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.