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A shocker: Collins tops her idol, Venus Williams, in Miami

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Danielle Collins’ favorite player, for as long as she can remember, has been Venus Williams.

Clearly, she wasn’t star-struck when facing her idol.

Collins got the biggest win of her pro career Wednesday night, shocking the eighth-seeded Williams 6-2, 6-3 in the Miami Open quarterfinals. Collins needed to survive two qualifying matches before making the main draw at Key Biscayne, and will now meet sixth-seeded Jelena Ostapenko in Thursday’s semifinals.

“The first time I saw Venus in the locker room, I nearly cried,” Collins said. “I mean, I’ve idolized her my whole life. She’s been my favorite player for forever. This is such a special moment, I’m just trying to wrap my head around it.”

Collins topped U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys earlier this month at Indian Wells and made a much bigger statement with this win. She threw both fists into the air when Williams couldn’t handle a serve on Collins’ second match point, and even the three-time champion at Key Biscayne gave her a big smile when they shook hands at the net.

“I’m just starting to finally put all of the pieces together,” said Collins, the 2014 and 2016 NCAA champion at Virginia.

Collins, No. 93 in the world for a few more days, will more than double her career earnings when the money from Miami arrives. She came to Key Biscayne with $305,385 in career earnings, which she’ll add at least $327,965 to now that she’s in the semifinals. And she’s going to soar in the world rankings, to no lower than 67th.

No qualifier has ever gone this deep at Key Biscayne, though Collins looked perfectly comfortable on the stage. She rarely faced trouble, offered confident fist pumps for much of the night and set the tone by breaking Williams – one of her idols, someone who’s been playing pro matches for about as long as the 24-year-old Collins has been alive – with her opening chance in each set.

And now Collins, who took the more-unusual path through college to pro life, still has a shot at becoming perhaps Miami’s most surprising champion.

“You don’t have to do it the traditional way,” Williams said.

For as easy as Collins made it look Wednesday night, John Isner had an even easier time in his quarterfinal.

The big-serving Isner made the Miami semifinals for the second time in four years, needing just over an hour to overpower South Korea’s Hyeon Chung 6-1, 6-4. The 14th-seeded Isner finished with 13 aces, won all but one of his 32 first-serve points and avenged a loss to the 19th-seeded Chung at Auckland in his first match of the year back in January.

“I played extremely well,” said Isner, who dropped six of his first eight matches of 2018 before arriving in Miami. “Every match I’ve played in this tournament, I’ve gotten better. I’ve gotten stronger and that’s a very, very good sign.”

He’ll hope that trend continues in the semifinals.

Isner – who ousted second-seeded Marin Cilic earlier this week – will next face either No. 5 seed Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina or No. 20 Milos Raonic of Canada. Del Potro and Raonic play late Wednesday night in another quarterfinal.

Isner was broken twice by Chung when they met in Auckland. He faced only one break point on Wednesday.

“It’s perfect conditions,” said Isner, who lost to Novak Djokovic in the 2015 semifinals at Key Biscayne. “I’ve played well here in the past and I’m so happy that I’m playing well here again.”

Ostapenko got her spot in the semifinals by ousting fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) and now will get the upstart Collins with a berth in Saturday’s final at stake. The other women’s semifinal is Thursday afternoon, with No. 13 Sloane Stephens set to meet three-time Miami champion Victoria Azarenka.

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.