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Del Potro sets up French Open semifinal match against Nadal

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PARIS – Juan Martin del Potro is back in the French Open semifinals for the first time since 2009 and will next face Rafael Nadal, the man with the most appearances at this stage of the clay-court Grand Slam.

The fifth-seeded Del Potro, whose career has been hampered by injuries, beat third-seeded Marin Cilic 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 Thursday. Ten-time champion Nadal completed a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over Diego Schwartzman. Both matches had been stopped by rain on Wednesday.

With his good run at Roland Garros, Del Potro is now guaranteed to return to the top four in the rankings for the first time in more than four years.

Del Potro fought back tears during his post-match interview and was loudly cheered by fans at Court Suzanne Lenglen.

“It’s tough to speak now,” the 2009 U.S. Open champion said. “It has been a long time without good feelings. I had three surgeries on my left wrist. I was close to (quitting).”

Del Potro, who lost to Roger Federer in the 2009 French Open semifinals, hit 31 winners against Cilic, including 19 aces.

He briefly lost his focus toward the end of the second set when he appeared to be distracted by a spectator just before hitting a double-fault to drop his serve and give Cilic a 5-4 lead. He confronted the fan, then smashed his racket as he returned to his chair at the changeover.

He eventually lost the set and found himself trailing 3-1 in the third set before turning things around, with Cilic largely undone by his 74 unforced errors.

Del Potro has won only five of his 14 previous matches against Nadal.

“I don’t know if I will win, but I will take a big love from you and that’s the most important for me,” he said.

Nadal was serving at 5-3, 30-15 after having dropped the first set when play was stopped on Wednesday. He came back on court in full swing and made Schwartzman run with a combination of deep groundstrokes and subtle drop shots. He was also able to raise his level when in danger, saving three break points in the eighth game of the third set with great shot-making, and four more in the final set.

Nadal is only the third male player in the Open era to reach 11 semifinals at a single Grand Slam, alongside Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors.

In womens’ play, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys were to play for a spot in the French Open final. It’s the first semifinal between a pair of American women at Roland Garros since Serena Williams beat Jennifer Capriati on her way to the 2002 title.

Top-ranked Simona Halep is up against 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza in the other semifinal match.

More AP tennis coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Rafael Nadal will play in new Davis Cup format

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MADRID — Gerard Pique is not worried about the possible absence of some top players in the revamped Davis Cup, especially since Rafael Nadal has said he will play in the new-look competition when it debuts next year.

The Barcelona defender, who spearheads the company behind the new format of the Davis Cup, said Wednesday that Nadal has told him he will play as long as he is not injured.

“If the No. 1 in the world is playing, that’s more than enough,” Pique said in the official presentation of Madrid as host of the Davis Cup finals for the next two years. “Rafa is very positive about this event, especially because it is taking place in Madrid.”

The new event was developed in a partnership between the International Tennis Federation and the investment group Kosmos, which was founded by the Barcelona and Spain player.

Pique said he knows it will not be easy to have all top-ranked players participating.

“This is a team event, so it’s impossible to have all the top players involved. Some teams won’t qualify, not everybody will be able to play anyway,” Pique said. “Of course we would like to have the top players, but we want to focus on the teams.”

Stars such as Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have already hinted they don’t intend to play. Djokovic said the tournament could be competing with the ATP’s World Team Cup, while Federer said the revamped Davis Cup didn’t seem to be designed for him.

Pique said he already didn’t expect Federer to be playing, noting the Swiss veteran has limited his tournament schedule in recent years and might not “have the legs” to play in the Davis Cup again. He said he still hoped to convince Djokovic, though.

“I have a lot of confidence that we can negotiate and the top players will play,” Pique said.

The new format of tennis’ top team event will be a season-ending, 18-team tournament, but teams will still play matches in February to advance to the championship in November. The Davis Cup has previously been played over four weekends throughout the year.

The first championship will be held next year from Nov. 18-24 on an indoor hardcourt at the Magic Box arena, which already hosts the Madrid Masters. The ITF said players will compete for prize money that will rival what is offered in Grand Slams.

Pique said there is no “perfect date” for the tournament as the tennis calendar is very tight, but he was happy with the week they picked.

“We’ve spoken with everybody,” he said. “We think this is a week that won’t affect any of the other tournaments. We want to be well seen in the tennis world. We are here to help. We think this will be a magical week for the world of tennis.”

The 2018 Davis Cup semifinalists – Croatia, France, Spain and the United States – have already secured their spot in next year’s tournament, along with Argentina and Britain.

Defending champion France will host Croatia in the last Davis Cup final in the current format from Nov. 23-25 in Lille.

Stephens, Pliskova both lose at Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW — Sloane Stephens and Karolina Pliskova were both eliminated from the Kremlin Cup on Wednesday, with the latter result ensuring that Elina Svitolina has qualified for the WTA Finals.

The fifth-ranked Pliskova lost to Russian veteran Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 6-2, holding serve only once in the match.

Because of the loss, Svitolina will play in the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore. Pliskova can still qualify, but she could also be overtaken by Kiki Bertens.

The 34-year-old Zvonareva, a former Wimbledon and U.S. Open finalist, will next face Anastasija Sevastova in the quarterfinals. The Latvian beat Yulia Putintseva 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.

Stephens lost to Tunisian qualifier Ons Jabeur 6-3, 6-2. The third-seeded American, who had a first-round bye, lost her opening service games in each set.

Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, secured qualification for the WTA Finals last week after a strong season which included reaching the French Open final.

Jabeur will next face Anett Kontaveit in the quarterfinals. The eighth-seeded Estonian beat Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 7-6 (3).

In the men’s draw, Ricardas Berankis beat Aljaz Bedene 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) to reach the quarterfinals.