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Rafael Nadal in Wimbledon quarterfinals for first time since 2011

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LONDON — After seven years of struggles, Rafael Nadal is finally looking like a contender again at Wimbledon.

The top-ranked Spaniard is back in the quarterfinals at the All England Club for the first time since 2011 – and playing a lot like the man who reached his fifth final that year.

“It’s true it has been a while,” Nadal said about his return to the last eight. “But when I come here, I come here thinking that I can do a good result, no?”

Clearly, the King of Clay hasn’t forgotten how to play on grass.

The 11-time French Open champion beat Jiri Vesely 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 on Centre Court on Monday and has yet to drop a set in this tournament. While tougher tests are still to come, it seems the old Nadal is back at Wimbledon.

That’s the Nadal who earned two titles and three runner-up finishes in a six-year span from 2006-11, despite missing the 2009 tournament with knee problems. Not the one who made it past the second round only once in the four years after that, or who was knocked out by Gilles Muller in the fourth round last year after missing 2016 with another injury.

While Nadal has found grass difficult of late, he insists some of those results were misleading.

“To be fair and honest, we have to think about the things that happened. In 2012, 2013, I was not able to compete. Even if I played, I was not able to compete with the knees the way I had. (In) 2014, I played a good tournament. I lost in the fourth round against a player I can lose to (Nick Kyrgios), 2015 was a very bad year for me, not on grass, on most of the surfaces. It’s normal that I lost here, too. In 2016 I didn’t play because of my wrist. In 2017 I played well, 2018 I am playing well.”

Vesely can attest to that.

Nadal hit 37 winners to only 12 unforced errors and erased the only break he allowed by breaking back immediately in the third set.

His play already has fans and commentators dreaming of another final between Nadal and Roger Federer – on the 10th anniversary of their five-set classic that the Spaniard won. Standing in the way yet could be fourth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals – the Argentine’s fourth-round match was suspended with him holding a 2-1 set lead – and then possibly three-time champion Djokovic in the semifinals.

The idea of another Nadal-Federer final seems to have most people quite excited – except Nadal himself. The Spaniard is hoping his old rival, and eight-time champion, gets knocked out before that.

“If he’s in the final, I am excited to play Roger,” he said. “Facing Roger again will be something fantastic. If you ask me if I prefer another (opponent), I say yes. That’s the point. It’s about being smart, no?”

Bryan, Sock win ATP Finals doubles title

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LONDON — American pair Mike Bryan and Jack Sock saved a match point in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Pierre-Hughes Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 5-7, 6-1, 13-11 for their first ATP Finals doubles title together on Sunday.

Having failed to take advantage of five championship points during the first-to-10 match tiebreaker, Bryan and Sock then had to save one against their French opponents before finally closing out victory at the O2 Arena.

“It was a hell of a match,” Bryan said.

The 40-year-old Bryan has now won the season-ending tournament five times. He won four times with his usual partner – and brother – Bob, who has been out with an injured hip since May.

Sock and Bryan have dominated since teaming up, winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before finishing their season in style in London.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Bryan said. “This could be our last hoorah because Bob’s training back in Florida.”

After reaching the singles semifinals last year, Sock has endured a torrid season in that format, falling outside the top-100 ranked players. However, he became the first American since John McEnroe to add a doubles final appearance at the tournament to his last-four singles showing.

“This is special because it was a pretty bad year in singles,” Sock said. “This makes up for some of the low moments I’ve had.”

The French duo’s season is not over yet. Herbert and Mahut are part of their nation’s squad for the Davis Cup final against Croatia, which starts in Lille on Friday.

Ball boy flub taints Zverev’s ATP Finals win vs. Federer

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LONDON — After pulling off one of the biggest wins of his career, Alexander Zverev was left apologizing for an unforced error he didn’t make.

Zverev denied Roger Federer a shot at a 100th career title by beating the Swiss great 7-5, 7-6 (5) on Saturday to advance to the championship match at the ATP Finals.

Federer was leading the second-set tiebreaker 4-3 and in the ascendancy of a rally on a Zverev service point when a ball boy at the back of the court dropped a ball. Zverev immediately signaled for the point to be stopped and the umpire ordered the point to be replayed.

Zverev served an ace before going on to close out the match moments later.

“I want to apologize for the situation in the tiebreak,” said Zverev, who was booed by some members of the crowd during his on-court interview. “The ball boy dropped the ball so it’s in the rules that we have to replay the point.

“I’m a little bit upset about the whole situation because this is not how I wanted it to end.”

Zverev is the youngest player at 21 to reach the final since 2009 and the first from Germany since 1996. He will next face Novak Djokovic or Kevin Anderson, who are in the other semifinal later Saturday.

Federer, 37, was seeking a record-extending seventh title, but was unable to cope with the pressure created by Zverev’s power and precision at the O2 Arena.

“He (Zverev) apologized to me at the net,” Federer said. “I was like, `Buddy, shut up. You don’t need to apologize to me here. Congratulations on a great match and a great tournament so far. All the best for the finals.’ And you move on.”

An inspired series of shots earned Zverev the first break points of the match in the 12th game and Federer sent a forehand wide to fall behind.

Federer willed himself to a break for 2-1 in the second set, but Zverev quickly composed himself to hit straight back in the following game.

Zverev overcame the freak interruption to establish a 5-4 lead in the tiebreaker, and Federer netted the simplest of forehand volleys to bring up match point.

He saved the first, but Zverev confidently put away a backhand drive volley to set up a shot at the biggest title of his career and leave Federer waiting until next season for his 100th title.

“Overall, I’m happy how the season went,” said Federer, who picked up his 20th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. “There’s many positives. So I’m excited for next season.”

Despite having reached only one Grand Slam quarterfinal, Zverev is the only active player outside the Big Four of Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray to have won three Masters titles. But victory at the tour’s flagship event would exceed those achievements.

“Novak right now is the best player in the world,” said Zverev, who lost to Djokovic in the round robin. “No matter who it’s going to be, I’ll be ready.”