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Juan Martin del Potro advances to Wimbledon quarters for first time since 2013

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LONDON — Juan Martin del Potro faces some major challenges if he’s going to go any further at Wimbledon after reaching consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals for the first time since 2012.

First, on Wednesday he’ll take to the court for a third consecutive day amid concerns over his fitness. Second, his opponent will be two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal.

2009 U.S. Open champion Del Potro defeated Gilles Simon 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-6 (5) in a match that was carried over to Tuesday to complete the men’s quarterfinal lineup at the All England Club.

The other matchups see defending champion Roger Federer against Kevin Anderson; Novak Djokovic takes on Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic meets John Isner in a matchup of big servers.

After reaching the French Open semifinals last month, Del Potro — who has missed long periods with a career-threatening left wrist injury — returned to his career-high ranking of No. 4 for the first time since February 2014, which he acknowledges is a “good signal”.

“I don’t know if I’m better or not, a better player than few years ago,” said Del Potro, after returning to the last eight at Wimbledon for the first time since 2013. “I’m doing a good season already. I’m very proud to be in the last eight players of this tournament”

Del Potro’s Roland Garros run was ended by eventual champion Nadal. If the Argentine is to make it back-to-back last four appearances, he will need to reverse that result on Wednesday.

“If I want to beat him (Nadal),” Del Potro said. “I have to come to the net very often and play hard with my forehands, with my backhands, and try to take all the chances.”

With the fifth-seeded Del Potro’s fourth-round match — the longest men’s singles contest of the tournament so far — having required to be finished Tuesday, he will be taking to the court for a third consecutive day.

Given the fact he withdrew from a pre-Wimbledon event with a groin concern and called the trainer during his match with Simon, Del Potro’s fitness could be a factor.

“I think I will be in good condition.” Del Potro said. “My body feels OK.”

There is little doubt that Nadal — who is playing in the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the first time since 2011 — will provide a big test.

Before Del Potro and Nadal arrive on Centre Court, three-time champion Novak Djokovic, will get the chance he’s been waiting for.

Having played three of his matches away from Centre Court, Djokovic asked after his fourth-round win over Karen Khachanov that his meeting with 24th-seeded Nishikori be played in the main stadium.

His wish was granted, meaning that top-seeded Federer will play away from Centre Court for the first time in three years.

The more gusty conditions on No. 1 Court could make Federer’s challenge against eighth-seeded Kevin Anderson more complicated.

Stretching back to last year, Federer has won 32 consecutive sets at Wimbledon and will break his previous longest streak of 34 if he wins in straight sets.

Following Federer on No. 1 Court will be the two biggest servers remaining in the tournament.

Ninth-seeded Isner has hit a tournament-high 135 aces on his way to reaching his first Wimbledon quarterfinal. Next in the aces column is his opponent, 2016 runner-up Raonic.

The 13th-seeded Raonic has hit 117 aces en route to his fourth last-eight showing at the All England Club.

Both players said the match is likely to come down to a few crucial points, but took different tones when asked to suggest where they might have an advantage.

“I think I can move a little bit better than he can,” Raonic said.

Isner’s retort: “I’m taller than him. That’s all I got for you right now.”

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.