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Ferrer’s last Slam ends with injury against Nadal at US Open

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NEW YORK (AP) There was something bittersweet about David Ferrer’s last Grand Slam match. Yes, he got to depart by sharing the court with his friend and Spanish Davis Cup teammate Rafael Nadal, under the lights on the big stage of Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open.

He also was forced to quit for the first time in 208 contests at major tournaments, an ironic adieu for a guy known as one of the most indefatigable players in tennis.

Nadal was ahead 6-3, 3-4 after less than 1+ hours of the first-round match when Ferrer stopped because of an injured left calf that began bothering him in the first set and kept getting worse in the second.

“I’m sad because it’s my last Grand Slam. I was enjoying playing the match against Rafa. I was playing good. But anyway, I am proud with myself, with my career,” said Ferrer, whose best showing at a major was his runner-up finish at the 2013 French Open.

The man who beat him in that title match? Nadal.

“I am 36 years old,” Ferrer said. “It’s time to be home.”

He’s not quite done with his sport, though. Ferrer, who was ranked as high as No. 3 but is currently 148th, made clear he plans to play a selective schedule of tournaments in 2019.

Still, this felt like a farewell, both to him and to Nadal.

“He deserved a better finish,” Nadal said. “I am sad for him.”

They are just the fifth pair of men to play in the first round at a Slam after having met in a major final. In all, this was their 31st tour-level meeting; Nadal won 25.

The only men with more victories over Nadal than Ferrer’s six? Novak Djokovic with 27, Roger Federer with 15 and Andy Murray with seven.

“We played in very important finals for both of us. We played important matches for both of us. Yeah, we shared a lot of very important moments in our lives together,” Nadal said. “He will be one of these guys that the tour will miss, because he is one of the players that is a good guy. The tour loves him.”

Ferrer was asked whether he regretted playing at a time when the Big Four of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray dominated the sport.

He said that’s not the way he thinks about it, and that it was “a pleasure to play with them, with maybe the best generation,” because they motivated him to strive to improve.

After Monday night’s match, Federer saluted Ferrer with a tweet that conveyed “ultimate respect.”

Others offered other words of praise, including 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, who said after winning his first-round match Monday that Ferrer “was the kind of player no one wanted to face.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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

Serena falls to Pliskova in Aussie Open quarters

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Karolina Pliskova says her “mind was in the locker room” when she was down 5-1 in the third set of her Australian Open quarterfinal against 23-time major winner Serena Williams.

In one of the most stunning comebacks at the Australian Open, the seventh-seeded Pliskova saved four match points as she rallied to win the last six games to clinch a 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory and a semifinal spot against U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka.

“I didn’t have too many chances in the third set. I was a little bit too passive. Obviously mentally down,” Pliskova said. “So I just said, ‘Let’s try this game, on 5-2, maybe I’m going to have couple of chances.’

“She got a bit shaky at the end, so I took my chances, and I won.”

Pliskova’s win over the seven-time Australian Open titlist means there’ll be a first-time women’s champion at Melbourne Park this year.

In the other semifinal, two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova will play Danielle Collins, who had never won a Grand Slam match before this tournament. Kvitova’s best previous run at Melbourne was to the semifinals in 2012.

‘Barbecued chicken’: Tiafoe’s Australia run ended by Nadal

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal is back to feeling healthy. Probably not a coincidence that he’s back in the Australian Open semifinals.

Playing his familiar brand of court-covering, ball-bashing, opponent-frustrating tennis, Nadal claimed 20 of his first 23 service points and saved the only two break chances he faced, ending American Frances Tiafoe’s best Grand Slam run with a dominating 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory Tuesday night.

“I feel lucky to be where I am after all the things I went through,” said Nadal, who quit during his quarterfinal at Melbourne Park a year ago because of a right leg problem, again during his semifinal at the U.S. Open in September because of a painful right knee, and then had offseason surgery on his right ankle.

“Not easy situations,” he said, summing it up.

Nadal, 32, reached his 30th major semifinal and prevented Tiafoe from getting to his first, two days after he turned 21.

“I knew he was going to bring crazy intensity. I knew the ball was going to be jumping. I knew if he got hold of a forehand, it was going to be barbecued chicken,” Tiafoe said. “But point in, point out, I’ve never seen someone so locked in.”

The two hadn’t played each other before, though they did practice together at Roland Garros back in 2014, when Tiafoe was a teen in the junior competition.

Entering this year’s Australian Open, the 39th-ranked Tiafoe had never been past the third round at a major. But he knocked off two-time Slam runner-up Kevin Anderson and 20th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov on the way to the quarterfinals, drawing plenty of attention for his play – and his bare-chested, biceps-slapping celebrations inspired by LeBron James.

As usual, Tiafoe was animated and talkative Tuesday. He lamented missed shots with a self-admonishing “Oh, Frances!” He marked good ones with a shout of “Let’s go!”

But it all came to a screeching halt against Nadal, a 17-time major champion.

Tiafoe, who is from Maryland, was broken the initial time he served in each set, which was all Nadal needed, given how well he handled his own service games. He’s been reluctant to go into detail about a recent tweak he made to his serve, saying it’s “nothing drastic, nothing dramatic.”

He spoke after Tuesday’s win about going for winners on his first forehand following a serve, something he called “very important … at this stage of my career.”

Whatever he’s doing is working. And how. Nadal has won every set he’s played in the tournament, the first time he’s done that en route to the semifinals in Australia since 2009, the only time he won the championship.

“I am playing well,” he said. “I did a lot of things well during the whole week and a half.”

Now Nadal goes up against another opponent much younger than he is, 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, who upset Roger Federer in the fourth round.

The 14th-seeded Tsitsipas became the first player from Greece to earn a semifinal berth at a major, beating No. 22 Roberto Bautista Agut 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2) earlier Tuesday.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Tsitsipas said about his matchup against Nadal. “I feel all right with my game. I feel like I can do something good against him.”

Asked about all of these kids trying to elbow their way to the top of tennis, Nadal smiled and said: “They can wait a little bit.”