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Stephens returns to quarters with win over Mertens

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NEW YORK — It was quite a point, one that showed off the best of Sloane Stephens’ versatile game, and so a reporter began recounting what happened to the defending U.S. Open champion after she won Sunday night to get back to the quarterfinals.

Stephens interrupted. She did not think the retelling did it justice. At all.

“You are not describing that point good. But I know what you’re talking about,” Stephens said, then proceeded to give her own play-by-play.

“She hit a drop shot. I hit a drop shot back. Then she lobs me to my forehand. I ran back and hit a forehand cross-court — and the crowd went crazy,” she said. “You didn’t describe it like that. You were getting lost in there. I think that was a great point.”

Certainly was. And that chase-down, tunaround, hook-shot of a passing winner just showed a glimpse of how the No. 3 Stephens can go from defense to offense with flair, as she did repeatedly during her 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 15 Elise Mertens of Belgium in the fourth round.

There were other, similar efforts of that sort by the 25-year-old American. Not that she works on those kinds of improvisational moves while training.

“Never, never, never. I’m the type of person, if the ball goes over my head, I’m like, ‘Whatever,’ in practice. I don’t practice that. I think it makes it unnatural. It makes you try to do too much if you’re practicing trick shots. I don’t know how (Nick) Kyrgios and guys like that do it,” Stephens said.

“Just like I always say: Get your racket on it. Make a play on the ball. Make your opponent play an extra ball. That’s the most important thing to me,” she continued. “Sometimes it doesn’t have to be the best shot, but making them play another shot, you might get another opportunity. I worked really hard on that instead of trying to hit a trick shot or do fancy stuff. Just simple: Make them play an extra ball and see what happens.”

Sure worked against Mertens.

Next match, Stephens can employ that strategy against No. 19 Anastasia Sevastova of Latvia. It’ll be a rematch of last year’s U.S. Open quarterfinal, won by Stephens in a third-set tiebreaker.

It’s the third time in a row Sevastova made it to the final eight at Flushing Meadows.

“There’s a pattern maybe, because,” she said, “because some tournaments I play always good.”

Fognini stuns Nadal 6-4, 6-2 to reach Monte Carlo final

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MONACO (AP) Fabio Fognini ended Rafael Nadal’s long winning streak at the Monte Carlo Masters, stunning the defending champion 6-4, 6-2 Saturday to reach the final for the first time and hand Nadal his first defeat here since 2015.

The 13th-seeded Italian had beaten Nadal twice before on clay, and also once at the U.S. Open in five sets, but this was arguably the most impressive.

Not since the 2005 final, a five-setter which Nadal won in four sets, had the 11-time champion Nadal been beaten 6-0 in a set here. And Fognini came so close to doing just that.

He served for the match at 5-0 and 40-0, but Nadal saved three match points – and some pride – by breaking back and then holding.

Serving again for the match at 5-2, Fognini hit a superb forehand down the line to clinch victory on his fourth match point.

Nadal’s last defeat here was also in the semifinals, against Novak Djokovic in 2015. He had not lost a set at the clay-court tournament since conceding one in the second round against Britain’s Kyle Edmund in 2017.

Fognini next plays unseeded Serb Dusan Lajovic in their first-ever meeting, and one few would have predicted happening here.

The 48th-ranked Lajovic earlier staged a remarkable comeback from 5-1 down to beat 10th-seeded Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-1.

Lajovic won 10 straight games to open up a 4-0 lead in the second set before Medvedev finally held serve. But after saving one match point, the Russian player tamely hit a return long on his opponent’s next opportunity.

It could have been an all-Serb semifinal but Medvedev knocked out the top-ranked Djokovic in Friday’s quarterfinals.

Saturday’s match started in difficult conditions, with a heavy wind coming in from the Mediterranean.

Serving for the first set at 5-1, Medvedev dropped his serve and remonstrated with himself.

Lajovic clinched the first set on serve, with Medvedev completely mistiming the ball and sending it skyward.

The 28-year-old Lajovic was ill before the tournament and said he needed antibiotics to recover.

He struggled to describe his surprise run.

“Incredible … Unreal,” he said, before settling on “It’s been a great week.”

Lajovic stages comeback to reach Monte Carlo final

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MONACO (AP) Unseeded Serb Dusan Lajovic staged a remarkable comeback from 5-1 down to beat 10th-seeded Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-1 in the Monte Carlo Masters semifinals on Saturday.

Lajovic won 10 straight games to open up a 4-0 lead in the second set before Medvedev finally held serve. But after saving one match point, the Russian player tamely hit a return long on his opponent’s next opportunity.

The 48th-ranked Lajovic now plays in his first career final against 11-time champion Rafael Nadal or 13th-seeded Fabio Fognini.

It could have been an all-Serb semi but Medvedev knocked out top-ranked Novak Djokovic in Friday’s quarterfinals.

Saturday’s match started in difficult conditions, with a heavy wind coming in from the Mediterranean blowing clay around the court.

Serving for the set at 5-1, Medvedev dropped his serve and remonstrated with himself.

He had good cause.

The first-set turnaround was complete when Lajovic clinched it on serve, with Medvedev completely mistiming the ball and sending it skyward.