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Juan Martin del Potro, heat stop John Isner at U.S. Open

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NEW YORK — John Isner doubled over and rested his elbows on his knees. He grimaced. He shook his head.

He looked as if he wanted to be anywhere but where he was: Falling further and further behind against Juan Martin del Potro in muggy, energy-robbing heat at the U.S. Open.

Isner’s bid to become the first American man in a dozen years to get to the final four at Flushing Meadows ended Tuesday with a 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 loss in Arthur Ashe Stadium to No. 3 seed del Potro, the Argentine who won the 2009 championship.

The temperature, more than 90 degrees (32 degrees Celsius), made things uncomfortable across the 3 1/2-hour match. So did the humidity, at about 50 percent. Those kinds of conditions were a problem for Roger Federer when he was upset by 55th-ranked John Millman a night earlier, and Isner had all kinds of trouble, too – certainly more than del Potro did.

Things got so bad around the site that the tournament suspended junior matches for a few hours in the afternoon. The U.S. Tennis Association invoked its new extreme heat policy, which allows men to take a 10-minute break after the third set, but that clearly didn’t help Isner, who quickly trailed 3-0 in the fourth.

Del Potro said he took a shower and retaped his ankles during the rest period between sets.

“And then I lay down on the table,” he added with a grin, “and I don’t want to come back again.”

This has been something of a breakthrough season at age 33 for Isner, including two hard-court titles and a run to his first Grand Slam semifinal, which happened at Wimbledon in July. He followed that up by getting to the quarterfinals in New York for the first time since 2011; no man from the U.S. has made it past this stage at this tournament since Andy Roddick in 2006, three years after he became the country’s most recent male champion at any major.

But del Potro presented all sorts of problems.

His serve is almost as imposing as Isner’s, while other elements of del Potro’s game – returns and, most notably, his thunderous forehand, which often clocks in at more than 100 mph (160 kph) – are superior. On this afternoon, del Potro played particularly clean tennis, making only 14 unforced errors, less than a third as many as Isner’s 52.

And while Isner was playing before what could count as a home crowd, del Potro got all manner of support throughout, from the blue-and-white flags or soccer jerseys dotting the stands to the repeated singsong chants of his nickname, “delPo,” punctuated by clapping.

Those choruses resonated in the arena after key points, such as each time del Potro erased one of Isner’s break chances, three in all. Still, it was Isner who struck first, closing the opening tiebreaker with a 132 mph (212 kph) ace down the middle. That was the first set dropped by del Potro in the tournament.

He managed to take the next three, though, and now will face either defending champion and No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal or No. 9 Dominic Thiem in the semifinals on Friday. Nadal-Thiem was scheduled for later Tuesday night.

Nadal has won 11 of 16 past matchups against del Potro, including the past three, each at a Grand Slam tournament: in the semifinals of last year’s U.S. Open, the semifinals of the French Open in June and a five-set thriller in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in July.

Del Potro vs. Isner pivoted early in the second set.

Isner’s striped shirt and backward white hat were soaked with sweat. He kept puffing his cheeks and taking deep breaths between points. He was looking up to his coaches a lot, too. Worst of all, Isner began to take some half-swings; when he pushed a forehand wide, he got broken to trail 3-1.

At the changeover a game later, Isner plopped himself down in his seat. He pulled off his cap and tossed it aside. Same with his two wristbands. Yanked off his dripping shirt, balled it up, and discarded that, too, sitting shirtless but with an iced towel around his neck. It was as if the heat suddenly hit him and hit him hard, as if the strength that would help him finish with 26 aces was gone and there was nothing left to give.

He would continue, of course, and kept things close in the third set, but never truly threatened to prevent del Potro from reaching a sixth Grand Slam semifinal, third at the U.S. Open.

“An epic match,” del Potro called it. “We’re both tired in the end.”

Federer, Zverev lead Team Europe to Laver Cup win

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CHICAGO — Alexander Zverev beat Kevin Anderson on Sunday night to give Team Europe a victory in the second Laver Cup.

Zverev won the final five points to defeat Anderson 6-7, 7-5, (10-7). His victory helped Team Europe beat Team World 13-8.

Roger Federer earlier put Team Europe ahead by saving three match points for a 6-7, 7-6, (10-7) victory over John Isner.

Isner staggered Federer with a body serve that caused the 20-time Grand Slam winner to stumble early in the match. But Federer regrouped and fought off two match points in the second-set tiebreaker before capturing the deciding 10-point tiebreaker used in the Laver Cup.

In the opening doubles match, Jack Sock and Isner saved two match points in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Federer and Zverev 4-6, 7-6, (11-9).

Team Europe won the first Laver Cup last year in Prague.

Muguruza wins in first round of Wuhan Open; Ostapenko loses

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WUHAN, China — Gabrine Muguruza got off to winning start at the Wuhan Open. Jelena Ostapenko didn’t.

Muguruza defeated Alison Van Uytvanck 6-4, 6-0 on Monday in the first round of the tournament, avenging a second-round loss to the Belgian at Wimbledon.

“I’m happy that I won this time. I remember the match from Wimbledon, like a very tough match for me,” said Muguruza, who had been the defending champion at the All England Club. “It’s always good to play again the same person that beat you, feeling good you did something much better than the previous match.”

Muguruza will next face Swiss qualifier Viktorija Golubic, who defeated Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

Ostapenko, who followed Muguruza as French Open champion in 2017, was beaten by Daria Gavrilova 6-2, 6-4.

Gavrilova, who won for only the second time in four appearances at the Wuhan Open, broke Ostapneko’s serve five times. She will next play Barbora Strycova, who defeated Alize Cornet 6-3, 6-2.

Ashleigh Barty, a finalist last year in Wuhan, defeated Johanna Konta 7-5, 6-4 to advance.

Other winners included Aryna Sabalenka, Donna Vekic, Aleksandra Krunic, Dominika Cibulkova, Madison Keys and Wang Xiyu.