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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.”

Zverev beats Djokovic to win ATP Finals title

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LONDON — Alexander Zverev upset Novak Djokovic to claim the biggest title of his career with a 6-4, 6-3 victory at the ATP Finals on Sunday.

The 21-year-old Zverev became the youngest champion of the season-ending event since Djokovic claimed the first of his five titles a decade ago, and the first from Germany since 1995.

Top-ranked Djokovic was attempting to tie Roger Federer’s record of six titles but followed the same path as the Swiss great, who lost to Zverev in the semifinals at the O2 Arena.

Djokovic’s serve hadn’t been broken all tournament until the final. Zverev did it once in the first set and three times in the second, completing the victory with a spectacular backhand winner up the line.

Both players began the match in the same form that had seen them earn straight-sets semifinal victories a day earlier, with few points going against the server.

It was Djokovic, who had lost just two of his previous 37 matches, who began to feel the pressure as consecutive forehand errors gave Zverev a chance to serve out the opening set at 5-4.

Fans gave Zverev a huge ovation as he stepped up to serve, and it appeared to inspire him. Three straight aces brought up three set points, the second of which he took when Djokovic sent another forehand long.

Zverev even began to outlast Djokovic in longer rallies, an area of the game the 14-time Grand Slam champion usually dominates. A 26-shot duel brought up another break point in the opening game of the second set and, although Djokovic saved it, Zverev won another lengthy exchange moments later with a forehand winner to go 1-0 up.

With the biggest win of his career in sight, Zverev began to show some nerves. Although he is the only active player outside of the Big Four of Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray to possess three or more Masters titles, the young German has only reached one Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Two double faults and two backhand errors gifted Djokovic an immediate break back, but Zverev quickly refocused to win a 28-shot rally on his way to breaking in the following game.

From there he remained solid on serve, before ending with a flourish. Having been pushed wide, a backhand winner on the run drifted past the helpless Djokovic.

Zverev sunk to the ground in tears as Djokovic sportingly crossed the net to embrace the player who will now be considered among the favorites to end the Serb’s run of two consecutive Grand Slam victories in Australia in two months’ time.

Earlier, 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.

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.

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

The 40-year-old Bryan has now won the 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.”

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.