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Federer to play doubles with Djokovic at Laver Cup

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CHICAGO — Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have played against each other 46 times. From Monaco to Shanghai and everywhere in between. Regular, run-of-the-mill tournaments and major finals.

On Friday night, they play on the same side of the net for the first time.

Federer and Djokovic will close out the first day of the second edition of the Laver Cup when they take on Jack Sock and Kevin Anderson in doubles at the United Center. Federer and Djokovic are playing for Team Europe, while Sock and Anderson are competing for Team World in the Ryder Cup-style event.

“We have had so many great battles in all the singles courts, and to finally team up together I think is going to be very special for both of us,” Federer said Thursday. “I think we still have to talk over it a little bit exactly maybe either who’s going to take the lead or, you know, how do we play exactly.”

The pairing of Federer and Djokovic adds a little spice to an event long on star power and light on any real stakes. While world No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 4 Juan Martin del Potro are out with injuries, the Laver Cup has seven of the top 11 players in the ranking and 10 of the top 20.

But it arrives at the home of the NBA’s Bulls and NHL’s Blackhawks just a couple weeks after Djokovic beat del Potro in the US Open final for his 14th Grand Slam title. There are no majors left this year and the next big tournament isn’t until next month in Shanghai.

While the event looks and feels like a glorified exhibition – check out the unusual black court and the celebrations for the youthful Team World whenever it wins a big point – John Isner brusquely swatted away a question about the level of competition.

“Honestly, that question really annoys me,” the 6-foot-10 American said. “One-hundred percent serious. This is not an exhibition at all. At all.”

Federer and his management team played a key role in the creation of the event, and the Swiss star helped lead Team Europe to the victory last year in Prague. The inaugural edition also was marked by a splashy doubles pairing involving Federer, who teamed with Nadal for the first time for a 6-4, 1-6, 10-5 victory over Sock and fellow American Sam Querrey.

Asked about the matchup with Federer and Djokovic, Sock cracked: “Who’s that?”

“Yeah, obviously going to be a legendary team,” he continued “We got a little bit of it last year.”

Djokovic and Federer last played against each other in the Cincinnati final on Aug. 19, when Djokovic won 6-4, 6-4 to become the player to claim all nine ATP Masters 1000 events since the series started in 1990. Djokovic leads the all-time series with 24 victories.

“This is what this competition is all about, you know, bringing us all together,” Djokovic said.

How Djokovic and Federer do together remains to be seen. Sock is one of the world’s top doubles players, and the 32-year-old Anderson, who is from South Africa and played in college at the University of Illinois, is having a terrific year.

But the possibilities for the talented pairing sure looked pretty good.

“I think I will take the deuce side. If Novak is OK with that, I will be happy to play on the deuce side,” Federer said when asked where each player might set up.

“I think I’m OK on the backhand,” Djokovic said with a grin.

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.”