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Federer battles, Djokovic cruises, del Potro out in Shanghai

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SHANGHAI — Roger Federer was stretched to three sets for a second consecutive match to reach the Shanghai Masters quarterfinals on Thursday. Nevertheless, the top seed insisted he was content with how he’s playing.

Federer defeated Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, a day after being taken the distance by Daniil Medvedev of Russia.

“I’m actually quite happy,” Federer said. “Bautista really had to raise his level of play in that second set to stay with me. I mean, he really caught fire, I thought. I served, I think, 80 percent in that second set and got broken twice.”

Novak Djokovic cruised through his second-round match, but Juan Martin del Potro had to retire after hurting his right knee in a fall.

Federer led Bautista Agut by a set and a service break when he became entangled in a fight that lasted until the second-to-last game of the third set.

Bautista Agut, a finalist here in 2016, finally offered Federer an opening to take control by surrendering his serve in the ninth game of the third set.

Federer will play eighth-seeded Kei Nishikori, a finalist in Tokyo last week, in the quarterfinals. Nishikori ousted Sam Querrey 7-6 (7), 6-4 on Thursday.

Third-seeded Del Potro, who has been playing with a cold throughout the week, was playing Borna Coric when he fell near the end of the first set. Del Potro had the knee wrapped but called it quits after losing the first set 7-5.

Djokovic earned partial revenge when he beat Marco Cecchinato 6-4, 6-0. The only other time the second-seeded Djokovic played Cecchinato was in the French Open quarterfinals, where the Italian upset him in four sets.

A Masters event is a level below a Grand Slam, but Djokovic was rapt to crush Cecchinato.

“I was making him play always an extra shot,” Djokovic said. “I was aggressive when I needed to be. The second set was perfect, really.”

Since Djokovic lost that French Open match to Cecchinato, he’s won 28 of his 30 matches. The Serb is on a 15-match winning streak, which includes title runs at Cincinnati and the U.S. Open. He’s bidding to win a record fourth Shanghai title this week.

He will take on seventh-seeded Kevin Anderson of South Africa, whom he leads 6-1 on head-to-head. Djokovic defeated Anderson in straight sets in the Wimbledon final in July.

Anderson ousted 10th-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece 6-4, 7-6 (1).

Fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany also advanced to the quarterfinals by pasting Alex de Minaur of Australia 6-1, 6-4.

Zverev will play Kyle Edmund after the Briton defeated Nicolas Jarry of Chile 7-6 (5), 6-3.

Opelka edges top-seeded Isner to reach New York Open final

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) Reilly Opelka edged top-seeded John Isner the same way he knocked his fellow American out of the Australian Open, winning a match full of tiebreakers Saturday night in a New York Open semifinal that set a record for combined aces in a three-set match.

Opelka fought off six match points in a marathon second set and went on to win 6-7 (8), 7-6 (14), 7-6 (4) to move within a victory of his first ATP title.

The 6-foot-11 Opelka and 6-10 Isner combined for 81 aces and there were no breaks of serve. Opelka hit 43 aces, Isner had 38, and each had only one double fault.

It was similar to their meeting in Melbourne, when Opelka beat the ninth-ranked Isner in a first-round match that went four tiebreakers.

Opelka will play Canadian Brayden Schnur, a qualifier who had never won a tour-level match before this week.

Schnur recovered after blowing a 3-0 lead and eventually the second set to beat American Sam Querrey 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-3.

Schnur was the final alternate accepted into the tournament’s qualifying draw and was nearly gone from Long Island quickly, eventually overcoming two match points to beat No. 3 seed Steve Johnson in the second round.

There was nothing quick about the second semifinal, which lasted 2 hours, 31 minutes and went well past the previous record of 71 aces, set earlier this year in a match between Nick Kyrgios and Ryan Harrison.

Isner was in good position to win in straight sets, taking a 3-1 lead in the tiebreaker when Opelka pushed a forehand long. But he wasted a chance to win the match on his serve, and Opelka then kept erasing the rest of the match points when he served.

Isner had dropped both matches this season, part of a six-match skid dating to the end of last year, before winning his first two matches here in straight sets.

But he was stopped again by Opelka, who fell two aces shy of Ivo Karlovic’s record for most aces in a three-set match.

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Mertens upsets Halep in Qatar Open final

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DOHA, Qatar – Unseeded Elise Mertens came from a set and a break down to beat recent No. 1 Simona Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the Qatar Open final and capture the biggest title of her career on Saturday.

Halep led 6-3, 2-0, then lost a service game for a third time to see the second set back on serve. Mertens continued to pressure, missing two more break chances in the seventh game but finally breaking – to love – in the ninth. The set was the first Mertens took from Halep in three matchups.

Mertens broke again to start the third set, Halep leveled at 2-2, but Mertens finished stronger and won her fifth career title.

The Belgian beat two other top-10 players this week, Kiki Bertens and Angelique Kerber.

Halep’s first final appearance since August guaranteed she will rise one spot to No. 2 in the rankings on Monday.