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Djokovic beats Federer in epic Paris semi; facing Khachanov

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PARIS — Novak Djokovic beat Roger Federer 7-6 (6), 5-7, 7-6 (3) in an epic Paris Masters semifinal lasting three hours, after Federer saved two match points on Saturday.

Djokovic’s fourth straight win over Federer and 25th in 47 contests sends him into the final against unseeded Russian Karen Khachanov, who has never played in a Masters final.

“This is my best match of the year, that’s for sure. Big respect to Roger,” Djokovic said, addressing the crowd in French. “Whenever I play Roger he demands the best of me.”

Federer remains one short of 100 career titles.

“When you lose a close match like this you always have regrets,” he said. “Losing is never fun, so that’s why I guess I have this face right now.”

Djokovic is on a 22-match winning streak and will aim to move level with Rafael Nadal on a record 33 Masters titles.

“Novak is obviously on a roll. You can feel it,” Federer said. “He protects his serve very well.”

Earlier, Khachanov continued his strong recent form by beating Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-1.

Khachanov won the Kremlin Cup in Moscow last month for his third career title.

Djokovic, who beat him on the way to the Wimbledon title, is seeking a record-extending fifth Paris Masters title and 73rd title overall.

He was made to work far harder than when he beat Federer in the Cincinnati Masters final in August and his relief was evident.

When they hugged at the net, Federer gave Djokovic a pat on the chest and then walked off quickly, raising a thumb to the crowd as fans roared their approval.

They got everything they could have hoped for: Two players with a combined 34 Grand Slam titles, 59 Masters titles, and 533 weeks at No. 1 slugging it out at a level of unrelenting yet sublime intensity.

Brilliant one-handed winners on the run from Federer down the line and acute-angle volleys at the net; astonishing elasticity while retrieving from the baseline and laser-beam forehands to the corners from Djokovic.

Federer had 17 aces, while Djokovic got five of his eight in his last three service games of the match, stepping up his level at the right time.

Djokovic briefly let his volatile temper get the better of him, though, when he had Federer at 15-40 down in the ninth game of the deciding set. Federer saved both break points, and Djokovic whacked his racket into the ground, drawing the first and only boos of a titanic match.

Djokovic jogged over to get a new racket and held his hands up as if to apologize to the unforgiving crowd, unhappy that a pique of rage interrupted their gourmet feast of tennis.

Brimming with confidence in a season which has seen him go from No. 22 in the rankings in May to No. 1 when they are released on Monday, and in which he has added the Wimbledon and U.S. Open to his Grand Slam haul, Djokovic created pressure throughout.

But Federer saved every break point – 12 of them – and secured the only break of the match in clinching the second set.

The shot of the match went to Federer in the eighth game. As Federer charged to the net, Djokovic hit a powerful forehand which clipped the net and flew to the left of Federer, wrong-footing him. From a seemingly impossible angle, and totally off balance, he scooped his racket behind his neck and flicked a volley over the net for a winner.

Federer thrust his arms into the air, the crowd rose to their feet in sheer disbelief.

Even by Federer’s lofty standards, it was remarkable.

But after losing the match, Federer was left shaking his head. He was unhappy with someone in the crowd twice shouting “out” during the match-point rally.

“It’s just unfortunate it happens and at the end you lose the point, the match,” Federer said.

Still, he retained a sense of irony.

“Thank God the rally ended,” he said. “It would have been five times if it continued.”

Federer shocked by Tsitsipas at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Even as his uninterrupted dominance of yore dissipated, even as he took the occasional break, Roger Federer always mattered more often than not in the closing days of Grand Slam tournaments.

Until lately, that is.

Until, at age 37, he was outplayed in the Australian Open’s fourth round by a much younger man, 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, during a 6-7 (11), 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-6 (5) surprise that ended Federer’s bid for a third consecutive championship at Melbourne Park.

“I have massive regrets,” said Federer, who failed to convert any of the 12 break points he earned against Tsitsipas, the first player from Greece to reach a major quarterfinal.

This loss makes it a fourth straight Slam without Federer in the semifinals: He skipped the 2018 French Open, was beaten at Wimbledon in the quarterfinals and exited the U.S. Open in the fourth round.

That is his longest such drought since he claimed the first of his men’s record 20 major titles, all the way back in 2003 at Wimbledon.

“Roger is a legend of our sport. So much respect for him. He showed such good tennis over the years. I’ve been idolizing him since the age of 6,” said Tsitsipas, who has worked with Serena Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.

“It was a dream come true for me … just facing him,” Tsitsipas said about Federer. “Winning at the end? I cannot describe it, you know.”

Federer was the oldest man left in the field and would have been the oldest quarterfinalist in Australia since Ken Rosewall at 43 in 1977.

Tsitsipas, a lanky guy who kept his scraggly hair in place with a pink headband, was the youngest to make the fourth round this year. He lost his opening match in Melbourne a year ago, when Federer picked up his sixth Australian Open championship.

“For sure, it’s a good win against Roger. I mean, we all know who Roger Federer is, what he has done in tennis. But I still have to keep my focus, keep my concentration on further goals that I want to achieve. That’s a very good beginning. I need to stay humble,” said Tsitsipas, who next faces another player making his quarterfinal debut at a major, No. 22 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain. “This win is a good milestone, let’s say good first step, as I said, to something bigger.”

At least Federer was able to crack a joke when asked whether Tsitsipas reminds him of a younger version of himself, replying: “He has a one-handed backhand. And I used to have long hair, too.”

And before anyone writes off Federer just yet, remember that folks have kept trying to do that for quite some time, and he has repeatedly returned to title-winning form. After this setback, Federer announced that he would return to playing the clay-court circuit this season, including the French Open after missing it the past three years.

This match was a thriller from beginning to end, both in terms of the high quality and entertaining style of play from both men – something long expected of Federer. The world is still learning what the 14th-seeded Tsitsipas can do.

His soft hands serve him well on volleys, and he is that rare man who will press forward as often as Federer and have nearly as much success. On this cool evening, Tsitsipas won the point on 48 of 68 trips to the net, while Federer went 50 for 66.

The kid served well, too, compiling a 20-12 edge in aces and, more significantly, staving off all of those break chances that Federer earned: two in the first set, eight in the second, two in the third.

In the opening game of the match, Tsitsipas twice was called for a time violation after allowing the 25-second serve clock – new in Melbourne’s main draw this year – to expire. The second such warning resulted in the loss of a serve, and Tsitsipas proceeded to double-fault, offering up a break point to Federer.

Tsisipas erased that chance with a 123 mph (198 kph) serve initially called out, then reversed on a challenge. Federer insisted to chair umpire James Keothavong that they should replay the point, a request that was denied, drawing the Swiss star’s ire.

That would signal a pattern. At each key juncture, either Federer blinked or Tsitsipas delivered something special.

“Hung in there, gave himself chances at some points, stayed calm. It’s not always easy, especially for younger guys,” said Federer, who was trying to reach his 54th Grand Slam quarterfinal. “Credit to him for taking care of that.”

Tsitsipas never even collected a break point of his own until the third set, and the match was nearly 3 hours old when he finally cashed one in, the only one he would need, when Federer pushed a forehand into the net.

The crowd, sensing something special, broke into a chorus of “Tsi-tsi-pas! Tsi-tsi-pas!”

As is often the case when a youngster outdoes an old master, there was buzz about whether this might signal something more meaningful than one result. Each member of the sport’s long-ruling Big Three – Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – already had dismissed challenges from the next generation at this tournament.

This, though, was different.

Tsitsipas is different.

“I see him being high up in the game,” Federer said, “for a long time.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

More AP Tennis: https://www.apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Nadal through to Australian Open quarterfinals

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Second-seeded Rafael Nadal has swept to his 20th victory in 24 attempts over Tomas Berdych with a 6-0, 6-1, 7-6 (4) win to advance to the Australian Open quarterfinals.

Nadal won the first nine games of the match and when Berdych finally got on the board in the 10th, the Czech player held his left arm up in mock celebration. Berdych came back strongly in the third set and had a set point in the 12th game before Nadal dominated the tiebreaker.

The last time the players met here in 2015 Berdych beat the Spaniard in straight sets to end a 17-match losing streak against Nadal.

It is the 11th time that Nadal has reached the quarterfinals here. He will next play 21-year-old American Frances Tiafoe.