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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.”

Fognini stuns Nadal 6-4, 6-2 to reach Monte Carlo final

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MONACO (AP) Fabio Fognini ended Rafael Nadal’s long winning streak at the Monte Carlo Masters, stunning the defending champion 6-4, 6-2 Saturday to reach the final for the first time and hand Nadal his first defeat here since 2015.

The 13th-seeded Italian had beaten Nadal twice before on clay, and also once at the U.S. Open in five sets, but this was arguably the most impressive.

Not since the 2005 final, a five-setter which Nadal won in four sets, had the 11-time champion Nadal been beaten 6-0 in a set here. And Fognini came so close to doing just that.

He served for the match at 5-0 and 40-0, but Nadal saved three match points – and some pride – by breaking back and then holding.

Serving again for the match at 5-2, Fognini hit a superb forehand down the line to clinch victory on his fourth match point.

Nadal’s last defeat here was also in the semifinals, against Novak Djokovic in 2015. He had not lost a set at the clay-court tournament since conceding one in the second round against Britain’s Kyle Edmund in 2017.

Fognini next plays unseeded Serb Dusan Lajovic in their first-ever meeting, and one few would have predicted happening here.

The 48th-ranked Lajovic earlier staged a remarkable comeback from 5-1 down to beat 10th-seeded Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-1.

Lajovic won 10 straight games to open up a 4-0 lead in the second set before Medvedev finally held serve. But after saving one match point, the Russian player tamely hit a return long on his opponent’s next opportunity.

It could have been an all-Serb semifinal but Medvedev knocked out the top-ranked Djokovic in Friday’s quarterfinals.

Saturday’s match started in difficult conditions, with a heavy wind coming in from the Mediterranean.

Serving for the first set at 5-1, Medvedev dropped his serve and remonstrated with himself.

Lajovic clinched the first set on serve, with Medvedev completely mistiming the ball and sending it skyward.

The 28-year-old Lajovic was ill before the tournament and said he needed antibiotics to recover.

He struggled to describe his surprise run.

“Incredible … Unreal,” he said, before settling on “It’s been a great week.”

Lajovic stages comeback to reach Monte Carlo final

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MONACO (AP) Unseeded Serb Dusan Lajovic staged a remarkable comeback from 5-1 down to beat 10th-seeded Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-1 in the Monte Carlo Masters semifinals on Saturday.

Lajovic won 10 straight games to open up a 4-0 lead in the second set before Medvedev finally held serve. But after saving one match point, the Russian player tamely hit a return long on his opponent’s next opportunity.

The 48th-ranked Lajovic now plays in his first career final against 11-time champion Rafael Nadal or 13th-seeded Fabio Fognini.

It could have been an all-Serb semi but Medvedev knocked out top-ranked Novak Djokovic in Friday’s quarterfinals.

Saturday’s match started in difficult conditions, with a heavy wind coming in from the Mediterranean blowing clay around the court.

Serving for the set at 5-1, Medvedev dropped his serve and remonstrated with himself.

He had good cause.

The first-set turnaround was complete when Lajovic clinched it on serve, with Medvedev completely mistiming the ball and sending it skyward.