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Federer advances to record-extending 15th ATP Finals semi

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LONDON — Roger Federer advanced to the last four of the ATP Finals for a record-extending 15th time with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Kevin Anderson on Thursday.

Six-time champion Federer needed only a set to advance and produced his best performance at the season-ending tournament to end the round-robin stages with a 2-1 win-loss record.

Dominic Thiem’s 6-1, 6-4 victory over Kei Nishikori earlier had left Federer with a modest task and ensured that Anderson became the first South African ever to reach the semifinals.

Federer looked as if he was about to give up a break advantage for the second time in as many service games when he dropped to 0-40 attempting to close out the opening set at 5-4, but the 20-time Grand Slam champion found his first serve when it mattered most to hold.

Anderson hadn’t faced a break point in winning his first two matches. Federer, though, broke him twice more in the second set to claim top spot in the group and likely avoid a semifinal meeting with top-ranked Novak Djokovic.

Having struggled in an opening loss to Nishikori and relied mainly on his serve when defeating Thiem, Federer finally found some timing with his ground-strokes to apply consistent pressure on Anderson’s serve.

The previously impenetrable Anderson serve wilted, with two double faults gifting Federer a 4-3 lead. Much to the surprise – and disappointment – of the partisan crowd at the O2 Arena, the Swiss great handed the break straight back with a series of errors.

However, Federer steadied himself and made a delicate drop volley to break once more in the following game, before eventually closing out the set to maintain his record of having only missed the semifinals once in 16 appearances at the tournament.

Federer lost just four points on serve in the second set. He used a backhand slice to break for 4-3 and the same shot brought up two match points at 3-5, 15-40.

Having saved a match point on his way to securing a five-set quarterfinal victory over Federer at Wimbledon, Anderson threatened another comeback as he won a 21-shot rally to get back to deuce, but there was to be no repeat this time.

Two more Anderson forehand errors ended the match and Federer won the group by virtue of their head-to-head record.

With Djokovic clear favorite to top his group, which concludes Friday, Federer has boosted his chances of avoiding the in-form Serb until the final.

Bencic beats 2-time defending champ Svitolina in Dubai semi

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Unseeded Belinda Bencic stopped Elina Svitolina’s bid for a third consecutive title at the Dubai Championships by beating her 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3) in the semifinals Friday.

The 45th-ranked Bencic won her third match in a row against a top-10 opponent and will face yet another, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, in Saturday’s final at the hard-court tournament.

Kvitova advanced to her third final of 2019 by edging Hsieh Su-wei 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. The No. 2-seeded Kvitova picked up her tour-high 17th victory of 2019.

Bencic is seeking her third career title, Kvitova her 27th.

Against No. 6 seed Svitolina, Bencic trailed 5-3 in the third set. This was her latest in a string of comebacks. She saved six match points against eighth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka in the third round, then erased a set deficit to beat third-seeded Simona Halep in the quarterfinals.

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Bencic upsets Halep to reach Dubai semifinals

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Unseeded Belinda Bencic rallied to beat second-ranked Simona Halep 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 Thursday to reach the Dubai Championships semifinals.

Bencic, who saved six match points in the previous round against Aryna Sabalenka, failed to capitalize on an early break in the first set but Halep continued to struggle with her serve and was broken seven times in total. Bencic broke for a 5-4 lead in the second and then raced out to a 3-0 lead in the decider, having won six games in a row. Halep, who was playing her ninth match in 13 days after reaching the final in Qatar last week, got one break back but Bencic broke again for a 5-2 lead before converting her third match point.

Second-seeded Petra Kvitova had no such problems, winning the last eight games to oust Viktoria Kuzmova 6-4, 6-0 to book her spot in the last four. Kvitova, the 2013 Dubai champion, needed just 62 minutes to wrap up the win. She will next face Su-wei Hsieh of Taiwan, who came from 5-1 down in the final set to beat fourth-seeded Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 1-6, 7-5. It was the latest upset for Hsieh, who ousted Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber on Wednesday.

In the final quarterfinal, Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain was playing Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.

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