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Osaka, Nishikori into Birsbane semifinals

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BRISBANE, Australia — Naomi Osaka called in her coach for advice on how to swing momentum after losing the first set to Anastasija Sevastova, and it did the trick.

The U.S. Open champion responded by conceding only five points in the next set on her way to a 3-6, 6-0, 6-4 win Thursday that secured her spot in the Brisbane International semifinals.

Kei Nishikori worked his own way out of a jam against 2017 champion Grigor Dimitrov when he was down a break in the second set of their quarterfinal match, winning six of the last seven games to clinch it 7-5, 7-5.

And so after the back-to-back matches on Pat Rafter Arena, two players from Japan, both seeded No. 2, were into the semifinals.

Osaka was clearly under pressure against the eighth-seeded Sevastova, who had won both of their head-to-head meetings last year and converted two service breaks in the first set.

A disconsolate-looking Osaka went to a courtside chair at the changeover. And whatever coach Sascha Bajin told her during a quick, animated conference, it worked.

She finished with 11 aces, converted all four of her break-point chances in the second and third sets and appeared far more confident in her own game.

Bajin, a former hitting partner for Serena Williams, really just gave her a reality check. He told Osaka to stay calm and wait for her opportunities.

“She’s one of the best players in the world. I just have to stay in there, and hopefully I’ll get a chance,”‘ Osaka said. “I did, so I just kept trying to roll with it. He literally told me that.”

On-court coaching is allowed at WTA events, but it is banned at Grand Slam tournaments.

The 21-year-old Osaka will play Lesia Tsurenko, a 7-5, 6-3 winner over Anett Kontaveit, in the semifinals. She could rise to No. 3 in the rankings next week – which would be a record high for a player from Japan.

Osaka has now made the semifinals or better at four of her last five tournaments, a streak that began with her run to a first major title that culminated with a memorable win over Williams in the U.S. Open final. And it has all been a significant boost to her confidence ahead of the Australian Open, which starts on Jan. 14.

“I feel like right now I’m really confident in myself, and I feel like the offseason training that I’ve been doing is really paying off,” she said. “And I’m not sure if I would have had the same feeling six months ago. Six months ago I didn’t win the U.S. Open.”

Nishikori, who became the highest-ranked male player from Asia when he got to No. 4 in the wake of his run to the U.S. Open final in 2014, lost the 2017 Brisbane final to Dimitrov. That is so far a one-off, with Nishikori now extending his career record to 5-1 against the Bulgarian.

“I’m trying to go (back into) top five, that’s my next goal,” Nishikori said. “I was playing great tennis (last year) and I think I’m doing it again now this week.”

He will next play Jeremy Chardy, who beat Japanese qualifier Yasutaka Uchiyama 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (4) to reach the semifinals.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga got an easier path to the quarterfinals than expected, avoiding a second-round contest with 17-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, who withdrew from the tournament with a thigh muscle strain on Wednesday.

Tsonga then beat Taro Daniel 7-6 (5), 6-3. The 77th-ranked Daniel was the lucky loser from qualifying who got a spot in the main draw when Nadal pulled out.

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.