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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.

Nadal gets his revenge over Tsitsipas to reach Rome final

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ROME (AP) After losing in the semifinals of three straight clay-court tournaments, Rafael Nadal looked more like his old, dominant self when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-4 Saturday to reach the Italian Open final.

It was a measure of revenge for Nadal after losing to Tsitsipas in three sets at this stage in Madrid last week. The victory should also restore Nadal’s confidence as he seeks a record-extending 12th title at the French Open starting next weekend.

“I’m playing better every match, every weekend,” Nadal said.

Aiming for a ninth trophy in Rome, Nadal’s opponent in Sunday’s final will be either Novak Djokovic or Diego Schwartzman, who were playing later.

Nadal is in the middle of his longest title drought to begin a season since he came onto the scene in 2004. His last trophy came in Toronto last August.

The crowd attempted to encourage Tsitsipas with chants of “Tsi-Tsi-Tsi; Pas-Pas-Pas” but the 20-year-old Greek player couldn’t keep up with Nadal on the long rallies – even though he didn’t play a day earlier after Roger Federer withdrew from the quarterfinals.

Conditions were much slower than on the high-altitude court in Madrid, which favored Nadal and made it tougher for Tsitsipas to execute his attacking game.

Midway through the first set, Nadal produced an awesome forehand winner up the line on the run, drawing a loud roar from the packed Campo Centrale crowd.

Nadal broke Tsitsipas’ serve early in both sets.

In the women’s tournament, Johanna Konta rallied past sixth-seeded Kiki Bertens 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 in nearly three hours to reach the biggest clay-court final of her career.

Konta’s only previous final on clay came recently in Rabat, Morocco, where she lost the title match to Maria Sakkari.

Konta could get a rematch with Sakkari if the Greek qualifier beats fourth-seeded Karolina Pliskova in the other semifinal.

Midway through the first set, Konta surprised Bertens with a drop shot winner during a baseline rally, causing Bertens to fall on her stomach to the clay as she rapidly changed directions. Then in the next game, Konta ran down a drop shot and produced an angled winner.

Bertens was coming off the Madrid Open title.

“She played really smart with the drop shots,” Bertens said. “I was all the time getting myself together and trying to push for more energy. But it was not there.”

The 42nd-ranked Konta served for the first set at 5-4 but was broken at love. But Bertens double faulted to let Konta serve for the second set and Konta got an early break in the third.

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John Isner out of French Open with injury

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PARIS — John Isner has pulled out of the French Open because of an injured left foot, ending his streak of 24 consecutive appearances at Grand Slam tournaments.

The 34-year-old Isner announced his withdrawal Friday on Twitter.

He is ranked No. 11, the top American man, but has not competed since hurting his foot during the Miami Open final March 31.

Isner was a Wimbledon semifinalist last year, his best Grand Slam performance. He hasn’t missed a major since the 2013 Australian Open.

He’s reached the fourth round at Roland Garros three times, including in 2018, and is one of only two men to push 11-time champion Rafael Nadal to a fifth set there.

Isner is best known for winning the longest match in tennis history, 70-68 in the fifth set against Nicolas Mahut in Wimbledon’s first round in 2010. The match lasted more than 11 hours over three days.