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Federer shocked by Tsitsipas at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — 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.”

John Isner advances to final on Newport’s hot grass courts

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NEWPORT, R.I. — Top-seeded John Isner overcame extremely hot conditions and a first-set tiebreaker loss to beat fourth-seeded Ugo Humbert of France 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-3 on Saturday and advance to the Hall of Fame Open final.

The 34-year-old American will face Alexander Bublik, a 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-4 winner over Marcel Granollers of Spain. The 22-year-old Bublik, from Kazakhstan, reached his first career ATP final.

The matches were played before induction ceremonies for the 2019 class of Li Na from China, Mary Pierce of France, and Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

Playing in a feel-like temperature in the 90s, Isner, ranked 15th in the world coming into the week, broke in the second game of the final set – the first break of the match – en route to his fourth final on Newport’s grass courts. He won in 2011, `12 and ’17.

“The length of the match is fine. That’s what happens, especially with matches like mine,” the big-serving Isner said. “It’s really hot and humid and takes a lot (out) of you. To be honest, I don’t feel really great right now.”

Isner is into his 28th ATP final.

In a match that lasted 2 hours, 44 minutes, started in sunshine and ended with shadows creeping nearly halfway across the court, Isner had two aces in the final game to go up 40-0.

He hit a forehand winner at the net and pumped his fist when it ended.

Isner hit a forehand winner down the line to win the second-set tiebreaker and force the deciding set.

“That was a big shot,” he said. “I always say when I win the second set, I’m going to win the match.”

Bublik broke in the fifth game of the final set to take control of his match.

Just before he closed it out, an elderly female fan, seated courtside in the sun, was carried out on a chair by two men with ushers helping. The feel-like temperature at the time was in the upper 90s with the sun beating down on the court and some spectators.

“It’s hot,” said Bublik when asked about the conditions during a post-match interview on the court. “I’m just glad I won a match.”

The stadium seating and courtside seats – both located in the sun and usually at least about three-quarters full on induction day – had less than a hundred people seated for both semifinals.

Li Na’s journey to stretch from China to Hall of Fame

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NEW YORK — Li Na remembers first watching a tennis match on TV, drawn to the unforgettable style of one of the players.

Andre Agassi had long hair, an earring and wore denim shorts, and made an instant fan in China.

“Andre Agassi is my role model,” Li said.

Li went on to become one herself.

The first player from Asia to win a Grand Slam singles title, she will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame this weekend, celebrated not only for her skills on the court but for her contribution to the growth of the sport in her country.

“She’s like an icon in China. She’s a huge superstar,” said Mike Silverman, the director of sport for New York’s City Parks Foundation.

Li conducted a clinic with children from the organization on Thursday and her influence was obvious. Many of the young players were Asian, including one teenage boy Silverman thinks is good enough to get a college scholarship. They were probably too young to remember much of her career – she retired in 2014 because of knee problems – but her impact didn’t end when her playing days did.

“There’s no question that Li Na, when she was playing and even now, tennis in China has never been the same since she won the French Open,” Silverman said. “It changed everything.”

That was in 2011, when more than 116 million people in China watched the final. Li added a second major title in 2014 at the Australian Open after twice losing in its final, rose to No. 2 in the WTA rankings and earned more than 500 singles wins.

“At least I always try my best in tennis on the court,” Li said. “If you try everything I think one day for sure there will be payback.”

The mother of two children is a little nervous about the induction ceremony in Newport, Rhode Island, as she tries to put together her thoughts in English. But perhaps she can take a lesson from something else she admired about Agassi.

“He never cared about what other people say, he just did his own,” said Li, who is joined in this year’s class by fellow two-time Grand Slam singles champions Mary Pierce of France and Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia.

Li said she can see the growth of tennis in China, where the WTA Finals will be played in Shenzhen and which got another event on the tour’s calendar this year when the former Connecticut Open was moved to Zhengzhou.

“It’s not only good for the athletes, it’s also good for the fans to have less traveling,” Li said. “They can see a high-level tournament in China.”

Fans can see plenty of them, as there are nine women’s tournaments in China after the U.S. Open. The country may not have a long tennis history, but Li thinks it will continue to get bigger.

“For me, I think China tennis is still young,” she said. “They can have a lot of time to grow up.”