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Make or breaker: Nishikori stays, Spaniard out in Australia

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MELBOURNE, Australia — One contentious point, after five hours and five sets, had Pablo Carreno Busta screaming at the umpire and gave Kei Nishikori the shift in momentum he needed to clinch his place in the Australian Open quarterfinals.

After being two points from victory, Carreno Busta lost five straight, including that one in the last tiebreaker where he berated the chair umpire for not ruling a replay, allowing Nishikori to advance 6-7 (8), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (8).

It was the second time the 2014 U.S. Open finalist has had to come back from two sets down in the tournament, and the second time he’s had to win in the new 10-point fifth-set super tiebreakers that were introduced at Melbourne Park this year.

“That was important point, too, but, I mean, you should ask how I came back from two sets down,” Nishikori said Monday. “That was only one point. I mean, maybe affect him, but … maybe it could affect me.”

Maybe affect Carreno Busta? The 27-year-old Spaniard lost it, stopping only briefly to hug Nishikori after the match before slamming his bag onto the court and screaming again at the umpire as he left Margaret Court Arena.

“I left as soon as I could after the last point, because I knew I might explode,” Carreno Busta said in Spanish. “I apologize for the way I left the court.”

On the disputed 14th point, Carreno Busta’s shot clipped the net and bounced on the left line. Nishikori readjusted quickly and hit an easy backhand winner.

A line judge called “out” as Nishikori hit the ball, and Carreno Busta was nowhere close to playing it. But Carreno Busta challenged the decision, and Hawk-Eye showed his ball hitting the line. The point remained with Nishikori, however, because chair umpire Thomas Sweeney ruled neither player had been hindered in the point.

Carreno Busta didn’t win another point, and Nishikori sealed the match with an ace. The eighth-seeded Nishikori stays to play six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic. Carreno Busta is out of the tournament.

“It’s tough, to me to leave Australian Open like this, because I think that I played an unbelievable match,” the 23rd-seeded Spaniard said. “Also Kei, he played really good, and that’s sad to leave like this.”

Nishikori had an earlier chance to serve out at 5-4 in the fifth, but Carreno Busta broke and it went down to the wire again.

“I’m really glad how I came back – I don’t even know how I come back,” said Nishikori, who has nearly 14 hours on court in four rounds. “Yeah, there were many tough moments.”

In the last match of the round, Djokovic overcame a couple of tumbles to the court and a series of energy-sapping baseline exchanges – one point lasted 42 shots – to beat No. 15 Daniil Medvedev 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-3 and return to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2016.

Djokovic joked during an on-court interview: “Since I guess my next opponent is watching, I’m feeling fantastic. I’ve never felt fresher in my life.”

He later said he had a few aches and pains and “I didn’t feel so great in the last 20 minutes.”

“We’ll see tomorrow how the body reacts (but) I’m confident I can recover and can be ready for the next one.”

No. 16 Milos Raonic and No. 28 Lucas Pouille, who ousted No. 11-seeded Borna Coric 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-5, 7-6 (2), will meet in the other quarterfinal on the top half.

Raonic’s consistent winners frustrated fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev to the point where he shattered his racket and got an umpire’s warning in the 6-1, 6-1, 7-6 (5) defeat.

The big-serving Canadian had his serve broken in the opening game but responded by winning the next eight games until Zverev finally held. After falling behind 4-1 in the second, Zverev slumped in his courtside chair and smacked his racket into the court eight times before tossing it aside.

The angry outburst only served to highlight Raonic’s dominance.

“I played incredible today,” the 2016 Wimbledon runner-up said. “I did a lot of things very well. Proud of that.”

Zverev, on the other hand, apologized after failing again to break his drought against top-20 ranked men at the majors.

“I was very angry, so I let my anger out,” he said. “I played bad. The first two sets especially I played horrible.

“It’s just tough to name one thing. I didn’t serve well, didn’t play well from the baseline. Against a quality player like him, it’s tough to come back from that.”

Opelka edges top-seeded Isner to reach New York Open final

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) Reilly Opelka edged top-seeded John Isner the same way he knocked his fellow American out of the Australian Open, winning a match full of tiebreakers Saturday night in a New York Open semifinal that set a record for combined aces in a three-set match.

Opelka fought off six match points in a marathon second set and went on to win 6-7 (8), 7-6 (14), 7-6 (4) to move within a victory of his first ATP title.

The 6-foot-11 Opelka and 6-10 Isner combined for 81 aces and there were no breaks of serve. Opelka hit 43 aces, Isner had 38, and each had only one double fault.

It was similar to their meeting in Melbourne, when Opelka beat the ninth-ranked Isner in a first-round match that went four tiebreakers.

Opelka will play Canadian Brayden Schnur, a qualifier who had never won a tour-level match before this week.

Schnur recovered after blowing a 3-0 lead and eventually the second set to beat American Sam Querrey 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-3.

Schnur was the final alternate accepted into the tournament’s qualifying draw and was nearly gone from Long Island quickly, eventually overcoming two match points to beat No. 3 seed Steve Johnson in the second round.

There was nothing quick about the second semifinal, which lasted 2 hours, 31 minutes and went well past the previous record of 71 aces, set earlier this year in a match between Nick Kyrgios and Ryan Harrison.

Isner was in good position to win in straight sets, taking a 3-1 lead in the tiebreaker when Opelka pushed a forehand long. But he wasted a chance to win the match on his serve, and Opelka then kept erasing the rest of the match points when he served.

Isner had dropped both matches this season, part of a six-match skid dating to the end of last year, before winning his first two matches here in straight sets.

But he was stopped again by Opelka, who fell two aces shy of Ivo Karlovic’s record for most aces in a three-set match.

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Mertens upsets Halep in Qatar Open final

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DOHA, Qatar – Unseeded Elise Mertens came from a set and a break down to beat recent No. 1 Simona Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the Qatar Open final and capture the biggest title of her career on Saturday.

Halep led 6-3, 2-0, then lost a service game for a third time to see the second set back on serve. Mertens continued to pressure, missing two more break chances in the seventh game but finally breaking – to love – in the ninth. The set was the first Mertens took from Halep in three matchups.

Mertens broke again to start the third set, Halep leveled at 2-2, but Mertens finished stronger and won her fifth career title.

The Belgian beat two other top-10 players this week, Kiki Bertens and Angelique Kerber.

Halep’s first final appearance since August guaranteed she will rise one spot to No. 2 in the rankings on Monday.