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‘Barbecued chicken’: Tiafoe’s Australia run ended by Nadal

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal is back to feeling healthy. Probably not a coincidence that he’s back in the Australian Open semifinals.

Playing his familiar brand of court-covering, ball-bashing, opponent-frustrating tennis, Nadal claimed 20 of his first 23 service points and saved the only two break chances he faced, ending American Frances Tiafoe’s best Grand Slam run with a dominating 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory Tuesday night.

“I feel lucky to be where I am after all the things I went through,” said Nadal, who quit during his quarterfinal at Melbourne Park a year ago because of a right leg problem, again during his semifinal at the U.S. Open in September because of a painful right knee, and then had offseason surgery on his right ankle.

“Not easy situations,” he said, summing it up.

Nadal, 32, reached his 30th major semifinal and prevented Tiafoe from getting to his first, two days after he turned 21.

“I knew he was going to bring crazy intensity. I knew the ball was going to be jumping. I knew if he got hold of a forehand, it was going to be barbecued chicken,” Tiafoe said. “But point in, point out, I’ve never seen someone so locked in.”

The two hadn’t played each other before, though they did practice together at Roland Garros back in 2014, when Tiafoe was a teen in the junior competition.

Entering this year’s Australian Open, the 39th-ranked Tiafoe had never been past the third round at a major. But he knocked off two-time Slam runner-up Kevin Anderson and 20th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov on the way to the quarterfinals, drawing plenty of attention for his play – and his bare-chested, biceps-slapping celebrations inspired by LeBron James.

As usual, Tiafoe was animated and talkative Tuesday. He lamented missed shots with a self-admonishing “Oh, Frances!” He marked good ones with a shout of “Let’s go!”

But it all came to a screeching halt against Nadal, a 17-time major champion.

Tiafoe, who is from Maryland, was broken the initial time he served in each set, which was all Nadal needed, given how well he handled his own service games. He’s been reluctant to go into detail about a recent tweak he made to his serve, saying it’s “nothing drastic, nothing dramatic.”

He spoke after Tuesday’s win about going for winners on his first forehand following a serve, something he called “very important … at this stage of my career.”

Whatever he’s doing is working. And how. Nadal has won every set he’s played in the tournament, the first time he’s done that en route to the semifinals in Australia since 2009, the only time he won the championship.

“I am playing well,” he said. “I did a lot of things well during the whole week and a half.”

Now Nadal goes up against another opponent much younger than he is, 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, who upset Roger Federer in the fourth round.

The 14th-seeded Tsitsipas became the first player from Greece to earn a semifinal berth at a major, beating No. 22 Roberto Bautista Agut 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2) earlier Tuesday.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Tsitsipas said about his matchup against Nadal. “I feel all right with my game. I feel like I can do something good against him.”

Asked about all of these kids trying to elbow their way to the top of tennis, Nadal smiled and said: “They can wait a little bit.”

Djokovic wins World Sportsman of the Year at Laureus World Sports Awards

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MONACO  — Novak Djokovic, Tiger Woods, Lindsey Vonn and the France national soccer team were among the winners at the Laureus World Sports Awards, with Woods claiming the Comeback Award 19 years after he was first recognized.

Djokovic matched Usain Bolt’s record by being named World Sportsman of the Year for the fourth time after winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He also earned the honor in 2012, 2015 and 2016.

Woods, who won the inaugural World Sportsman of the Year award in 2000, won the Tour Championship in September for his 80th PGA Tour title and his first since August 2013.

Vonn, who retired during the recent Alpine skiing world championships , took home the Spirit of Sport Award, which is given to an athlete for relentless dedication to his or her career, and France was honored for winning the World Cup in July.

Simone Biles was named World Sportswoman of the Year for winning four gold, one silver and one bronze medal at the gymnastics world championships. Naomi Osaka won the Breakthrough Award for winning the U.S. Open and Chloe Kim was named the World Action Sportsperson of the Year.

The awards were given in recognition of outstanding sports performance in 2018.

Wawrinka loses to Monfils in first final since knee surgeries

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ROTTERDAM, Netherlands — Three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka’s rebuilt knee couldn’t quite carry him to the title in Rotterdam on Sunday.

Wawrinka lost his first final since his comeback a year ago from left knee surgeries, succumbing 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 to Gael Monfils of France at the ABN AMRO World Tournament.

It was the Frenchman’s eighth career title.

“I tried a couple of times here. I lost the final in 2016,” Monfils told Dutch national broadcaster NOS courtside. He said it was special to win a tournament that his idol, Arthur Ashe, also won. Ashe won back-to-back titles in Rotterdam in 1975 and ’76.

Unseeded Wawrinka reached the final by beating top-seeded Kei Nishikori in three sets on Saturday.

But the Swiss finally ran out of steam in the final set as Monfils stepped up his game.

“In the third set I was a little bit more aggressive and I go a bit more for my shots, I served bigger and that helped me a lot,” Monfils said.

Wawrinka was going for his 17th career title and second in Rotterdam, after winning in 2015.

It was his first final since the 2017 French Open, where he previously met Monfils in the fourth round.

Monfils also needed three sets to overcome fifth-seeded Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals, but outlasted Wawrinka in a match that took 1 hour, 44 minutes.

After they shared the first two sets, Monfils was more consistent than Wawrinka in the decisive third.

Already trailing 4-2, Wawrinka hit three unforced errors to lose the seventh game and allow Monfils to serve out the match.