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Petra Kvitova back in Grand Slam semifinals

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Petra Kvitova watched the Australian Open from a distance two years ago, a month after she was injured in a violent home invasion.

Then she lost in the first round last year, and conceded she hadn’t returned to a standard that earned her two Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon.

Until now, that is. So she knew the question was coming, perhaps overdue. Still, after her 6-1, 6-4 win over Ash Barty on Tuesday night, the question in an on-court interview reduced her to tears.

She was asked if she’d ever doubted, ever lost belief that she’d be back in this moment . She had just qualified for her first major semifinal since her run to the 2014 Wimbledon title. There was barely a dry eye in the arena.

As she paused to take in a breath and wipe away tears, the encouragement and cheers from the crowd intensified and reached a crescendo after almost 20 seconds to allow Kvitova to respond to Jim Courier’s question.

“Thank you guys. Um, no, really,” she said. “I didn’t really imagine to me playing on this great stadium and play with the best.”

Later she explained the tears were “a mix of emotions of everything I’ve been through.”

“Sometimes I’m not really recognizing anything from the past,” she said. “But when Jim asked that, it wasn’t really easy for me to kind of see myself being in a semifinal after everything.”

Since her return to the majors at the French Open in 2017, she has had two first-round exits, two second-round losess, two in the third. The highlight was a run to the 2017 U.S. Open quarterfinals.

Now she’s on a 10-match winning run, having also beaten Barty for the title in Sydney in the week leading up to the Australian Open, and feeling like she’s back in the big time.

“For sure. I’m calling it my `second career.’ So it’s the first semifinal of the `second career,”‘ Kvitova said. “But, yeah, it took me a while, for sure. I never really played so well on the Grand Slams, so I’m happy this time it’s different. I’m really enjoying it.”

And she really is. Her five wins have been in straight sets in an average time of about 1 hour, 6 minutes.

The difference is fewer nerves, more job satisfaction and more freedom.

“I’m seeing life a little bit differently compared with before. I know it’s just the sport, it’s just the tennis,” she said. “Always when you’re doing something, you want to do best. Of course, losing, it hurts a lot because you are doing everything for it.

“On the other hand … I’m always looking back and see what I achieved from the time (before the violent attack). It’s always both sides. But in the end, always the life wins.”

She’ll play Danielle Collins next, and is one of the few people who entered the tournament who could have predicted the American’s run so far.

Collins has a 5-5 career record in Grand Slam matches. It was 0-5 when she got to Melbourne this month. She has taken out three seeded players, including a 6-0, 6-2 win over three-time major champion Angelique Kerber in the fourth round.

In the quarterfinals, she came back to overpower Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 – conceding only three points in the third as she raced to a 5-0 lead.

Collins took Kvitova to three long sets at the Brisbane International, her first match of the season. So Kvitova, who like Kerber is left-handed, is wary.

“I won it, but it was over three hours,” Kvitova said of her semifinal rival. “She’s very fearless and she’s playing very, very aggressive.”

Collins said she had followed Kvitova’s career, and admired the 28-year-old Czech player, but was ready to make her win No. 6 in her hot streak.

“She’s an incredible champion, has gone through a lot,” Collins said. “We had a really great battle a couple weeks ago, one of the best matches I’ve played. I didn’t even win that match. So very familiar with her. Looking forward to the next match.”

Kvitova recalled Collins having a chance to serve out that match in Brisbane, and said she would need to be better to win again.

But on second thought, she said: “It’s a semifinal, so, who cares?”

“I always wanted to come back and play on the highest level, compete with the best, play the Grand Slams, actually be very deep in the Grand Slam, which is happening,” Kvitova said of her second-time-around run to the semifinals. “Yeah, it just took me a bit to the tears, but it was happy tears, for sure.”

Joao Souza provisionally suspended

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LONDON — Brazilian tennis player Joao Souza has been provisionally suspended again amid a corruption investigation by the Tennis Integrity Unit.

Souza had already been provisionally suspended on March 29 but was reinstated on April 8 following a successful appeal.

The TIU says that the provisional suspension has been put back in place “following consideration of additional evidence submitted by the TIU,” adding that no more appeals will be accepted.

No further details were given for the reason of the suspension.

The 30-year old Souza is currently ranked No. 422, having reached a career-high of No. 69 in 2015.

Also in 2015, Souza played in the longest Davis Cup singles match ever, losing to Leonardo Mayer of Argentina 15-13 in the fifth set after 6 hours, 42 minutes.

The TIU is a joint initiative of the Grand Slam Board, the International Tennis Federation and the ATP and the WTA tours.

Medvedev shocks Djokovic to reach Monte Carlo semis

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MONACO – An erratic Novak Djokovic suffered a surprise 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 defeat against Daniil Medvedev in the Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinals Friday.

The 10th-seeded Russian was appearing in the last eight of a Masters tournament for the first time but was not overawed. In fact, it was the top-ranked Djokovic who made the most mistakes. The two-time champion looked out of sorts in tricky conditions and produced 47 unforced errors.

“On a windy day like today, conditions are changing every game,” Djokovic said. “It’s tough to find rhythm and he doesn’t give you much rhythm. He was very patient and played well tactically.”

After failing to serve out the match, when his Serbian opponent broke back to 5-2 down, Medvedev broke for the fifth time to seal a memorable victory.

Djokovic double-faulted at 30-30 to give Medvedev his first match point and a backhand winner secured a first win against his top-ranked rival at the fourth attempt, and a first victory against a No. 1.

“It was amazing,” Medvedev said. “He played worse than before and I am gaining more experience. He was not so good in the first set and made a lot of mistakes.”

Medvedev twice had his thighs massaged during changeovers in the third set. “Cramp didn’t affect my game,” he said.

The 23-year-old Monaco resident next faces the unseeded Dusan Lajovic, who also reached a Masters semi for the first time when he beat Italian qualifier Lorenzo Sonego 6-4, 7-5.

Lajovic has not dropped a set at the clay-court event and is more surprised than anybody.

“I didn’t expect this. I was sick before the tournament and taking antibiotics,” the 28-year-old Serb said. “But it’s the best week of my career.”

The same goes for the 23-year-old Medvedev, who is ranked 14 and is chasing a fifth career title.

He had lost the three previous matches against Djokovic, including a tough four-setter in the fourth round of this year’s Australian Open.

“In Australia he was at his best, but I made him run for his win there,” said Medvedev.

Djokovic won that tournament to secure a third straight Grand Slam title and 15th overall, moving two behind Nadal and five adrift of Roger Federer’s record haul of 20.

But Djokovic has now failed to reach the last four in three straight tournaments, after also falling short at Indian Wells and Miami.

“I am lacking that determination to go for shots on some points,” he said.

At times it looked like Djokovic would take control and he clinched the second set with two aces. But his shot-making was below its usual high standards and his drop shot rarely worked.

Nadal has won at Monte Carlo a record 11 times. The second-ranked Spaniard plays the unseeded Guido Pella of Argentina later.

The other match is between No. 9 Borna Coric of Croatia and No.13 Fabio Fognini of Italy.