Lucas Pouille reaches Australian Open semifinals

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Lucas Pouille had lost every Australian Open match he played until he hired Amelie Mauresmo as coach.

A couple of months later, he’s into a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time.

The 24-year-old Frenchman will next play Novak Djokovic, who is aiming for a men’s record seventh Australian title, so things will get tougher.

Djokovic was leading 6-1, 4-1 and his quarterfinal match was less than an hour old Wednesday when eighth-seeded Kei Nishikori retired with an injured right leg, finally succumbing after three of his four previous rounds went to five sets. It gave Djokovic a spot in the semifinals at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2016, when he won his second straight title and his fifth in six years.

“Feels great. This has been my most successful Grand Slam throughout my career,” Djokovic said. “Past two years have been a bit tough with the elbow injury and everything.

“Over the past 10 years, I’ve had plenty of success here. Everyone tries to get their hands on one of the four biggest titles in sport, but Australia has been really kind to me.”

Pouille isn’t even sure how far he’s capable of going. But after losing in the first round on his five previous visits, he knows the trajectory is OK.

“I didn’t win a match in Melbourne before,” Pouille said. “Now I’m in the semifinals. So just very, very happy.”

Pouille fended off a strong comeback from 2016 Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic for a 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-4 win, his first in three tries in a major quarterfinal and is first against the big-serving Canadian.

Mauresmo, who won two major titles as a player, including the 2006 Australian women’s title, had previously worked as Andy Murray’s coach. Pouille said Mauresmo had quickly worked out how to improve his game, giving him confidence.

“She’s the right state of mind. She knows everything about tennis. It’s not about being a woman or a man. It doesn’t matter,” Pouille said in an on-court interview when asked about the rarity of a highly-ranked male player working with a female coach. “You just have to know what you’re doing – and she does.”

Some people criticized Murray, a three-time major champion and five-time finalist in Australia, when he first hired Mauresmo. But Pouille hasn’t had to contend with that kind of sexist negativity.

“I think times changed. It’s a shame that it happened,” Pouille said. “Men are coaching women, so why not the contrary? She’s a champion. She’s a great coach.”

The No. 28-seeded Pouille was up two sets and had break points in the seventh and ninth games of the third but Raonic held serve in clutch moments.

Then Raonic rallied, railing against officialdom after getting angry when he challenged a line judge’s call as Pouille was serving to stay in the set.

His service return hit the baseline but was called out. When he challenged it, and a replay confirmed his shot was good, chair umpire Nico Helwerth ordered a replay of the point.

Raonic thought he deserved to be given the point and, when he asked why it wasn’t awarded to him, told the umpire “because you don’t watch, because you’re incapable.”

Pouille won the replayed point and held serve for 6-6, but Raonic won the first six points of the tiebreaker and eventually forced a fourth set.

It was on serve until Pouille put serious pressure on Raonic’s serve and volleys, and broke to clinch the match.

Raonic is now 1-3 in Australian Open quarterfinals, but he had a tough draw at Melbourne Park. He had to hold off Nick Kyrgios in the first round, former champion Stan Wawrinka in the second and No. 4-seeded Alexander Zverev in the fourth.

Raonic said he was disappointed with his serve in the quarterfinals, but not about his challenge in the third set.

For Pouille, the 2016 Wimbledon runner-up had some words of wisdom.

“It’s not so much only the opponent you’re facing, but it’s also the situation, which is a completely new one for him,” Raonic said. “I think he has to stay true to himself, try to do the things he does well, really focus on that aspect more than anything else.”

Linette keeps getting better; into Australian Open semis

Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Two days after advancing to her first Grand Slam tournament quarterfinal, unseeded Magda Linette went one better and is into the Australian Open semifinals.

The 30-year-old Linette beat Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 7-5, adding the former No. 1 to the list of top players she has beaten at Melbourne Park during this tournament.

Linette, who had lost seven of nine previous matches against Pliskova, had defeated Anett Kontaveit, Ekaterina Alexandrova and WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in successive rounds.

A player from Poland was favored to reach the latter stages of the tournament, but it was top-seeded Iga Swiatek that everyone would have expected – and not Linette.

“It’s so emotional I can’t really believe it,” Linette said. “I tried to stay composed and took my chances when I could.”

Linette will play No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka, who beat unseeded Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2 in a later quarterfinal. The women’s semifinals are scheduled for Thursday night.

Vekic, who had 13 double faults against Sabalenka, had a succinct appraisal of her serve: “I mean, it was all over the place. But I think mostly in the net.”

The other women’s semifinalists were determined on Tuesday. Two-time former Australian champion Victoria Azarenka will play Wimbledon titleholder Elena Rybakina for a chance to play in Saturday night’s final. Rybakina beat Swiatek in the fourth round.

Later Wednesday, the remaining men’s semifinalists will be determined. Unseeded Americans Ben Shelton and Tommy Paul play before nine-time champion Novak Djokovic takes on Andrey Rublev.

Djokovic will be looking to qualify for his 44th Grand Slam semifinal and a win in that match on Friday would advance him on Sunday night to his 33rd major singles final.

The other men’s semifinal on Friday will see third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas play Karen Khachanov.

Rybakina rules in Australian Open quarterfinal vs. Ostapenko

Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia – Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina advanced to the Australian Open semifinals with a 6-2, 6-4 win over former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

The match on Rod Laver Arena featured a rare rain delay of about 20 minutes while the roof was closed. Rybakina led 3-1 and was holding a break point before the delay. On return, Ostapenko saved the first break point, but Rybakina broke on her next opportunity to go up 4-1 and won the first set 6-2.

In the second set, Ostapenko was up a break but Rybakina leveled with a break of her own. It came on her first break point when Ostapenko had been unable to convert four in the previous game.

Rybakina, who beat top-seeded Iga Swiatek in the fourth round, set up match points with aces, both of which were saved by Ostapenko. But she clinched the match with another ace, her 11th of the match and a tournament-leading 35 overall.

“I was nervous in the last game, but I managed my emotions and played very well.” Rybakina said. “The conditions were different after the roof was closed. But it can happen here, you never know, on the morning one weather and later it changes.”

Rybakina will play the winner of the night quarterfinal between American Jessica Pegula, at No. 3 the highest women’s seed remaining, and two-time champion Victoria Azarenka.

In men’s quarterfinals, 22-year-old American Sebastian Korda played the next match at Rod Laver Arena against No. 18-seeded Karen Khachanov. In a night quarterfinal, third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas plays Jiri Lehecka. The winners of those matches will play each other in the semifinals on Friday.