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Federer, Isner to meet in Miami Open final

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — For an NFL stadium, it will be a different kind of Sunday showdown: Roger Federer against John Isner.

Both won Friday and advanced to the final of the Miami Open, which moved this year to the Dolphins’ complex from its longtime Key Biscayne home.

Federer dominated a semifinal battle of the ages, beating 19-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov 6-2, 6-4. Defending champion Isner also bested a Canadian teenager, 18-year-old qualifier Felix Auger-Aliassime, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4).

Both finalists give the new tournament site a thumbs-up, partly because they’ve done so well the past week.

“The venue is absolutely fantastic,” said Isner, a big football fan. “To play in the stadium – the Super Bowl will be here next year – it’s pretty amazing.”

The atmosphere was lively for both matches, and each time experience triumphed. The age gap with Shapovalov was the largest of the 37-year-old Federer’s career, and he used a wide array of shotmaking to take control with two early breaks.

“It was a tactical match by me,” Federer said. “I’m happy I was able to play with variations.”

Seeded No. 4, Federer improved to 17-2 this year. He lost in this month’s Indian Wells final to Dominic Thiem and now seeks his fourth Miami Open title.

Federer is 5-2 against Isner, but they haven’t played each other since 2015.

Isner, now 33, won his only ATP Masters title a year ago on Key Biscayne.

“It’s amazing – I said before the tournament the chances were I would not defend my title,” Isner said. “I’m very, very happy.”

The 6-foot-10 American hit 21 aces in the semifinal and has 98 in five tournament matches. Federer laughingly said he’ll brace for a barrage.

“I know what to expect,” Federer said. “On Sunday I’ll be the goalie and try my very best.”

The women’s final Saturday will match No. 5 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic against No. 12 Ashleigh Barty of Australia.

The largest stadium crowd of the tournament watched Federer deploy his full repertoire against Shapovalov. That included a lunging stab volley for a winner, a half-volley drop shot for another winner, and a nifty chipped return while Federer held the racket like a flag, strings in front of his face.

“He’s got every shot mastered,” said Shapovalov, who considers Federer his idol. “When he needs a shot, he’s going to go for it and he’s going to make it. I don’t think he has any weaknesses.”

Shapovalov will climb to a career-best No. 20 in the rankings despite his defeat.

“Denis is a great player,” Federer said, “and he will be even better in the future.”

Like Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime came up short in a bid for his first ATP Masters 1000 final. He served for both sets, but Isner broke each time by taking advantage of double-faults, and then used his big serve to control the tiebreakers.

Nine of his 10 sets in the tournament have gone to a tiebreaker, and he has won each one. But Auger-Aliassime figured neither set should have gotten to that point.

“It’s a chance you can’t miss, serving two times for the set,” he said. “Just terrible.”

Auger-Aliassime, 5-0 previously against top 20 opponents, was the youngest male semifinalist in the tournament’s 35-year history. He’ll jump to a career-best No. 33 in next week’s rankings.

But he’ll need steadier play at pivotal moments to fulfill his potential as a future Grand Slam champion.

Isner lost serve for only the third time in the tournament to fall behind early. Auger-Aliassime served at 5-4 but double-faulted into the net three times, including on break point.

There was a repeat in the second set. Auger-Aliassime served at 5-3, double-faulted once and then hit a swinging volley into the net on break point.

The teenager blamed nerves.

“It’s like I caught a virus or something,” he said. “I couldn’t put a second serve in anymore. That’s just very tough to swallow.”

Each lapse led to a tiebreaker, where Isner has been unbeatable of late after arriving at Miami with a modest 7-10 record in tiebreakers this year.

He finished strong against Auger-Aliassime, whacking three aces in the final tiebreaker, the last on a 140 mph serve that was his fastest of the match.

“I’m playing well,” Isner said. “Keep it up and see what happens.”

Nadal gets his revenge over Tsitsipas to reach Rome final

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ROME (AP) After losing in the semifinals of three straight clay-court tournaments, Rafael Nadal looked more like his old, dominant self when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-4 Saturday to reach the Italian Open final.

It was a measure of revenge for Nadal after losing to Tsitsipas in three sets at this stage in Madrid last week. The victory should also restore Nadal’s confidence as he seeks a record-extending 12th title at the French Open starting next weekend.

“I’m playing better every match, every weekend,” Nadal said.

Aiming for a ninth trophy in Rome, Nadal’s opponent in Sunday’s final will be either Novak Djokovic or Diego Schwartzman, who were playing later.

Nadal is in the middle of his longest title drought to begin a season since he came onto the scene in 2004. His last trophy came in Toronto last August.

The crowd attempted to encourage Tsitsipas with chants of “Tsi-Tsi-Tsi; Pas-Pas-Pas” but the 20-year-old Greek player couldn’t keep up with Nadal on the long rallies – even though he didn’t play a day earlier after Roger Federer withdrew from the quarterfinals.

Conditions were much slower than on the high-altitude court in Madrid, which favored Nadal and made it tougher for Tsitsipas to execute his attacking game.

Midway through the first set, Nadal produced an awesome forehand winner up the line on the run, drawing a loud roar from the packed Campo Centrale crowd.

Nadal broke Tsitsipas’ serve early in both sets.

In the women’s tournament, Johanna Konta rallied past sixth-seeded Kiki Bertens 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 in nearly three hours to reach the biggest clay-court final of her career.

Konta’s only previous final on clay came recently in Rabat, Morocco, where she lost the title match to Maria Sakkari.

Konta could get a rematch with Sakkari if the Greek qualifier beats fourth-seeded Karolina Pliskova in the other semifinal.

Midway through the first set, Konta surprised Bertens with a drop shot winner during a baseline rally, causing Bertens to fall on her stomach to the clay as she rapidly changed directions. Then in the next game, Konta ran down a drop shot and produced an angled winner.

Bertens was coming off the Madrid Open title.

“She played really smart with the drop shots,” Bertens said. “I was all the time getting myself together and trying to push for more energy. But it was not there.”

The 42nd-ranked Konta served for the first set at 5-4 but was broken at love. But Bertens double faulted to let Konta serve for the second set and Konta got an early break in the third.

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John Isner out of French Open with injury

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PARIS — John Isner has pulled out of the French Open because of an injured left foot, ending his streak of 24 consecutive appearances at Grand Slam tournaments.

The 34-year-old Isner announced his withdrawal Friday on Twitter.

He is ranked No. 11, the top American man, but has not competed since hurting his foot during the Miami Open final March 31.

Isner was a Wimbledon semifinalist last year, his best Grand Slam performance. He hasn’t missed a major since the 2013 Australian Open.

He’s reached the fourth round at Roland Garros three times, including in 2018, and is one of only two men to push 11-time champion Rafael Nadal to a fifth set there.

Isner is best known for winning the longest match in tennis history, 70-68 in the fifth set against Nicolas Mahut in Wimbledon’s first round in 2010. The match lasted more than 11 hours over three days.