Federer tops Australia’s Millman in 5 sets at Melbourne Park

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MELBOURNE, Australia — This was the sort of match, riveting and rollicking, that keeps Roger Federer in tennis – even with all of those Grand Slam titles and other accomplishments, even at age 38, even with two sets of twins to raise.

Two points from defeat at the Australian Open, in a packed house after midnight, his mind already drifting to dissecting how he lost. The trophies are the ultimate goal, of course, but winning like this is certainly special, too.

About 1 1/2 years after John Millman outlasted, and ousted, Federer in their only previous Grand Slam meeting, the 47th-ranked Australian gave the 20-time major champion all he could handle again. This time, though, Federer pulled out the victory, pushing back from way down in the final-set tiebreaker, grabbing the last six points and getting to the fourth round at Melbourne Park by edging Millman 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (8).

“All of a sudden you turn the whole thing around within, like, two minutes and it was so worthwhile, you know, everything that I have gone through,” Federer said.

“I think if I do play tennis, it’s because of winning titles, trying to win as many matches as possible, (enjoying) myself out on court,” he continued, “but also being in epic matches like this.”

The entertaining, back-and-forth contest lasted a tad more than four hours, beginning on Friday and concluding at nearly 1 a.m. on Saturday, with roars after each point during the first-to-10 tiebreaker in the fifth set.

Federer trailed 8-4 there before rallying to snap a three-match losing skid in five-setters.

“The air gets so incredibly thin,” Federer said after his record 100th match win at the Australian Open. “And you know that any overhitting, too much risk or just handing over a point at this moment will cost you dearly.”

Like Millman’s four-set win over Federer in the fourth round of the 2018 U.S. Open, this one was contested in high humidity. And like back then, Millman was drenched.

After taking the fourth set this time, Millman removed and replaced his soaked socks and sneakers. When the 38-year-old Federer pushed a runaround forehand long to get broken and trail 2-1 in the final set, Millman, who’s 30, plopped himself down on his sideline seat and munched on a banana.

Federer’s biggest issue was his forehand, for so long one of the secrets to his success. It deserted him completely for stretches, and he finished with a whopping 48 of his 82 unforced errors from that shot.

“He pushed me to go for more. You know me: I’m not going to hold back and just rally all the time,” Federer said. “I will always try to make plays, and for that I will miss some.”

But that forehand also helped him deliver the final winner he would need, the one that ended things, and let Federer wag his right index finger in the air.

Moments earlier, three consecutive amazing shots – once-in-a-lifetime type shots – by Millman pushed him ahead 8-4 in the final tiebreaker: a backhand stop volley, followed by a pair of forehand passing winners.

It wasn’t enough.

“That’s what the best players, I guess, do,” Millman said of Federer’s comeback. “I’ll have to go back and watch it.”

Talk about a close call. But, all in all, on a day of big happenings in the women’s bracket – Serena Williams lost; 15-year-old Coco Gauff beat defending champion Naomi Osaka – there wasn’t nearly as much upheaval in the men’s draw.

The most noteworthy upset, at least by seeding, was No. 32 Milos Raonic’s 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (2) victory over No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas, a semifinalist here a year ago.

Raonic hit 19 aces among his 55 winners and this is how Tsitsipas described dealing with that big serve: “You’re just there, getting punched in the face with one shot.”

While Raonic has been overtaken in the rankings – and in terms of fan and media attention – by a couple of younger Canadians, Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime, the 2016 Wimbledon runner-up is the one headed to Week 2 in Australia.

It’s nothing new for the 29-year-old Raonic, who has been a semifinalist once and a quarterfinalist three times at Melbourne Park.

Like Raonic, his next foe’s game is built on a stinging serve: Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion and twice a Grand Slam runner-up to Federer, including at the Australian Open two years ago.

The unseeded Cilic emerged with a second consecutive five-set win, getting past No. 9 Roberto Bautista Agut 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-0, 5-7, 6-3.

Federer now faces another unseeded opponent, Marton Fucsovics, who ended the surprising run of 22-year-old American Tommy Paul 6-1, 6-1, 6-4.

Earlier in the tournament, Fucsovics beat 20-year-old Shapovalov and 18-year-old Jannik Sinner.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic moved closer to a record eighth championship in Melbourne, and 17th Slam title overall, with a quick 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win against Yoshihito Nishioka.

Next for Djokovic is No. 14 Diego Schwartzman, a 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (7) winner over No. 24 Dusan Lajovic.

The other matchup with a quarterfinal berth at stake on the bottom half of the men’s draw is 100th-ranked Tennys Sandgren against No. 12 Fabio Fognini.

Sandgren – whose best Grand Slam showing was a quarterfinal appearance at the Australian Open in 2018 – topped Sam Querrey 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in an all-U.S. matchup.

Fognini beat No. 22 Guido Pella 7-6 (0), 6-2, 6-3.

“He’s a character, man,” Sandgren said about Fognini. “What you see is what you get.”

Paul, McDonald give U.S. 2-0 lead over Uzbekistan in Davis Cup

Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports
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LONDON – Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul and Mackenzie McDonald, who beat Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park, gave the United States a 2-0 lead over host Uzbekistan in Davis Cup qualifying.

Paul beat Khumoyun Sultanov 6-1, 7-6 (6) after McDonald’s Davis Cup debut produced a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Sergey Fomin on an indoor hard court in Tashkent.

The best-of-five-match series finishes with one match in doubles followed by two in singles. The Americans can clinch a spot in the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals if Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek defeat Fomin and Sanjar Fayziev in doubles.

“A sweep would be nice,” Paul said. “Bring out the broomsticks.”

Paul moved into the top 20 in the ATP rankings for the first time this week by reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal in Australia, where he lost to eventual champion Novak Djokovic. McDonald eliminated 22-time Grand Slam champion Nadal in the second round at the year’s first Grand Slam tournament.

David Nainkin is serving as interim captain for the United States, replacing Mardy Fish.

There are 12 qualifiers being held this weekend with the winners of each advancing to the Davis Cup Finals group stage in September, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will then advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

Nick Kyrgios pleads guilty to assault, has no conviction recorded

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios apologized for shoving a former girlfriend to the ground two years ago after he escaped conviction on a charge of common assault.

The 2022 Wimbledon runner-up pleaded guilty in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court to assaulting Chiara Passari during an argument in his hometown of Canberra in January 2021.

Magistrate Beth Campbell did not record a conviction against Kyrgios for reasons including that the offense was at the low end of seriousness for a common assault, was not premeditated and he had no criminal record.

Kyrgios, who was using crutches following recent surgery on his left knee, ignored reporters’ questions as he left court but issued a statement through a management company.

“I respect today’s ruling and am grateful to the court for dismissing the charges without conviction,” Kyrgios said. “I was not in a good place when this took place and I reacted to a difficult situation in a way I deeply regret. I know it wasn’t OK and I’m sincerely sorry for the hurt I caused.

“Mental health is tough. Life can seem overwhelming. But I’ve found that getting help and working on myself has helped me to feel better and to be better,” he added.

The only media question he responded to as he was about to be driven away from the court was: “what’s next for Nick Kyrgios?”

“Just recovery and get back on court,” Kyrgios replied.

Campbell described the shove as an act of “stupidity” and “frustration.”

She assured him his celebrity was not a factor in him avoiding a criminal record.

“You’re a young man who happens to hit the tennis ball particularly well and your name is widely recognised outside this court room,” Campbell told Kyrgrios.

“I deal with you exactly the same way as any young man in this court.”

Kyrgios’ psychologist, Sam Borenstein, said in a written report and testimony by phone that Kyrgios had suffered major depressive episodes around the time of the assault and had used alcohol and drugs to cope. Kyrgios’ mental health led to impulsive and reckless behavior.

His recent knee injury had resulted in mild to moderate symptoms of depression, but his mental health was improving, Borenstein said.

“He’s doing very well,” Borenstein said. “His mental health has improved significantly.”

“Given the history, he is still vulnerable to recurrent episodes of depression depending on life circumstances,” Borenstein added.

Lawyers for Kyrgios had sought to have charge dismissed on mental health grounds but the application was unsuccessful.

In arguing against a conviction being recorded, defense lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith cited the opinion of Kyrgios’s manager of a “strong likelihood of sanctions and impact upon sponsorship” from a conviction. Kyrgios had faced a potential maximum 2-year prison sentence if convicted.

The assault occurred when Kyrgios had been attempting to leave Passari during an argument late Jan. 10, 2021, outside her apartment in the inner-Canberra suburb of Kingston.

He called an Uber but Passari stood in the way of him closing the front passenger door. The driver wouldn’t leave with the door open.

Kyrgios eventually pushed Passari’s shoulders backward with open palms, causing her to fall to the pavement and graze her knee, according to agreed facts read to the court.

Passari signed a police statement alleging the assault 11 months later, after her relationship with Kyrgios had ended.

His current partner, Costeen Hatzi, wrote in a character reference that she had no concerns of such violence in her relationship. Hatzi was among Kyrgios’ supporters who sat behind him in court.

Kyrgios, wearing a dark suit and using the crutches for support, first spoke in court when the magistrate asked him if he could stand to enter a plea.

Kyrgios replied: “Yep, no worries, Your Honor,” as he rose to plead guilty.

In February last year, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs last year to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense last September to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

The 27-year-old Kyrgios had a career setback last month when he withdrew from the Australian Open because the knee injury which later required arthroscopic surgery.