Barty advances to Australian Open semifinals; Kenin next

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Ash Barty is a step closer to ending a four-decade drought for Aussies at the national championship.

Top-ranked Barty was under pressure on her serve and saved a set point in the tiebreaker before seizing the momentum against two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in a 7-6 (6), 6-2 quarterfinal win at the Australian Open on Tuesday.

The so-called Barty Party in 2019 ended in a quarterfinal loss to Kvitova. The start of a new decade is cause for a bigger celebration at Melbourne Park.

Barty next faces Sofia Kenin, who reached the semifinals at a major for the first time with a 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 78-ranked Ons Jabeur.

In a first set that lasted almost 70 minutes, Barty fended off eight of the nine break-point chances she faced before finally getting the upper hand when she won a 22-shot rally, defending for much of it and sending up lobs just to stay in the point, at 3-2 down in the tiebreaker.

“I felt like I was run ragged around everywhere, just trying to throw the ball up to give myself some time,” Barty said. “I just remember trying to stay alive in the point because I knew it was a big one. A big difference swapping ends at 2-4 than there is at 3-all,.

“More of a survival mode point than anything else.”

She went on a roll to take a 4-0 lead in the second and take all the momentum away from Kvitova, who beat her here in the quarterfinals last year before before losing the final to Naomi Osaka.

Barty rebounded from that to win her first major title at the French Open, where she beat Kenin in the fourth round. Until she arrived in Australia, Kenin’s run at Roland Garros – which included a third-round upset over Serena Williams – was her best at a Grand Slam.

There’s a lot of local expectation riding on Barty, who is aiming to be the first Australian woman since Chris O’Neil in 1978 to win the Australian Open. The first major of the decade may see the end of the 42-year wait, and an Australian man hasn’t won since 1976. Barty is already the first Australian woman since 1984 to reach the semifinals of the home Open.

Barty doesn’t expect to feel the pressure. She won her first title on home soil in Adelaide in the lead-up to this season’s first major.

“I’m not going to have anything but a smile on my face when I walk out onto this court,” she said.

Kvitova said she’d had tough matches before here and was able to win them.

Barty, though, “Was really proving to be No. 1,”she said. “It was a great, great match, great fight.”

Kenin and Jabeur were both into the quarterfinals for the first time at a major.

For Kenin, who was born in Moscow but moved to the United States as a baby and grew up in Florida, the degree of difficulty will only increase.

“I’m excited. Of course, she’s playing at her home, so it’s a little bit different,” Kenin said. “I played a lot of big names. I don’t think I’ve played anyone big in their home crowd. It’s going to be a different atmosphere obviously. But it’s exciting. I’m really looking forward to it.

Kenin is playing her best tennis, too. Her best previous run at Melbourne Park ended in the second round, when she lost to Simona Halep last year.

She finished last year ranked 14th, and although she’s 1-4 in career meetings she was able to match Barty in one category: they were tied for most hard-court wins on the women’s tour last year with 38 wins each.

Kenin’s run here included a comeback win in the third round against 15-year-old Coco Gauff, when she made only nine unforced errors across the second and third sets.

In the second set against Jabeur, she saved three break points in a long sixth game, then broke serve in the seventh game to set up the win.

“It was a tough moment,” Kenin said. “I didn’t know it was 10 minutes (but) it was pretty long, the game. After that I got my momentum.”

Jabeur, a 25-year-old Tunisian, was the first Arab woman to make it to the last eight at a major.

“I think I proved that I can be in the quarterfinals in a Grand Slam, even if I have a lot of things to improve probably physically and mentally,” she said. “But I’m happy that I pushed through a lot of things. I proved to myself that I could do a lot of great things.””

In later men’s quarterfinals, 20-time major winner Roger Federer was playing 100th-ranked Tennys Sandgren, and seven-time Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic had a night match against Milos Raonic of Canada.

Roger Federer bids farewell in last match before retirement

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LONDON – This day, this match, had to come, of course, for Roger Federer, and for tennis, just as it inevitably must for every athlete in every sport.

Federer was bidding farewell Friday night with one last contest before he heads into retirement at age 41 after an illustrious career that included 20 Grand Slam titles and role as a statesman for tennis. He was scheduled to play a doubles match alongside his rival Rafael Nadal for Team Europe in the Laver Cup against Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock of Team World.

“For me, just personally, (it was) sad in the first moment, when I came to the conclusion it’s the best decision,” Federer said in an interview with The Associated Press this week about his emotions when realizing it was time to go. “I kind of held it in at first, then fought it off. But I could feel the pain.”

When the players from both squads were introduced before the initial singles matchup of the three-day team event at the O2 Arena, Federer was the last to emerge from a tunnel leading out to the black court, wearing his team’s blue zip-up jacket and black pants. Fans who were loud enough for Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and others really let Federer hear their support and gratitude, rising for a lengthy standing ovation while lifting their phone cameras to capture the moment.

When there were breaks in the action during the matches before his, Federer wandered over to the stands and signed autograph after autograph – on programs, tennis balls, whatever was thrust his way by spectators.

“The crowd was electric,” Sock said after losing the opening singles match Friday afternoon to two-time 2022 Grand Slam runner-up Casper Ruud 6-4, 5-7, 10-7. “I can only imagine what it’s going to be like for the rest of the weekend. And obviously tonight with … two of the `GOATs’ playing together.”

In the second match – which was briefly interrupted when an environmental protester made it on to the court and lit his arm on fire before being carried away by security guards – Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 6-1 to put Team Europe ahead 2-0.

Those lucky enough to have tickets came from all over, no distance too far to travel, no expense too great.

“I have such mixed feelings about this,” said Indrani Maitra, a 49-year-old from India. “I’m really glad I’m being able to catch his last match. But I’m really sad this is his last match.”

She came with her daughter, Anushka Verma, a 19-year-old student at University of California, Berkeley, for what they said was their first time to watch tennis live. Both wore blue hats for the occasion, Maitra’s with Federer’s “RF” insignia, Verma’s with Nadal’s bull horns logo.

There were lines hundreds of people deep at the “Game, Set, Merch” shops in and outside the venue. Jacob Benaion, a 61-year-old from Brazil, said he waited for more than an hour with his son, 32-year-old Moyses.

“I love tennis. My first favorite was Ivan Lendl. After that, Pete Sampras. And after that, Roger Federer. And Roger Federer is the best one of all,” Benaion said. “He is a legend and he helped tennis grow around the world. He is an ambassador of tennis.”

This goodbye follows that of Serena Williams, the owner of 23 major singles championships, at the U.S. Open three weeks ago after a third-round loss. It leaves questions about the future of a game he and she dominated, and transcended, for decades.

One key difference: Each time Williams took the court in New York, the looming question was how long her stay would endure – a “win or this is it” prospect. Friday IS it for Federer, no matter the result.

The Laver Cup, which is in its fifth edition, was founded by Federer’s management company and uses a format quite different from a standard tournament. So a victory for him and Nadal would not mean advancing to another round.

Instead, Federer made clear that his surgically repaired right knee – the last of three operations came shortly after a loss in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in July 2021, which will go down as his final official singles match – is in no shape to allow him to continue, and he will not compete beyond Friday.

“It will be awesome to see Roger back on court. No one really knows what to expect physically from him, where he’s at, but … we’ll enjoy every minute of it,” Sock said. “Give him a big hug at the end, win or lose.”

Just before Ruud vs. Sock began, Federer rose from a black couch just off the sideline and walked over to offer Ruud a pat on the shoulder.

After his victory, Ruud said about Federer: “All the players will miss him.”

“Roger is a unicorn in our sport,” Tsitsipas said this week. “He has all my respect, all my appreciation for what he has offered to tennis today. It’s something that, for sure, is not going to be forgotten for thousands of years. He has that charisma and purity and aura about him that made him kind of invincible when he was on the court.”

Tiafoe’s take on Federer was similar: “I don’t think we’ll see another guy like Roger, the way he played, and the grace he did it with, and who he is as an individual.”

There have been similar sentiments expressed by many inside the sport and out in the time since Federer made public on Sept. 15 his plan to finish playing at the Laver Cup.

The last hurrah comes after a total of 103 tour-level titles on Federer’s substantial resume and 1,251 wins in singles matches, both second only to Jimmy Connors in the Open era, which began in 1968. Federer’s records include being the oldest No. 1 in ATP rankings history – he returned to the top spot at 36 in 2018 – and most consecutive weeks there (his total weeks mark was eclipsed by Djokovic).

At the height of his powers, Federer appeared in a record 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals, winning eight, from 2005-07. Trace it out to 2010 and he reached 18 of 19 major finals.

More than the numbers, folks will remember that powerful forehand, one-handed backhand and flawless footwork, a spectacularly effective serve and eagerness to get to the net, a willingness to reinvent aspects of his game and – the part he’s proudest of – unusual longevity. Then, too, there is his persona away from the court.

All of which is part of why the truth Friday was that the eventual winner of Federer-Nadal vs. Tiafoe-Sock, the score, the statistics – none of that would matter, was all so entirely beside the point. The day was, after all, about the farewell itself. Or, better, the farewells: Federer’s to tennis, to the fans, to his colleagues. And, naturally, each of those entities’ farewells to Federer.

Federer’s final match comes in doubles alongside rival Nadal

Laver Cup 2022 - Previews
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LONDON – It was quite a collection of tennis luminaries sharing the black indoor hard court for a Laver Cup doubles practice session Thursday, 66 Grand Slam titles among them, a group collectively nicknamed the Big Four: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on one side of the net; Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray on the other.

This team event founded by his management company marks the end of Federer’s career, and his last match will come Friday night alongside longtime rival Nadal for Team Europe against the Team World doubles pairing of Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock.

“I’m not sure if I can handle it all. But I’ll try,” the 41-year-old Federer said about his sure-to-be-emotional on-court farewell after 20 major championships, a total of 103 tournament titles and hundreds of weeks at No. 1 across nearly a quarter of a century as a professional tennis player.

“Sitting here,” Federer said Thursday at a team news conference, with Nadal, who is 36, to his left, and Djokovic and Murray, both 35, a couple of seats down to his right, “it feels good that I go first from the guys. It feels right.”

Federer is ending his playing days following a series of operations on his right knee. He hasn’t competed since a quarterfinal loss at Wimbledon to Hubert Hurkacz in July 2021.

In February of this year, when word emerged that Federer would be in London this week, he said Nadal messaged him suggesting they play doubles together again. They teamed up to win a doubles match during the first Laver Cup in 2017.

“I saw him playing on TV before I arrived on tour. I saw him having success on TV, and then (we were) able to create an amazing rivalry together. And on the other hand, something that probably we are very proud of is having a friendly rivalry,” Nadal said Thursday. “Tomorrow is going to be a special thing. Difficult. Going to be difficult to handle everything, especially for Roger, without a doubt. But for me, too. At the end, one of the most important players – if not the most important player – in my tennis career is leaving.”

They played each other in singles 40 times (Nadal won 26), including 14 Grand Slam matchups (Nadal won 10). Nadal came out on top in their classic 2008 Wimbledon final, considered by some the greatest match in history; Federer won their last showdown, in the 2019 semifinals at the All England Club.

“To be part of this historic moment,” Nadal said about Friday, “is going to be something amazing, unforgettable.”

Tiafoe, a 24-year-old American who beat Nadal en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open this month, deadpanned: “Yeah, I’m just excited to play two up-and-comers tomorrow.”

Added Tiafoe: “It’s going to be iconic to be a part of that. Both guys are absolute legends. And obviously, (it’s) Roger’s last dance.”

The full lineup for Day 1 of the three-day Laver Cup was announced Thursday.

The singles matches will be Sock against two-time 2022 Grand Slam finalist Casper Ruud of Team Europe, Diego Schwartzman of Team World against 2021 French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas of Team Europe, and Alex de Minaur of Team World against three-time major champion Murray, before the Federer-Nadal doubles match closes the schedule.

Everyone knows what the main event will be: Federer’s goodbye.

“For me,” Murray said, “it feels right seeing him and Rafa on the same side of the net together.”