Khachanov stops Kyrgios in 5 sets; faces Ruud in semifinals

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NEW YORK — Karen Khachanov stood on court, arms raised, basking in a rowdy crowd’s cheers after reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open. Not far away, Nick Kyrgios took out some of his frustration at the so-close-yet-so-far result on a pair of rackets.

First, shortly after the last point of his 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-4 loss to Khachanov, Kyrgios cracked his piece of equipment against the ground – once, twice, three, four times. Then, for good measure, Kyrgios grabbed yet another racket out of his bag, reared back and hit that one on the sideline, too.

Kyrgios could not quite follow up his victory over defending champion Daniil Medvedev at Flushing Meadows, bowing out in a high-quality, topsy-turvy quarterfinal in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s just devastating. Like, it’s heartbreaking,” said Kyrgios, a 27-year-old from Australia who was the runner-up at Wimbledon in July. “Pretty much every other tournament during the year is a waste of time, really. You should just run up and show up at a Grand Slam. That’s what you’re remembered by.”

Asked about Kyrgios’ display of disappointment, Khachanov said he saw “rackets were flying,” and added: “I feel the pain for him.”

Early in the match, two spectators were kicked out after one gave the other a haircut in the stands. By the end, the late-staying spectators were pulling for Kyrgios loudly. At one point in the fourth set, chair umpire James Keothavong pleaded: “Once again, ladies and gentlemen: Respect both the players.”

“I was prepared. I was expecting that the crowd would be more for him, that he was the favorite in their eyes,” said the No. 27-seeded Khachanov had been 0-2 in major quarterfinals before this one against No. 23 Kyrgios.

Khachanov will face No. 5 Casper Ruud for a berth in the championship match.

“I’m really proud of myself,” Khachanov said. “I was really focused from the beginning to the end.”

Both he and Kyrgios are equipped with booming serves, and they combined for 61 aces (31 by Kyrgios). They combined for 138 total winners (75 by Kyrgios).

Two stats that were real difference-makers: Kyrgios made 58 unforced errors, Khachanov 31. And Khachanov saved 7 of 9 break points he faced.

The breakthrough at Wimbledon, and two recent victories over No. 1 Medvedev – including in the fourth round, ending his title defense – made Kyrgios a popular pick to claim his first Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows.

Khachanov was not allowed to play at Wimbledon this year after the All England Club banned all players from his country, Russia, and Belarus because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Against Kyrgios, he picked up key breaks of serve in the last game of the first and third sets. After the opener, Kyrgios complained of a sore knee and was visited by a trainer.

He did not appear to show any ill effects once play resumed, and broke early in the second.

Kyrgios had a chance to break again at 4-all in the third, but couldn’t convert, flubbing a forehand, then spiked his racket. Two games later, he put a backhand into the net to drop that set, then sat in his changeover chair, dumped his racket and threw a drink, drawing a warning for unsportsmanlike conduct from Keothavong.

Khachanov came within two points of victory while ahead 6-5 as Kyrgios served in the fourth set. Kyrgios held on there and dominated the ensuing tiebreaker to force a fifth.

Then Khachanov broke to begin the last set, soon was up 3-1 and was on his way.

“The deeper you go, the expectations rise up,” he said. “I did a step forward.”

In the quarterfinals, it’ll be No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz vs. No. 11 Jannik Sinner, and No. 9 Andrey Rublev vs. No. 22 Frances Tiafoe.

None of the last eight men in the bracket has won a major title.

Ruud headed into the 2022 season with just one Grand Slam appearance that lasted as far as the fourth round anywhere and was determined to improve his record at the four most important events in tennis.

Then, a day before the Australian Open began in January, he twisted his ankle in practice and needed to withdraw. Hardly ideal. Just look at him now: Ruud is into the semifinals at the U.S. Open and has a shot at moving up to No. 1 in the ATP rankings, following a run to the final at the French Open.

The 23-year-old from Norway – who is coached by his father, former professional player Christian – parlayed what he called “a better start than I ever had before in a match” to a 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over 2021 Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini.

“During Paris, something clicked, and I feel like I, this year, have sort of figured out the better way how to play five sets and knowing that it’s very different from playing best-of-three sets. … Sometimes realizing, or knowing, that you can sort of let one set go every once in a while to save some energy for the rest of the sets,” said Ruud, 12-2 in Grand Slam play in 2022. “So I think I matured.”

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”