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Federer stretches winning streak on grass to 17 in Halle

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HALLE, Germany (AP) Roger Federer opened his Gerry Weber Open title defense by seeing off Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia 6-3, 6-4 on Tuesday.

The world No. 1 broke the No. 72nd-ranked Bedene at the first attempt and again for 5-4 in the second set to wrap up the win.

Fresh from winning his 18th grass-court title in Stuttgart on Sunday, Federer dropped just four points on his serve and forced seven break opportunities, taking two.

Federer made his comeback in Stuttgart after skipping the entire clay-court season for the second year in a row, and again he looked sharp as he extended his grass-court winning streak to 17 matches including his titles at Halle and Wimbledon last year.

The Swiss great is just five match wins away from matching Jimmy Connors’ all-time record of 174 victories on grass. Federer’s winning percentage is better, with 169 wins and 24 loses compared to Connors’ record of 174-34.

Federer is bidding for a record-extending 10th title in Halle, which would be his fourth of the season and 99th overall.

Also, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece upset the fifth-seeded Lucas Pouille 6-2, 7-6 (3), and former title winner Philipp Kohlschreiber progressed against Marton Fucsovics.

There were also first-round wins for Florian Mayer, Matthew Ebden, Karen Khachanov, and Benoit Paire.

Hofburg has talent to upset Justify in the Belmont Stakes

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NEW YORK (AP) There are horses for courses and Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott thinks he has one ready to upset Justify’s bid for a Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.

The colt is Hofburg, a 9-2 second choice in $1.5 million race Saturday. Justify will look to become thoroughbred racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner and second in four years. American Pharoah ended a 37-year drought in 2015.

Mott is the first to admit beating the undefeated and heavily favored Justify won’t be easy. Trainer Bob Baffert’s colt was impressive in winning the muddy Kentucky Derby more than a month ago, and the son of Scat Daddy showed a lot of heart in fending off Bravazo and Tenfold at the foggy Preakness roughly three weeks ago.

Belmont Stakes: What Time, Where To Watch and More

“Our horse has been getting some attention. They made him second choice in the morning line,” Mott said of Hofburg. “From the rumblings I have been hearing, it seems there are a few people talking about him and handicappers seem to like him.”

Hofburg finished seventh in the Derby after encountering traffic problems and skipped the Preakness. The lightly raced 3-year-old colt, ridden by Irad Ortiz, has one win in four lifetime starts. A second in the Florida Derby this year was his best career start.

So why the hoopla?

Hofburg has the genes for the 1+ mile race around the Belmont Park surface. He is the son of Tapit, who has sired three of the last four Belmont winners – Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016) and Tapwrit last year. When American Pharoah won in 2015, the second-place finisher was Frosted, another son of Tapit.

“You have to have a horse that really wants to do that, and is capable of doing that,” Mott said of the distance, the longest of the Triple Crown races. “That’s one of the main ingredients right there. Some of those horses are just made a little different. They move a little different and have the lung capacity, and they have the whole package to do it.”

Mott said horses can be trained to run longer distances, but you would rather have one bred to do it rather than transforming a miler into a distance runner.

There’s more to Hofburg’s hereditary than Tapit. The colt’s dam was Soothing Touch, a daughter of Touch Gold.

Touch Gold won the Belmont in 1997 by three-quarters of a length, denying Silver Charm a Triple Crown. By the way, Baffert also trained Silver Charm.

If Hofburg is going to win, Mott said the late-running colt has to be within 2-to-3 lengths of the lead for the final quarter mile. It also would help if some of the others in the field of 10 forced Justify to run an honest early pace.

Good Magic did that in the Preakness and Mike Smith, the jockey of Justify, felt Bravazo and Tenfold closing at the wire.

Hofburg finished his final workouts at Saratoga last week and shipped to Belmont. He will gallop Thursday and Friday.

“I love horses and I love the people,” said the 64-year-old Mott, who won the Belmont with Drosselmeyer in 2010. “I enjoy the people I come to work with. We work with the horses. I really enjoy seeing young horses develop and working with the horses and different issues they might have, quirks or physical problems.”

The soft-spoken Mott says he would almost prefer to train the horses and send them over to the paddock to race while he stays back at the barn. He will go to the paddock Saturday for the Belmont, and then take the trip to the winner’s circle if Hofburg does his thing.

NOTES: New York Giants coach Pat Shurmur will deliver the traditional call of “Riders Up” prior to the 150th running of the Belmont. Chris Mara, the brother of Giants co-owner John Mara, has an interest in the race. Chris Mara is a member of the Starlight Racing group, which owns a stake in Justify.

What: 150th Belmont Stakes
When: June 9, 2018
Post time: 6:37 p.m ET
Where to watch: NBC, NBC Sports app

Stephens, Keys to reprise US Open final in French Open semis

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PARIS (AP) Shortly after easily winning her French Open quarterfinal, Sloane Stephens wanted to track down her good friend Madison Keys, who advanced in straight sets earlier Tuesday.

“I just have to go find her, because I need to tell her some juicy stuff,” Stephens said, declining to reveal the topic. “I just went and searched for her in the training room.”

They’ll see each other again soon. The two young Americans, who are both based in Florida, will face each other in the semifinals at Roland Garros on Thursday, nine months after Stephens beat Keys for the U.S. Open championship. It is the first French Open semifinal between a pair of women from the United States since Serena Williams beat Jennifer Capriati on the way to the 2002 title.

“That means one American will be in the final of a French Open, which is another amazing thing,” Stephens said. “All in all, I don’t think anyone can complain.”

Both were appearing in the quarterfinals on the red clay of Paris for the first time, and both handled the occasion well. First, at Court Suzanne Lenglen, the 13th-seeded Keys remained focused during a 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over 98th-ranked Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, never wavering when she fell behind in the opening set or when her volatile opponent could have become a distraction.

Keys built a whopping 30-12 edge in winners and won 84 percent of her first-serve points.

“Keep on playing like that,” Putintseva said, “she can go all the way here.”

Later, at Court Philippe Chatrier, Stephens was hardly troubled while beating No. 14 Daria Kasatkina of Russia 6-3, 6-1 in a mere 70 minutes.

“She was better than me today,” Kasatkina said. “She was moving unbelievable.”

The quarterfinals on the other side of the draw are Wednesday, involving four women who have spent time at No. 1: Simona Halep, who currently leads the WTA rankings, against No. 12 seed Angelique Kerber, and No. 3 Garbine Muguruza against No. 28 Maria Sharapova.

Halep is a three-time Grand Slam runner-up, including in Paris in 2014 and last year; Kerber is a two-time major champ elsewhere; Muguruza won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017; and Sharapova owns five Grand Slam titles, including at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014.

Quite a quartet.

Stephens, 23, and Keys, 25, will quickly approach that sort of status if they maintain the form they’ve shown lately.

Their matchup provides a contrast in styles: Keys is a big hitter whose serves and forehands are the keys to her success; Stephens covers every inch of the court as well as anyone.

Stephens has won both head-to-head encounters, including the Grand Slam final debut for each at New York in September.

“Honestly,” Keys said, “the (U.S.) Open feels like it was 12 years ago, at this point. I obviously rely on what I learned there and how to manage my emotions and manage the moment.”

Now one will get to play in her second major title match.

Until the moment they step into the main stadium at Roland Garros for Thursday’s semifinal, both promised, there will be no awkwardness between them.

“Everything will be normal,” Stephens said. “And then when we get on the court, it’s time to compete. It’s `go time.’ Until then, we’re the same girls, as always.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

More AP tennis coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis