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Federer loses to Thiem in Madrid Open quarterfinals

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MADRID — Roger Federer’s return to clay lasted only three matches.

A day after saving two match points at the Madrid Open, Federer squandered two match points himself in the quarterfinals against Dominic Thiem on Friday, losing 3-6, 7-6 (11), 6-4.

It may have ended his first appearance at a clay-court tournament in three years, but Federer wasn’t leaving the Spanish capital too disappointed with the outcome of his return.

“I feel very good about my game. I thought I had some good matches here,” Federer said. “I feel good on the clay right now. It’s been a good week. Frustrating, clearly. Losing with match points is the worst, so that’s how I feel. But nevertheless, if I take a step back, it’s all good.”

Federer skipped the clay swing the past two years to remain fit for the rest of the season. He decided to return this year in preparation for his first French Open appearance since 2015.

The fifth-seeded Thiem, runner-up in Madrid the last two seasons, will next face top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who didn’t have to play his quarterfinal after Marin Cilic withdrew because of food poisoning.

Thiem has a chance to win his third title of the year after victories in Barcelona and Indian Wells, where he defeated Federer in a three-set final.

“Facing him, it always requires my absolute best game and also a little bit luck, which I both had in Indian Wells and also here, and that’s why I won these two matches,” Thiem said.

The other semifinal will be between Stefanos Tsitsipas and five-time Madrid champion Rafael Nadal. Tsitsipas defeated defending champion Alexander Zverev 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, while Nadal cruised past Stan Wawrinka 6-1, 6-2.

Nadal lost only seven points on his service games, conceding no break opportunities against the 34th-ranked Wawrinka. The Swiss lost the 2013 Madrid final to Nadal.

“It was one of my best matches in a long time, my best match on clay this year,” the second-ranked Spaniard said. “It means a lot to have this feeling in this crucial moment of the clay season.”

On the women’s side, Simona Halep made it back to the Madrid final for the first time since 2017 with a 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-0 win over unseeded Belinda Bencic.

The French Open champion can surpass Naomi Osaka for the No. 1 ranking if she wins Saturday’s final.

“I don’t want to think about that. For me, it is more important to win the trophy here than being No. 1,” the third-ranked Halep said. “I prefer titles than numbers and rankings. So this is my goal, to play finals and to win trophies.”

She will face last year’s runner-up Kiki Bertens, who defeated Sloane Stephens 6-2, 7-5.

The 37-year-old Federer was trying to win his third Madrid title, and first since 2012. He has already won hard-court titles this season in Dubai and Miami.

Federer got off to a great start against Thiem at the Magic Box center court, breaking the Austrian’s serve early and cruising to a first-set win. He squandered five break points in the second, and then had match points at 8-7 and 10-9 in the tiebreaker before Thiem forced the deciding set by converting his sixth set point.

Federer had saved two match points in his difficult three-set win over Gael Monfils on Thursday.

Thiem broke Federer for the first time in the third game of the third set, converting his ninth break opportunity of the match. Federer got back on serve at 4-4, but started his next game 0-40 and couldn’t recover. Thiem then served out for the victory, converting on his second match point.

Thiem has won the last two matches he played against Djokovic, who got the day off because of Cilic’s withdrawal.

“It was supposed to be definitely a good match,” said Djokovic, who has played only four sets this week. “I went back on the court, trained for another hour and got a good sweat in. Happy that I’m going to be fresh for my semifinal.”

The top-seeded Serb is seeking a third Madrid Open title, and his second of the season after winning the Australian Open.

Thiem lost the Madrid final to Nadal in 2017 and to Alexander Zverev in 2018.

“I was playing Novak last year and two years ago and he was not at his best I guess, and now he is again,” Thiem said. “He’s won the last three Slams and he is at the top of the ranking again. So the challenge couldn’t be bigger.”

Federer advances to record-extending 15th ATP Finals semi

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LONDON — Roger Federer advanced to the last four of the ATP Finals for a record-extending 15th time with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Kevin Anderson on Thursday.

Six-time champion Federer needed only a set to advance and produced his best performance at the season-ending tournament to end the round-robin stages with a 2-1 win-loss record.

Dominic Thiem’s 6-1, 6-4 victory over Kei Nishikori earlier had left Federer with a modest task and ensured that Anderson became the first South African ever to reach the semifinals.

Federer looked as if he was about to give up a break advantage for the second time in as many service games when he dropped to 0-40 attempting to close out the opening set at 5-4, but the 20-time Grand Slam champion found his first serve when it mattered most to hold.

Anderson hadn’t faced a break point in winning his first two matches. Federer, though, broke him twice more in the second set to claim top spot in the group and likely avoid a semifinal meeting with top-ranked Novak Djokovic.

Having struggled in an opening loss to Nishikori and relied mainly on his serve when defeating Thiem, Federer finally found some timing with his ground-strokes to apply consistent pressure on Anderson’s serve.

The previously impenetrable Anderson serve wilted, with two double faults gifting Federer a 4-3 lead. Much to the surprise – and disappointment – of the partisan crowd at the O2 Arena, the Swiss great handed the break straight back with a series of errors.

However, Federer steadied himself and made a delicate drop volley to break once more in the following game, before eventually closing out the set to maintain his record of having only missed the semifinals once in 16 appearances at the tournament.

Federer lost just four points on serve in the second set. He used a backhand slice to break for 4-3 and the same shot brought up two match points at 3-5, 15-40.

Having saved a match point on his way to securing a five-set quarterfinal victory over Federer at Wimbledon, Anderson threatened another comeback as he won a 21-shot rally to get back to deuce, but there was to be no repeat this time.

Two more Anderson forehand errors ended the match and Federer won the group by virtue of their head-to-head record.

With Djokovic clear favorite to top his group, which concludes Friday, Federer has boosted his chances of avoiding the in-form Serb until the final.

Wimbledon odds for men’s draw have Federer favored over Nadal

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Incumbency bias might somewhat account for the disparity in odds on men’s tennis titans Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in Wimbledon betting futures.

Federer, who has won the Grand Slam championship in London a mind-bending eight times, is listed as the +150 favorite on the Wimbledon men’s champion betting futures, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Nadal, who has split the last six Grand Slam titles with Federer 3-3, is the second favorite at +500.

Thanks to his superior record on grass courts, Federer is the No. 1 seed with Nadal at No. 2 on the opposite side of the draw, which is the inverse of their overall rankings.

It is understandable if bettors want to stick by the seemingly ageless wonder Federer, who skipped the clay court season to focus his energy on dominating on grass at the All England Club. However, it’s worth remembering that upsets and injuries to upper-echelon players aided his path to the 2017 championship and the law of averages would suggest that’s unlikely to happen twice in a row.

Nadal has not made a Wimbledon final since 2011 but getting the No. 1-ranked player at 5-to-1 odds has some high-risk, high-reward appeal.

Beyond the big two, a good tack for bettors seeking value might be drawing a bead on results rather than reputation – the big names who go high on the board. Novak Djokovic (+650) is getting some respect on the tennis odds, but the elbow problem that cut his 2017 season short makes him a chancy pick.

Alexander Zverev (+800) has had minimal grass-court time this spring, while home-country rooting interest Andy Murray (+900) has also been contending with injury problems.

Value-minded bettors might want to look at 2017 Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic (+1200), who won the Queen’s Club tune-up tournament (in a bit of foreshadowing, he was the 2017 runner-up before having the same result at Wimbledon). Juan Martin del Potro (+1200) has not played on grass this season, but the hulking Argentinian has beaten Federer this season and, as the No. 5 seed, should be on the same side of the draw.

Inconsistency probably strikes taking a flier on either Nick Kyrgios (+1600) or Grigor Dimitrov (+2000) on the 2018 Wimbledon odds while Milos Raonic (+2000) has also been injury-prone over the last year.

Wimbledon begins at the All England Club on Monday, with the women’s final scheduled for July 14, followed by the men’s final on July 15.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.