Rafael Nadal powers into U.S. Open final

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NEW YORK — Rafael Nadal is one win from capping a career-turnaround season with a 16th Grand Slam title, following one of the most magnificent hours of hard-court tennis of his life.

Nadal, after dropping the first set, reeled off nine straight games en route to beating Juan Martin del Potro 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 in the U.S. Open semifinals on Friday night.

The Spaniard is an overwhelming favorite Sunday against South African Kevin Anderson, the lowest-ranked man (No. 32) to make a U.S. Open final since rankings were introduced in 1973.

Nadal’s play was exquisite those last three sets against Del Potro, a player so dangerous that his forehand is now associated with Thor’s Hammer.

He neutralized the tall Argentine’s power, silenced an Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd spotted with Albiceleste jerseys and moved like we’re accustomed to seeing on clay courts.

Nadal eyes his third U.S. Open title and first since 2013, when he was the world’s best player. He returned to No. 1 this season, after a dip in 2015 and 2016, when he won zero Grand Slams and dropped to No. 10 in the rankings.

“Some troubles, injuries, tough moments,” Nadal said on court after his win Friday. “This year since the beginning has been a very emotional year.”

The comeback began in January. Nadal should have won the Australian Open but squandered a fifth-set lead in the final to longtime rival Roger Federer.

Nadal bagged his most coveted crown, a 10th French Open in June, and regained the No. 1 ranking last month. But he came to New York without a hard-court title since January 2014.

As incredible as Nadal has played here, the draw parted like the Red Sea for him. Past champions Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka withdrew before the tournament. Del Potro, who beat Nadal in an epic Rio Olympic semifinal, knocked out Federer in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

If Nadal lifts the trophy on Sunday, he will have done it without having faced a single top-25 player. Never before has a man or woman won a U.S. Open without facing a player ranked outside the top 10.

Anderson, who is 31 years old and 6-foot-8, beat Spaniard Pablo Carreño Busta 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 in an earlier semifinal Friday. He is 0-4 against Nadal.

In the women’s final on Saturday (4 p.m. ET), Madison Keys meets Sloane Stephens in the first all-American matchup since Venus and Serena Williams in 2002.

Keys, 22, and Stephens, 24, are both first-time Grand Slam finalists. One will become the first American woman other than Venus and Serena to win a Slam since Jennifer Capriati at the 2002 Australian Open.

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MORE: Nadal recreates famous Olympic cauldron lighting

Men’s Curling Night 5: Japan routs USA

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On a night like Saturday, there’s very few teams who could defeat Japan. Unfortunately, Team USA was the one who had to go up against them.

Japan held John Shuster’s team to just two points in seven ends of play in an 8-2 rout of the Americans.

Both teams were tied for fourth in the team standings heading into the game. The U.S. falls to 2-3, now tied for fifth. Japan improves to 3-2, tied for third overall.

Click here for a full recap from tonight’s curling action

Other results: 
NOR def. DEN 10-8
SUI def. CAN 8-6
Current Team Standings:
1. Sweden 5-0
2. Canada 4-2
3. Switzerland 4-2
4. Japan 3-2
5. USA 2-3
6. Great Britain 2-3
7. Italy 2-3
8. Norway 2-3
9. Denmark 1-4
10. Korea 1-4

Marcel Hirscher leads GS; defending champ Ted Ligety trails

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Austria’s Marcel Hirscher leads by a commanding .63 seconds after the first of two giant slalom runs at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Hirscher, the reigning giant slalom world champion, is in position to win his second gold medal in PyeongChang, after claiming the combined title.

American Ted Ligety, who is nicknamed “Mr. GS,” is a distant 2.44 seconds behind Hirscher.

“I just sucked,” Ligety said on NBC.

Ligety is hoping to become the first man to successfully defend an Olympic giant slalom gold medal since Italy’s Alberto Tomba in 1992.

Standings after the first run

1. Marcel Hirscher (Austria)
2. Alexis Pinturault (France) +.63 seconds
3. Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen (Norway) +.66 seconds
4. Riccardo Tonetti (Italy) +.75 seconds
5. Mathieu Faivre (France) +.79 seconds