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Roger Federer upset at U.S. Open; no Rafael Nadal showdown

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NEW YORK — The U.S. Open was denied a Roger FedererRafael Nadal match yet again. Juan Martin del Potro wasn’t having any of it, just like in 2009.

The Argentine bounced Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4 in the quarterfinals on Wednesday night, handing the Swiss his first loss in a Grand Slam since the 2016 Wimbledon semifinals.

It also meant that, for the sixth time, Federer and Nadal missed the first U.S. Open meeting of their storied rivalry by a single match.

Del Potro’s play under the Arthur Ashe Stadium roof brought back memories of 2009, when he routed Nadal in the semifinals and came back to overpower Federer in the final to win his first and (for now) only Grand Slam title before four wrist surgeries set back a promising career.

Federer had a pair of double faults on Del Potro’s first two break points, and the mistakes piled as midnight beckoned. Federer said that in two weeks in New York, he didn’t once play with the feeling of the Australian Open in January and Wimbledon in July, when he won his first Slams in five years to reach 19 for his career.

“If I ran into a good guy, I was going to lose, I felt,” he said. “I don’t want to say I was in negative mindset, but I knew going in that I’m not in a safe place. Might have depended too much on my opponent, and I don’t like that feeling. I had it, you know, throughout the tournament, and I just felt that way every single match I went into.”

Now, a tested and determined Del Potro gets Nadal in Friday’s semifinals. The rested Spaniard schooled Russian teen Andrey Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in a 97-minute quarterfinal Wednesday afternoon.

“He will have a better chance to beat Rafa, to be honest,” Federer said. “The way I played or playing right now, it’s not good enough in my opinion to win this tournament.”

In the women’s bracket, it’s an all-American final four at a Slam for the first time since 1985 Wimbledon and the first time at the U.S. Open since 1981.

Venus Williams will play Sloane Stephens in one Thursday semi, while Madison Keys gets CoCo Vandweghe in the other.

But the anticipation since the draw release two weeks ago was for a semi between Federer and Nadal, the icons having resurgent seasons.

In the middle of the Federer-Del Potro match, the cheapest StubHub men’s semis ticket price was $745, more than twice as much as a men’s final ticket and 10 times the cost of a women’s semis pass.

“I honestly was only thinking about tonight,” Federer said. “My head didn’t even wander during the match.”

Federer and Nadal have played 37 times (Nadal leads 23-14), including 12 at Grand Slams, but never at the U.S. Open (or the Olympics). They were also one match away from meeting in New York in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013.

“It’s something a little bit strange that we never played here, no?” Nadal said on ESPN, after his match and before Federer’s. “I think it will be much more special if that can happen in a final, but it’s not possible this year. We’re going to try to come back and make that happen.”

They’ve combined for 34 Grand Slam singles titles, but bagged none for nearly three years until Federer beat Nadal in the Australian Open final in January.

Nadal won his 10th French Open in June. Federer captured his eighth Wimbledon in July. They are fighting for the year-end No. 1 ranking, boosted in part by season-ending injuries to Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

“In some ways I’m actually happy I made the quarters, so I’m not disappointed, because it’s been a good run this year already,” Federer said. “It’s all a bonus at this stage.”

Nadal was pressed to wax poetic on his rivalry with Federer, or just about the Swiss himself, in a news conference after Wednesday’s mismatch.

“I don’t want to look like I gonna be his boyfriend, no?” Nadal joked.

The other semifinal pits two first-timers — South African Kevin Anderson and Spain’s Pablo Carreño Busta — who would be clear underdogs to Nadal or Del Potro in Sunday’s final.

Federer, a 36-year-old with five U.S. Open titles, was forced to five sets in his first two matches last week while fighting off a pre-event back injury. Federer swept his last two opponents before Del Potro but is tired.

“When I walked off the court, I was, like, finally, I can rest,” he said. “Because I’m tired. I put a lot into it. I was not sure I could play, to be honest, so I’m happy I get a rest now.”

Nadal, a 31-year-old with two U.S. Open titles, has dropped two sets in five matches, all against men ranked outside the top 50.

Now he gets Del Potro, a man ranked No. 28 but with the game of a top-10er. The big Argentine isn’t sure what he has left after overcoming illness to win a five-setter in the fourth round and coming from behind to take out Federer.

“Playing against Rafa in my favorite tournament, I will try to enjoy the atmosphere, the game, and I know if I play my best tennis, I could be a danger for him,” he said.

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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Jenny Thompson’s new team is on the front line fighting coronavirus

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Two weeks ago, Jenny Thompson, the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist turned anesthesiologist, told close friends about the worrisome situation at her hospital in Charleston, S.C.

Thompson and her perioperative team of 40 or 50 were stressed that they would not have the most effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for when the coronavirus pandemic peaks there, projected to be later this month.

The messages caused fellow former Stanford swimmers and Olympic teammates Gabrielle Rose and Lea Maurer to act.

“She almost never asks for any sort of help or support,” Maurer said. “She’s Herculean in her ability to take on life and all its challenges.”

Rose and Maurer started a GoFundMe titled “Go Jenny Go” on March 22 for help to purchase PPE for the hospital. At the time, critical care doctors were “scrambling to piece together purchases on their own in anticipation of their high risk patients,” Maurer wrote.

Thompson said the PPE situation is better now. The GoFundMe was suspended Wednesday. Future support is directed to help those in New York City. Thompson specifically noted a GoFundMe for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

More than $9,000 was raised in less than two weeks. Also, the hospital started receiving more PPE on its own. Thompson’s team now feels prepared for what’s to come.

“People were responding and donating from all chapters of my life,” Thompson said by phone Thursday. “People I didn’t even know. Family from USA Swimming and international swimming. It’s really touched me to know that so many people care and are able to donate, help share the message.”

Thompson woke at 4 a.m. several days this week with thoughts of her peers in New York City. Healthcare workers there have cited a lack of PPE in putting their own lives at risk while they fight to save others. Some have contracted the virus.

“We’ve been fortunate [in South Carolina]. I feel lucky,” Thompson said. “We’ll definitely be in a place where we’re taking care of a lot of Covid patients, but we’re not there yet.

“I’ve heard people say, people in healthcare knew what they were signing up for. I never signed up to get sick and potentially die from this job. I always assumed that I would have the protection or the supplies needed to help me do my job, and that’s been a real struggle nationwide.”

Thompson went to medical school in New York at Columbia University starting in 2001.

“I’d been there maybe a couple weeks at Columbia, when 9/11 happened,” she said. “I remember feeling very helpless as a first-year medical student. I wanted to help so badly, but there really wasn’t much I could do. All my classmates felt the same way. I’ve always had that as part of the making of me as a doctor, having to go through crisis, but I never imagined a pandemic. I guess some people prepare for this sort of thing their whole life, but I didn’t.”

The term “front lines” has been applied to healthcare workers around the globe. Thompson said it’s apt at her hospital.

“We definitely have Covid here, but we have not had a major outbreak like some other cities,” she said. “We consider every patient who we give general anesthesia and intubate to be a potential risk. As anesthesia providers and people who intubate the airway, we are on the front line. We are at a much higher risk of getting sick without the right PPE.”

Thompson’s team feels more ready for the peak with every passing day. They’re simulating, donning and doffing and scheduling to work longer shifts starting next week. The preparation extends home, where she has a husband and three children.

“I have, like, four different pairs of shoes,” Thompson said. “I spray my socks with fabric disinfectant. I take them off in the car, and then I put on flip-flops. Then when I get home, I shower and put my clothes in the wash immediately. It’s a strange place to be, but just consider everything I touch to be contaminated in an effort to protect myself.”

Both Rose and Maurer still see in Thompson that swimmer who awed them in college. As Thompson trained to become the most decorated female U.S. Olympian in history, she studied at Stanford and then Columbia to become a doctor.

“I knew I wanted to take care of critically ill patients,” she said.

As a swimmer, Thompson was known as the ultimate teammate. Eight Olympic gold medals in relays, often an anchor. Always there. Dependable.

“She knows that she’s going to make a difference,” Maurer said. “She knows that she’s going to achieve that goal. She knows that she’s going to help to make people better. And so she does it.”

Thompson believes the next few weeks will be unlike anything she’s ever faced.

“Everybody was sort of freaking out in the beginning and feeling very stressed, and I think that at some level has not gone away,” she said. “That’s going to stay with us, but we have a we-can-do-this-together fighting mentality that we are leaning on each other for. It’s really no different than being a part of any kind of team.”