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Rafael Nadal makes French Open final, eyes record-tying title

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PARIS (AP) — Rafael Nadal improved to 11-0 in French Open semifinals. To get to 11-0 in French Open finals, he’ll need to get past the only man who has beaten him on red clay over the last two seasons.

After dealing with some tight moments early, Nadal overwhelmed 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 the rest of the way Friday.

The No. 1-ranked Nadal compiled a 35-20 edge in winners while making only 19 unforced errors Friday.

Nadal saved three break points at 1-all in the opening set and another three at 4-all. After he held there, that was pretty much that for del Potro.

Nadal broke to take that set and was on his way, taking 14 of the last 17 games.

“The first set was very difficult, with too many chances for Juan Martin,” Nadal said. “I am a little bit fortunate to win the first set.”

This was the No. 5-seeded del Potro’s first semifinal at Roland Garros since 2009. He missed the tournament every year from 2013-16 because of injuries, including three operations on his left wrist. In the fourth game Friday, del Potro clutched at his left hip after being wrong-footed by one shot from Nadal and was visited by a doctor at the next changeover.

Soon enough, he was yelling at himself, the very picture of exasperation thanks to Nadal’s relentless ball-tracking and shotmaking.

NBC’s live coverage of the French Open continues on Saturday (women’s final) and Sunday (men’s final) at 9 a.m. ET both days. NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will also stream the finals.

On Sunday, Nadal will face No. 7 seed Dominic Thiem, a 24-year-old Austrian who reached his first Grand Slam final by ending the surprising run of 72nd-ranked Marco Cecchinato of Italy 7-5, 7-6 (10), 6-1.

Over the past two seasons, Nadal is 49-2 on red clay, with both losses coming against Thiem: in the quarterfinals at Rome in May 2017, and the quarterfinals at Madrid in May 2018.

“He’s an amazing player,” Nadal said. “He’s a player with big power. He’s playing with big confidence. … I know I have to play at my best. I know I have to improve a little bit.”

One big difference in this meeting is that those two matches that went Thiem’s way were best-of-three-set events. The French Open, like all Grand Slam tournaments, is best-of-five for men.

Nadal is now 85-2 for his career at Roland Garros, with a record 10 championships. He is 110-2 in all best-of-five matches on red clay.

“He’s a big favorite against everybody,” Thiem said. “Still, I know how to play against him. I have a plan.”

Thiem has been to the semifinals in Paris three years in a row. He lost to eventual champions Novak Djokovic in 2016 and Nadal in 2017.

This time, Thiem instead faced Cecchinato (cheh-key-NAH’-toe), a 25-year-old from Sicily who never had won a Grand Slam match until this tournament and was the lowest-ranked men’s semifinalist at the clay-court major in 19 years. Cecchinato was accused of match-fixing and suspended for 18 months in 2016, but he appealed, and his punishment was dropped on a technicality.

After dropping the first two sets he played in the opening round, Cecchinato came back to win that match in five sets, then proceeded to string together upsets. He beat No. 10 seed Pablo Carreno Busta in the third round and No. 8 David Goffin in the fourth before stunning 12-time major champion Djokovic in the quarterfinals.

But Checchinato could not quite keep up with Thiem and his big baseline game. Cecchinato made some headway by repeatedly using drop shots, but Thiem eventually started tracking them down well.

The pivotal part of the match was the second-set tiebreaker. Both played superbly — and both had chances to end it. Thiem went ahead 6-3, but wasted three set points there, including a bad volley into the net at 6-4 that left him chewing ruefully on his left index finger.

“It was not a very nice feeling,” Thiem said.

A fourth set point for Thiem was erased with — what else? — a drop shot by Cecchinato.

Thiem had to weather three set points for Cecchinato, at 7-6, 9-8 and 10-9. Thiem got to 10-all with a drop shot of his own.

At long last, Thiem converted his fifth set point when Cecchinato sent a forehand long. The third set was dominated by Thiem, who raced to a 4-0, two-break lead in 12 minutes.

“That was definitely the key to the match,” Cecchinato said. “To get to a set apiece would have changed the match.”

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FRENCH OPEN: TV/Stream Schedule | Scores | Men’s Draw (PDF) | Women’s Draw

Scott Brosius to take USA Baseball managerial job, replacing Joe Girardi

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Just one month before the Premier 12, a tournament giving the U.S. baseball team an opportunity to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, USA Baseball has announced a managerial switch.

USA Baseball executive Scott Brosius, who won three World Series with the New York Yankees from 1998 to 2000 and had a slugging percentage of .529 in four World Series appearances, will take over in place of Joe Girardi. USA Baseball said Girardi has stepped down to focus on opportunities in Major League Baseball.

Brosius was previously named to serve as the team’s bench coach. Several other coaches have been reshuffled, with Willie Randolph moving to bench coach, Ernie Young moving to third base and 2000 gold medalist Anthony Sanders joining the staff to coach at first base. Left unchanged: hitting coach Phil Plantier, pitching coach Bryan Price and bullpen coach Roly de Armas.

The U.S. team will play the Netherlands, host Mexico and the Dominican Republic, starting Nov. 2. The top two teams from the group will advance to the six-team Super Round in Japan.

The top finisher from the Americas region and the top finisher from Asia/Oceania (except Japan, which has an automatic bid as host) will qualify for the Olympic baseball tournament. The U.S. will have two more opportunities to qualify after that.

The U.S. won silver in the first Premier 12 tournament in 2015. As in 2015, the U.S. will not use players on MLB 40-man rosters.

PREMIER 12: Roster

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Taylor Phinney picks creativity over cycling, ending race career to focus on art

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Three-time Olympian and two-time world champion Taylor Phinney announced Wednesday that he is retiring from cycling and will pursue his other passion — art. 

“I want to say thank you to everyone that has cheered me on and sent me good energy over the last twelve years!” Phinney said via Instagram. “I appreciate you all. Alas, in the battle between Art and Sport, ART WON.”

Phinney is the son of two decorated Olympians. Davis Phinney won bronze in the team time trial, which is no longer contested in the Olympics, in 1984. Connie Carpenter-Phinney was an Olympic speedskater who switched sports to win the cycling road race, also in 1984.

Like his father, who won Tour de France stages in 1986 and 1987, Phinney went back and forth between track and road cycling, winning world championship medals in each discipline and racing in both sports in the Olympics. He made his Olympic debut at age 18, taking seventh on the track in the individual pursuit.

His biggest successes on the track followed over the next two years, when he won the 2009 world championship in the individual pursuit and defended his title in 2010. He also took silver in the 1km time trial in 2009 and bronze in the omnium in 2010.

After switching to road racing, he won the prologue in the 2012 Giro d’Italia. He then came close to two Olympic medals, placing fourth in the time trial behind a who’s who of road cycling — Bradley Wiggins, Tony Martin and Chris Froome, two of whom were racing on home soil. In the road race, he placed fourth again, in the same time as bronze medalist Alexander KristoffA few weeks later, Phinney rebounded to take two silver medals in the individual and team time trials at the world championships.

His career was threatened when he suffered a compound fracture on a harrowing descent in the 2014 U.S. Championships, but he recovered to take gold in the team time trial in the 2015 world championships and silver in the same event the next year. He also debuted in the Tour de France in 2017 and offered the occasional behind-the-scenes look at life in the three-week race.

But he hasn’t been as active in the last two years. In 2018, he was eighth in the legendary one-day Paris-Roubaix race. This year, he won the team time trial in the Tour of Colombia but has no other major results.

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Yoooo hey hi hello ! So yes, I’m happy to announce that I am hanging up my professional road cycling cleats at the end of this season… I want to say thank you to everyone that has cheered me on and sent me good energy over the last twelve years! I appreciate you all. . Alas, in the battle between Art and Sport, ART WON. I’m so happy and genuinely excited—almost giddy at the prospect of being able to CREATE full time. My heart is full and I look forward to sharing what the future brings with whoever wants to follow. . As far as cycling goes…I’m more in love with bikes now than I have ever been before. My body is very relieved now that it knows that I will not be punishing it to the fullest extent of my capabilities 😅. My mind is refreshed from a summer of adventure and my heart is opening at a rate that terrifies me in the best of ways! I am so grateful to this sport for the teachings I’ve received, the connections I’ve made, and the stories I can share from the crazy days on the bike. . I want to thank all my friends in the peloton and I wish you all the best of luck. I will let you know what it is like on the other side 🙂

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Phinney’s art, a mix of abstraction and words, shows little influence from his cycling career. He also has launched a site and Instagram feed for his art under the name Manifest Butter.

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