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Kevin Anderson beats John Isner in second-longest Wimbledon match

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As John Isner endured the second-longest Grand Slam match in history — and his second-longest match in Grand Slam history — he asked chair umpire Marija Cicak to end the madness with a tiebreak.

“I was joking, of course,” Isner said.

Neither Isner nor South African Kevin Anderson wanted their Wimbledon semifinal to become an instant classic in this fashion — Anderson winning 7-6 (6), 6-7 (5), 6-7 (9), 6-4, 26-24 in 6 hours, 36 minutes.

That’s 99 games, 102 combined aces and 569 points.

“It’s really tough on both of us, and at the end I feel like this is a draw between the two of us,” Anderson said after stopping to sign autographs along with Isner after the match. “Somebody has to win. I apologize if I’m not more excited right now, so many mixed emotions.”

Isner was bidding to become the first U.S. man to make a Grand Slam singles final since Andy Roddick at 2009 Wimbledon, to end the nation’s longest drought in his 41st career Grand Slam.

“Right now I feel terrible,” the 33-year-old Isner said, noting he developed a foot blister at some point in the match. “It stinks to lose, but I gave it everything I had out there, and I just lost to someone who’s just a little bit better.”

The eighth seed Anderson made his second Grand Slam final after losing to Rafael Nadal at the 2017 U.S. Open. He’s the first South African to make a Wimbledon final since 1921 and the oldest first-time Wimbledon finalist in the Open Era at age 32.

On Sunday, he plays Nadal or Novak Djokovic, who have a combined 29 major titles.

Djokovic leads Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9) in the other semifinal that started so late on Friday that it couldn’t finish before Wimbledon’s 11 p.m. curfew (despite the Centre Court roof). It resumes Saturday at 8 a.m. ET, before the women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber.

Isner was (and maybe still is) best known for 2010 Wimbledon, when he beat Frenchman Nicolas Mahut 70-68 in the fifth set in the longest match in tennis history (11 hours, 5 minutes over three days). The U.S. Open is the only one of the four Grand Slams that has a fifth-set tiebreak. Isner and Anderson want the others to follow suit.

“It’s long overdue,” Isner said.

Anderson proposed going to a tiebreak if a fifth set gets to 12-all.

“I really hope this is a sign for Grand Slams to change,” he said. “It gets kind of ridiculous at some point. … I can feel the crowd. They’re pretty antsy for us to get off the court.”

Anderson must regroup after spending 10 hours, 50 minutes on court between his five-setters in the quarterfinals (upsetting Roger Federer 13-11 in the fifth set) and the semifinals. That’s 48 minutes more than any player’s total at the World Cup this past month.

In 2010, Isner was ousted in a speedy 74 minutes in the match following his marathon, saying afterward that he didn’t have a chance.

“I need to reset as much as possible,” Anderson said.

Isner labeled Wimbledon his “house of horrors” ever since that Mahut epic. An otherworldly serve and strong forehand could not get him past the third round at the All England Club until this year and had never played on Centre Court until Friday (aside from the London Olympics).

The University of Georgia product has been the most consistent of a U.S. men’s contingent that has shown flashes since Roddick’s retirement in 2012. But neither he nor the others of his generation — Sam Querrey (2017 Wimbledon semifinalist), Jack Sock (ranked No. 8 as recently as February) and others — have broken into the sport’s highest tier.

In nine years since Roddick’s last Grand Slam final, U.S. women have reached a combined 21 Grand Slam finals (16 via Serena Williams). In the near 15 years since Roddick’s 2003 U.S. Open title, U.S. women have won a combined 21 Grand Slam titles (17 via Williams).

This has been a career year for Isner. The 6-foot-10 tower bagged his biggest career title at the Miami Open, one of the most prestigious non-major tournaments. He also made the fourth round of the French Open and matched his career-best ranking of No. 9.

Isner had held serve 110 straight times since the start of the tournament before Anderson, a former NCAA tennis rival, broke him four times. At least Isner left with a record 214 aces for the tournament, breaking Goran Ivansevic‘s mark of 213 from his wild-card title run in 2001.

“It’s up to me to not let this match linger, going forward, when I get back in America playing on the hard courts, which is my favorite surface,” Isner said as he shifts focus to the U.S. Open starting in late August. “I have to hit the delete button on this. It will be tough.”

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Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue can make it 10 straight at Skate America

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If Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue ever lacked motivation in the post-Olympic summer, they needed only scan their Montreal training ice.

They would spot France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, the only ice dancers from the Olympic podium who return this season. Papadakis and Cizeron relegated the Americans to silver at March’s world championships, one month after Hubbell and Donohue were fourth in PyeongChang (the French took silver). They have trained under the same coaches in Quebec for three years.

They would also see Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, the third- and fourth-place finishers from January’s U.S. Championships. Those couples moved to the Montreal group in the spring. They are Hubbell and Donohue’s top threats to repeat as national champions in Detroit in three months, given U.S. silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are also taking a break.

Practicing next to rivals is often shunned in sports. It has elevated ice dance the last several years.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White trained together in Michigan and split the Olympic gold and silver medals in 2010 and 2014.

When Virtue and Moir returned from a two-year break in 2016, they joined the Montreal group and went one-two with training partners Papadakis and Cizeron at every major competition through PyeongChang.

Hubbell and Donohue thrived last season, their third in Montreal, winning their first national title after six straight years of finishing third or fourth. They were in position for an Olympic medal, third after the short dance, but Donohue fell in the free dance (as he did at 2017 Worlds after they were third in the short).

Then at worlds in March, they delivered back-to-back podium-worthy performances on the global stage for the first time for that silver medal. They are the world No. 2 and the favorites at this weekend’s Skate America, with the French not in the field.

U.S. couples have won nine straight Skate Americas, more than the other three disciplines combined in the last decade.

MORE: Skate America TV/Stream Schedule

“Clearly this formula is working for them,” NBC Sports analyst and 2006 Olympic ice dance silver medalist Tanith White said. “It has proven to work for many of the greatest teams in ice dance over the last few decades. … I cannot see a drawback.”

Hubbell and Donohue (and Papadakis and Cizeron) appear to agree.

They joked back and forth at a press conference after worlds in March. Asked how they would spend the offseason, Cizeron looked straight at Hubbell and Donohue and said, jokingly, “Our goal is to get drunk together as many times as we can.”

“As much as our own personal accomplishment is pretty incredible, being on the podium with training mates and having, literally, everyone from our training center skate the best programs of their season, all at the same competition, was pretty incredible,” Donohue said last week.

Hubbell and Donohue should breeze through Skate America in Everett, Wash. Nobody else from the top nine in PyeongChang is in the field. They’re the favorites next week at Skate Canada, too.

The first real test will be at December’s Grand Prix Final, where Papadakis and Cizeron should join them. Hubbell and Donohue never outscored the French in nine head-to-head competitions and were more than 10 points adrift at worlds.

“The French, where they left off last season, I think that they are still in a category on their own based on the last time we saw those two teams go up against each other,” White said. 

Hubbell said the world silver medal showed that they had tackled their demons, fear and history of errors. If the next goal is gold, they must conquer a much more visible foe, one they see every day on the ice.

“The podium at worlds,” Hubbell said, “was the moment I was able to leave that season behind me and go into the future.”

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NHL helped end USA Hockey, women’s national team wage dispute

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The NHL’s support of women’s hockey included the league stepping in at the last moment to end a wage dispute between USA Hockey and national team players threatening to boycott the 2017 World Championship on home ice.

Two people familiar with the situation said the NHL agreed to pay USA Hockey to help fund the four-year agreement reached in March 2017. The people spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the league and USA Hockey have not made that information public.

The NHL also supports the idea of one women’s professional league and has several member teams involved in both leagues.

The Buffalo Sabres purchased the Buffalo Beauts in December to become the NHL’s first franchise to fully own an National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) team. The Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens each have partnerships with Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) teams based in their respective cities.

The NHL has been careful to avoid the appearance of favoring one league over the other. Commissioner Gary Bettman told the AP last month he has no interest in forming a third league because he doesn’t want the NHL “to look like a bully” by pushing the existing leagues out of business.

Players want a single North American women’s professional hockey league. Bettman does, too. And now NWHL founder and Commissioner Dani Rylan is on record saying she is working toward that objective.

“One league is inevitable,” Rylan wrote in an email to the AP, her strongest statement regarding a potential merger with the rival CWHL.

Rylan’s comments come nearly four years after she split from the CWHL to establish the NWHL, which became the first women’s hockey league to pay its players a salary.

The investor-funded NWHL has provided a framework for how a pro women’s league can function, but most observers agree that two leagues competing for the same talent pool and limited financial resources isn’t going to last — or help the game grow.

The U.S.-based NWHL, in its fourth season, grew to five teams after expanding into Minnesota this year. The CWHL, in its 12th season, began paying its players a salary for the first time last year and has six teams, including ones in Worcester, Massachusetts, and China.

Rylan is now echoing what Jayna Hefford said in July upon being named the CWHL’s interim commissioner. The former Canadian star called the formation of one league “a priority” and projected it could happen within two years.

Rylan’s comments also come after both leagues discussed merger options this summer, a person with direct knowledge of the discussions told The AP. Also on the table is an NWHL proposal for both league champions to compete in an end-of-season playoff, the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the talks were private.

Rylan confirmed she’s spoken to Hefford, and added: “There is a path, and Jayna and I and our business partners will continue those discussions.”

Hefford expressed cautious optimism regarding the possibility of joining forces.

“It’s certainly something we have to figure out,” she said, while noting she’s still new on the job. “I’m trying to understand what the challenges are, what the roadblocks are and try to figure out a way to get us to the point where we have one truly professional women’s hockey league.”

Hefford was scheduled to meet this week with NHL officials, including Bettman, for the first time since replacing former commissioner Brenda Andress.

Bettman is hesitant of the NHL assuming control of the CWHL or NWHL because, as he put it, “we don’t believe in their models.”

“We need to start on a clean slate,” Bettman said.

“If at some point the leagues say, ‘We’ve had enough, we don’t see this as a long-term solution, we’d like you to start up and we’ll discontinue operations,’ then we’ll do it. But we’re not pushing it,” he said. “If we’re going to get involved, it cannot fail, which means it has to be on us.”

Rylan, who previously worked at the NHL, took exception to the comments.

“What’s it like when Gary Bettman tells the media the model for our women’s league doesn’t work? Of course, it’s really disappointing,” said Rylan, who nonetheless called Bettman a “gracious adviser.”

“Can we improve? No question about it,” she added. “If Gary and more NHL owners want to get involved in women’s hockey, that’s an awesome an exciting thing. Let’s get started now.”

Hayley Wickenheiser, a retired six-time Olympian and newly hired Maple Leafs assistant director of player development, said, “I think the NHL should and could do more and in a heartbeat make it happen.” But she placed more of an onus on the players to make it happen.

“They need to take control and move it forward, and the NHL is there and ready when they are,” said Wickenheiser, the first woman to be hired to a hockey operations role.

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