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Novak Djokovic tops Rafael Nadal in another Wimbledon marathon semifinal

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Is Novak Djokovic back? Certainly looked like it Friday night and Saturday afternoon at Wimbledon.

The 12-time Grand Slam champion outlasted top-ranked Rafael Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9), 3-6, 10-8 to reach Sunday’s final at the All England Club, where the Serb plays South African Kevin Anderson.

“It’s hard to pick the words,” said Djokovic, the 12th seed who reached his first Grand Slam final since the 2016 U.S. Open. “I mean, I’m just going through things that flash back the last 15 months and everything I’ve been through to get here, to get to the final and to win against the best player in the world. … I’m just overwhelmed.

“These kind of matches you live for, you work for.”

Djokovic and Nadal, two men with a combined 29 Grand Slam singles titles, played the first three sets Friday — after Anderson and John Isner‘s 6-hour, 36-minute epic — before Wimbledon’s 11 p.m. curfew suspended the match overnight.

The Centre Court roof remained closed for Saturday’s resumption because at least one of the players (Djokovic, presumably) preferred it.

They were on court for 5 hours, 14 minutes total, which would have been the longest Wimbledon semifinal in history before Friday.

“Very special,” said Djokovic, who improved to 27-25 against Nadal in the most prolific men’s rivalry in the 50-year Open Era. “It really could have gone either way, I think. … It was very clear that very few things separated the two players. Basically, until the last shot I didn’t know that I was going to win.”

Djokovic made his first Grand Slam final since the end of a two-year stretch where the Serb was the world’s top player. He once held all four Grand Slam titles, something neither Roger Federer nor Nadal has done.

Djokovic’s struggles the last two years accompanied off-court life changes.

He cited “private issues” in summer 2016, split from coach Boris Becker that fall, was coached by Andre Agassi for less than a year, missed the 2017 U.S. Open for an elbow injury, then underwent surgery to fix it in January.

He has won two tournaments in the last two years and none in the last 12 months, his longest drought since his first of 68 ATP titles at age 19 in 2006.

But on Friday and Saturday, Djokovic packaged mental strength, physical endurance, shot-making talent and big-stage guts like we haven’t seen in two years.

Now Djokovic, the lowest-ranked man in a Wimbledon final since Mark Philippoussis in 2003, is favored against the eighth seed Anderson to win his fourth Wimbledon. Djokovic has won their last five matches, including at Wimbledon in 2015.

Anderson, the oldest first-time Wimbledon finalist in the 50-year Open Era, eyes his first Grand Slam title after playing a combined 10 hours, 50 minutes between the quarterfinals (upsetting Roger Federer 13-11 in the fifth) and semifinals.

“Hopefully we can first of all play, both of us,” Djokovic said in exhaustion. “It’s been a roller-coaster ride for him in the last couple of rounds, but he had a day off, which means a lot. I wish I could have one. … It’s an incredible achievement for me after what I’ve been through. I’m trying to digest that.”

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Gregorio Paltrinieri swims second-fastest 1500m freestyle in history

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Olympic champion Gregorio Paltrinieri swam the second-fastest 1500m freestyle in history, clocking 14:33.10 in his native Italy on Thursday.

Paltrinieri, 25, missed Chinese Sun Yang‘s world record from the 2012 Olympics by 2.08 seconds.

The Italian now owns the second- and third-fastest times in history, including his 14:34.10 from the 2016 European Championships, also held at the 2012 Olympic pool in London.

Paltrinieri is a versatile distance swimmer. At last year’s world championships, he finished sixth in the open-water 10km to qualify for the Olympics, then won the 800m free in the pool in a European record time and finished with 1500m bronze, just missing a third straight world title in that event.

German Florian Wellbrock won the 1500m in 14:36.54 at worlds, with Paltrinieri finishing 2.21 seconds back.

Sun, 28, was in February banned eight years stemming from destroying a drug-test sample with a hammer in September 2018. Sun, who focused more on the 200m and 400m frees in recent years, did not race the 1500m at the 2017 or 2019 Worlds.

Top-level swim meets in the U.S. are scheduled to resume in November with the Tyr Pro Series.

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Bianca Andreescu to miss U.S. Open

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Bianca Andreescu withdrew from the U.S. Open, citing “unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic” compromising her ability to prepare to defend her Grand Slam title.

“I have taken this step in order to focus on my match fitness and ensure that I return ready to play at my highest level,” Andreescu, a 20-year-old Canadian, posted on social media. “The US Open victory last year has been the high point of my career thus far and I will miss not being there. However, I realize that the unforeseen challenges, including the Covid pandemic, have compromised my ability to prepare and compete to the degree necessary to play at my highest level.”

Andreescu’s absence means the U.S. Open, the first Grand Slam tournament since tennis resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic, will be without both 2019 male and female singles champions.

Rafael Nadal previously announced he would not defend his title, saying he would rather not travel given the global situation. Roger Federer is also out after knee surgery. Women’s No. 1 Ash Barty didn’t enter, either, citing travel concerns.

Last year, Andreescu made her U.S. Open title run as the 15th seed, sweeping Serena Williams in the final. Ranked 208th a year earlier, she became the first player born in the 2000s to win a Slam and the first teen Slam winner since Maria Sharapova at the 2006 U.S. Open.

Andreescu then missed the Australian Open in January due to rehab from a knee injury that forced her to retire during a match at the WTA Finals on Oct. 30. She also missed the French Open and Wimbledon in 2019 following a rotator cuff tear.

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