Federer tops Nadal in Wimbledon semis

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WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Roger Federer waited 11 years to get another shot at Rafael Nadal on Centre Court. This one was a semifinal, not a final. It was settled in four sets, not five.

Felt like just as much of a classic contest, though, one that anyone present is not likely to forget.

That, of course, includes Federer, who managed to pull away and beat longtime rival Nadal 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 Friday by finally coming through on his fifth match point.

“I’m exhausted. It was tough at the end,” Federer said. “Rafa played some unbelievable shots to stay in the match. I thought the match was played at a very high level.”

Federer closed in on a ninth championship at the All England Club and 21st Grand Slam trophy in all. In Sunday’s final, Federer will go up against Novak Djokovic, who is the defending champion and seeded No. 1.

Djokovic overcame Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 earlier Friday to reach his sixth Wimbledon final. Djokovic is eyeing a fifth championship at Wimbledon and 16th major title.

As entertaining Djokovic vs. Bautista Agut was — including a 45-stroke point won by Djokovic — it was merely a tasty appetizer ahead of the day’s delectable main course.

Not only was this the 40th installment of Federer vs. Nadal, but it also was their first meeting at Wimbledon since the 2008 final. Nadal won that one 9-7 in a fifth set that ended after 9 p.m., as any trace of daylight disappeared, in what some consider the greatest tennis match in the sport’s lengthy annals.

How excited, then, were the spectators for the rematch, more than a decade in the making? When Federer and Nadal strode out into the sunshine at 4:30 p.m., they were welcomed by a standing ovation before ever swinging a racket.

Quickly, that greeting was justified. These are, of course, two of the greats of all-time — maybe the two greatest — and they lived up to that status for stretches.

One key, for Federer, was that his rebuilt backhand, hit strong and flat more frequently than it used to be, held steady against Nadal’s bullwhip of a lefty forehand. Another was that he was able to withstand Nadal’s serve, which has improved a ton over the years. Federer amassed 10 break points, and though he succeeded on just two, that was enough, with the last, vital conversion making it 2-1 in the fourth set. And then there was this: Federer won 25 of the 33 points when he went to the net.

“I didn’t play well enough,” said Nadal, who lost a five-set semifinal to Djokovic a year ago.

There was something of an “Anything you can do, I can do, too” vibe to Friday’s proceedings. Federer would kick up chalk with an ace to a corner, and Nadal would do the same in the next game. When Nadal jumped out to a 3-2 lead in the first-set tiebreaker, Federer used sublime returning to reel off five points in a row to claim it.

Who else but Federer could strike a serve so well that Nadal’s framed response would end up caught by someone seated in the Royal Box, as happened early in the second set? Who else but Nadal could attack Federer’s generally unassailable forehand in such a manner as to draw one so out of character and off the mark that it landed in the third row, as happened later in that set? And who else but Nadal could somehow retrieve an apparently untouchable ball and send up a lob that Federer would shank a leaping overhead, as happened in the last game?

“I thought probably the biggest points in the match went my way. There were some tight ones and long rallies,” Federer said. “He plays with such velocity and spins and everything, you’re not always sure you’re going to connect the right way.”

No one ever has managed to reduce Federer to mid-match mediocrity quite the way Nadal can on occasion, part of why the Spaniard entered Friday with a 24-15 overall lead head-to-head, including 10-3 at Grand Slam tournaments.

The final stretch Friday must have been agonizing for Federer, who already had wasted a pair of match points when Nadal served at 5-3. At 5-4, Nadal held a break point but let it slip away when he netted a backhand, then bent over and put his hands on his head, exasperation personified.

Federer’s third match point — as his wife, Mirka, peeked through fingers covering her face — was a 24-stroke masterpiece that Nadal took with an inside-out forehand winner. The fourth was saved with a cross-court backhand. But when the fifth opportunity to close it out arrived after 3 hours, 2 minutes, Federer saw Nadal push a backhand long.

This was the second major in a row where they’ve faced off: Nadal won their windy French Open semifinal last month en route to his 12th championship on the red clay there. But Wimbledon is Federer’s dominion. He’s won 101 matches at the place — more than any other man at any other Slam, even Nadal at Roland Garros — and all of those trophies.

Earlier, Djokovic watched the 23rd-seeded Bautista Agut’s shot hit the net tape, pop in the air and slide over for a winner that tied their semifinal at a set apiece. Walking to his changeover chair, as fans roared with approval, Djokovic nodded and waved his racket, then his right hand, at the crowd, sarcastically encouraging folks to get louder, as if to say, “Yeah, good for him and good for you. Enjoy it while you can.”

Soon enough, he was ending that 45-stroke point — the longest on record at Wimbledon, where such stats date to 2006 — with a backhand winner to save a break point, then cupping his ear while glaring into the stands.

“I had to dig deep,” Djokovic said.

His match was his 36th career appearance in the final four at a major tournament — and the debut in that round for Bautista Agut.

Even Bautista Agut didn’t really expect his visit to the All England Club to last this long: The Spaniard was supposed to meet a half-dozen of his buddies on the island of Ibiza this weekend for his bachelor party. Instead, those pals were sitting in a guest box at Centre Court on Friday.

Eventually, Djokovic took control with his enviable ability to return serves, track down balls and go from defense to offense.

Now he’s Federer’s problem.

“I hope I can push him to the brink and hopefully beat him. But it’s going to be very difficult, as we know,” Federer said. “He’s not No. 1 just by chance.”

South Korea’s first gold medalist of 2018 PyeongChang Olympics to compete for China

Lim Hyo-Jun
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Lim Hyo-Jun, a short track speed skater who won South Korea’s first gold medal of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, has been cleared to skate for China and was reportedly named to the national team Monday.

Lim, who won the 1500m on the first day of medal competition at the PyeongChang Games, began the process of switching to China after a June 2019 incident where he pulled down a teammate’s trousers, leaving him standing, exposed, in front of female teammates.

Lim, the 2019 World overall champion, was banned from the team for a year and later found guilty of sexual harassment before the verdict was overturned on appeal.

It was reported in March 2021 that Lim was in the process of trying to gain Chinese nationality to compete at the Beijing Winter Olympics, but Lim was not cleared to switch by the International Skating Union until this July. His Chinese name is Lin Xiaojun.

Another star South Korean skater, triple 2006 Olympic gold medalist Ahn Hyun-Soo, switched to Russia after not making the 2010 Olympic team. He then won three golds for the host nation as Viktor Ahn at the 2014 Sochi Games.

China’s national team for the upcoming season reportedly does not include veterans Wu Dajing, the nation’s lone gold medalist across all sports at the 2018 Olympics, and Fan Kexin, a three-time Olympic medalist.

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Brigid Kosgei, world record holder, to miss London Marathon

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World record holder Brigid Kosgei withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon due to a right hamstring injury that has bothered her for the last month.

“My training has been up and down and not the way I would like to prepare to be in top condition,” was posted on Kosgei’s social media. “We’ve decided it’s best I withdraw from this year’s race and get further treatment on my injuries in order to enter 2023 stronger than ever.”

Kosgei, a 28-year-old Kenyan mother of twins, shattered the world record by 81 seconds at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. She clocked 2:14:04 to smash Brit Paula Radcliffe‘s record from 2003.

Since, Kosgei won the 2020 London Marathon, took silver at the Tokyo Olympics, placed fourth at the 2021 London Marathon and won this past March’s Tokyo Marathon in what was then the third-fastest time in history (2:16:02).

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa moved into the top three by winning the Berlin Marathon last Sunday in 2:15:37.

The London Marathon women’s field includes Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei, a winner in New York City (2019) and London (2021), and Yalemzerf Yehualaw, who was the Ethiopian record holder until Assefa won in Berlin.

The men’s field is headlined by Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest male marathoner in history, and Brit Mo Farah, a four-time Olympic champion on the track.

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