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.”

Scotty James wins fifth X Games snowboard halfpipe title

Scotty James
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Scotty James doesn’t have Olympic gold, but he remains king of the X Games halfpipe.

James, the Australian snowboarder who took bronze and silver at the last two Olympics, earned his fifth Aspen gold, repeating as champ of the biggest annual contest under falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. Only the retired Shaun White has more X Games men’s snowboard halfpipe titles with eight.

Nobody on Friday night attempted a triple cork, which was first done in competition by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano last season en route to the Olympic title. Hirano placed sixth Friday.

“It was a tough night, pretty interesting conditions,” James said. “Had to adjust the game plan. The show goes on.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression over the course of a three-run jam session for the entire field rather than scoring individual runs.

Earlier, Olympic gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand repeated as women’s snowboard slopestyle champion, passing Olympic bronze medalist Tess Coady of Australia on the final run of the competition. Sadowski-Synnott, the only snowboarder or skier to win Olympic, world and X Games slopestyle titles, capped her finale with back-to-back 900s.

The competition lacked 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Jamie Anderson, who announced her pregnancy last month.

Canada’s Megan Oldham landed the first triple cork in women’s ski big air competition history to beat Olympic silver medalist Tess Ledeux of France, according to commentators. Oldham, a 21-year-old ex-gymnast, was fourth at the Olympics.

Eileen Gu, the Olympic champion from China, did not compete but is entered in halfpipe and slopestyle later this weekend.

ON HER TURF: U.S. freeskier Maggie Voisin on grief, loss, finding motivation

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Isabeau Levito wins U.S. figure skating title at age 15, followed by comeback stories

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Isabeau Levito won her first U.S. figure skating title at age 15, cementing her status as the new leading American woman to open the new Olympic cycle.

Levito, the world junior champion, tallied 223.33 points between two strong programs in San Jose, California. She distanced two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022 and scored 213.12.

Tennell was just two hundredths behind Levito after Thursday’s short but had multiple jumping errors in the free skate.

Levito followed her as last to go in the free and nailed the most pressure-packed performance of her young career, including the hardest jump combination done of the entire field. She didn’t receive a single negative mark from a judge for her 19 technical elements in her two programs.

Moments later, she was in tears backstage.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

“I was just so proud of myself for staying so calm and staying so focused, doing exactly what I aimed to do,” Levito, who hasn’t finished off the podium in more than 20 events dating to November 2016, said on NBC. “I’m ready to start bouncing off the walls.”

Amber Glenn, 23, placed third and will likely become the oldest U.S. women’s singles skater to make her world championships debut in at least 45 years. Glenn botched her 11th attempt to join the list of U.S. women to land a clean triple Axel (tally according to Skatingscores.com) but still moved up from fourth after the short program, passing Starr Andrews.

Last year, Glenn entered nationals as the fourth-ranked U.S. woman and a hopeful for the three-woman Olympic team. She placed 14th in the short program, competing unknowingly with COVID-19, then tested positive and withdrew before the free skate.

In 2021, Glenn was the U.S. silver medalist, yet passed over for a spot on the two-woman world team in favor of the more experienced Karen Chen, who finished 35 hundredths behind Glenn at those nationals.

Levito, Tennell and Glenn are expected to make up the team for March’s world championships, decided by a committee.

Gracie Gold, a two-time U.S. champion who was fifth after the short program, popped a pair of planned triple Lutzes and dropped to eighth.

None of the three 2022 U.S. Olympians competed. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell retired. Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return.

Nationals continue Saturday with the free dance and pairs’ free skate, live on NBC Sports and Peacock.

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