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Rafael Nadal beats Marin Cilic, nears first Roger Federer U.S. Open match

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NEW YORK — Hope of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer playing each other at the U.S. Open for the first time was put on hold when the draw came out 11 days ago. The belief is back.

Nadal joined Federer in the quarterfinals by beating 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 on Monday night. Each must win two more matches for a Sunday final date. So far each has made it through with no panic.

And, more importantly, the man standing in the way of destiny, top-ranked Novak Djokovic, was eliminated on Sunday night. When the draw came out, Federer was placed in the same half as Djokovic, unlike at the French Open and Wimbledon, where Federer and Nadal met in the semifinals.

Now, their 42nd career meeting being their first at the U.S. Open is very possible if not probable.

Nadal is 21-2 against the other three men left in his half (quarterfinal foe Diego Schwartzman and Gael Monfils and Matteo Berrettini, all surprises in the last eight).

Federer is 33-3 against the three men left in his half, with no losses on hard courts to quarterfinal foe Grigor Dimitrov or Stan Wawrinka or Daniil Medvedev. Medvedev, the only other top-10 seed left, is dangerous as the hottest player on tour since Wimbledon.

Nadal has spent just under seven hours on court in four matches, dropping one set and getting a walkover in the third round. Federer has been more efficient the last two rounds, taking 79 and 80 minutes, respectively.

We’ve been here before, though.

Nadal and Federer have been within one round of playing each other at the U.S. Open six times. Each time, one of them lost. The destiny destroyers included other greats of this generation — Andy Murray (2008), Juan Martin del Potro (2009, 2017) and Djokovic (2010 and 2011) — and the outlier Tommy Robredo (2013).

U.S. OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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U.S. women’s soccer team begins Olympic qualifying, which should rest on one match

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The U.S. women’s soccer team has never been in danger in Olympic qualifying, but that doesn’t change this fact: It must win on Feb. 7 to reach the Tokyo Games.

The CONCACAF tournament begins Tuesday in Houston, where the world champion Americans face world No. 72 Haiti. The last two group games are against No. 68 Panama on Friday and No. 37 Costa Rica on Feb. 3. The top two nations from the group advance to Feb. 7 semifinals.

The U.S. roster, with 18 of its 20 players coming from the 2019 World Cup team, is here.

Since CONCACAF qualifies two nations to the Olympics, the semifinals are the deciding games.

Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up from the other group in a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match. The other group (world ranking):

Canada (8)
Mexico (37)
Jamaica (53)
St. Kitts and Nevis (127)

Chaos could result in the unlikely event that either the U.S. or Canada finishes second in its group, and the two North American powers play a semifinal.

The U.S. is undefeated in Olympic qualifying history, since the tournament format began in 2004 — 15-0 with a goal differential of 88-1 (not counting matches played once they’ve already clinched qualification). The lone goal allowed came in a group-stage match in 2008, when the U.S. was already assured a spot in the semifinals.

Still, the U.S. knows the feeling of one poor outing in an important match. In 2010, it lost to Mexico in a winner-to-the-World Cup match. The U.S. was forced to win a last-chance, home-and-home playoff against a UEFA team — Italy — for the last spot in the World Cup.

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