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Rafael Nadal reaches U.S. Open semifinals, carrying Big Three streak

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NEW YORK — Rafael Nadal is carrying the streak of the Big Three and trying to keep the 1990s generation smothered.

Nadal reached the U.S. Open semifinals with a 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 sweep of Argentine Diego Schwartzman on Wednesday night. Nadal squandered double-break leads in each of the first two sets before breaking again to close them out.

“Straight sets, but big challenge,” he said of the 2-hour, 46-minute match where he sweat profusely in the humidity. “I accepted the challenge.”

Nadal is the only man of the semifinalists who has Grand Slam final experience. He is the only man of the semifinalists born in the 1980s. No man born in the 1990s has won a Slam, and no man other than Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer has won a Slam since the start of 2017.

It’s all on Nadal after Djokovic and Federer bowed out injured in the fourth round and quarterfinals, respectively. Nadal’s path would appear clear to his 19th Grand Slam title, moving within one of Federer’s total for the first time in his career.

But then again, this U.S. Open has been far from predictable. Take Nadal’s semifinal opponent Friday.

No. 24 Matteo Berrettini, a 23-year-old Italian, never made it past the fourth round of a prior major. But he took out flashy French veteran Gael Monfils 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (5) on Wednesday afternoon. Berrettini has never played Nadal, but remembers watching him on TV as far back as 2005. The Spaniard won an ATP title in five sets in Rome that pre-empted cartoons.

“I saw, like, a hundred of his matches,” Berrettini said. “Who in this tour doesn’t know Rafa?”

The other semifinal pits 78th-ranked Grigor Dimitrov against Daniil Medvedev, the villainous fifth seed who had never before made a Slam quarterfinal but has been red-hot this summer.

In women’s action, No. 13 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland and No. 15 Bianca Andreescu of Canada each made her first Grand Slam semifinal. The women’s semis are Thursday night, starting with Serena Williams against No. 5 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.

Williams, eyeing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles titles, can identify with Nadal. She is the lone woman remaining who has Grand Slam final experience and the only one born in the 1980s.

U.S. OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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Israel is first nation to qualify for 2020 Olympic baseball tournament

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Israel’s baseball team, which captivated at the 2017 World Baseball Classic, is headed to its first Olympics next summer.

Israel won a joint European-African tournament to become the first nation to qualify for baseball’s return to the Games after the sport was voted off the program after Beijing 2008.

It joins host nation Japan. Four more countries will qualify — two at the global Premier12 in November, another from the Americas and one more from a last-chance qualifier next year.

Israel, ranked 19th in the world, advanced via its best opportunity in Italy this week. It upset the highest-ranked European nations — the Netherlands (No. 8) and host Italy (No. 16) — and wrapped it up with an 11-1 win over South Africa on Sunday.

Its run came two years after Israel, then ranked 41st, beat South Korea, Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands and Cuba before bowing out of the World Baseball Classic. And one week after Israel finished fourth at the European Championship.

Israel’s roster at this week’s Olympic qualifier lacked many of the MLB veterans that it had at the World Baseball Classic. Israeli citizenship was not required at the WBC.

Its most recognizable player is Danny Valencia, an infielder who played parts of nine MLB seasons from 2010-18.

MLB players are unlikely to feature at the Tokyo Games, but minor leaguers are expected to be eligible as in the past.

The rest of the Olympic field is likely to be nations from North America (such as the U.S., Cuba, Mexico or Canada) or Asia (South Korea, Chinese Taipei) or Australia.

Baseball will not be on the 2024 Olympic program but could be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

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MORE: USA Baseball taps longtime catcher to be Olympic qualifying manager

J’den Cox repeats as world wrestling champion; Kyle Snyder stunned

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If he wasn’t crowned already, it’s clear U.S. wrestling has a new king.

On a day when Rio Olympic champion Kyle Snyder was upset and London Olympic champ Jordan Burroughs rallied for another bronze medal, J’den Cox repeated as world champion in Kazakhstan.

Cox, the Rio Olympic 86kg bronze medalist, completed a perfect run through the 92kg division — not giving up a point in four matches — by dominating Iranian Alireza Karimi 4-0 in the final. He became the second U.S. man to win an Olympic or world title without surrendering a point in more than 30 years (joining Kyle Dake from last year).

“I don’t know why, but it feels like a ton better [than 2018],” said Cox, whose tattoos include one that reads in Latin, “If I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell.” “I made more sacrifices … I wanted to do it better.”

Earlier Saturday, Snyder was shocked by Azerbaijan’s Sharif Sharifov 5-2 in the 97kg semifinals, denying a third straight world final between Snyder and Russian Tank Abdulrashid Sadulayev. Sharifov, the 2012 Olympic 84kg champ, clinched his first world medal in eight years.

Snyder, who in Rio became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion at age 20, failed to make an Olympic or world final for the first time in his career. He will wrestle for bronze on Sunday, while Sharifov meets Sadulayev for gold.

Burroughs earned his seventh straight world championships medal and second straight bronze. Burroughs, the 2012 Olympic 74kg champion, rebounded from losing to Russian Zaurbeck Sidakov on Friday with a 10-0 technical fall over Japanese Mao Okui.

Burroughs gave up a lead on Sidakov with 1.3 seconds left in the semifinals, a year after Sidakov overtook him as time expired in the quarterfinals.

“A lot of people in 2016 called me a quitter,” said Burroughs, who tearfully missed the medals in Rio, “and I think that after watching the amount of devastation and heartbreak that I’ve taken over the last two years and still being able to come back and take third place is a testament.”

Burroughs, 31, shares third with Adeline Gray on the U.S. list of career world wrestling championships medals, trailing only Bruce Baumgartner and Kristie Davis, who each earned nine.

Burroughs’ bronze ensured he gets a bye into the 74kg final of the Olympic trials in April. But this will be the first time he goes into an Olympic year as anything other than a reigning world champion.

“At this juncture of my career, I feel I’m running out of time,” said Burroughs, who next year will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic wrestling champion. “That can be really scary.”

Dake marched to Sunday’s final in defense of his 2018 World title at 79kg (a non-Olympic weight) by going 23-4 over three matches. Dake, who at Cornell became the only wrestler to win NCAA titles at four weight classes or without a redshirt, gets Azerbaijan’s Jabrayil Hasanov in the final, a rematch of the 2018 gold-medal match.

Next year, Dake must move up to 86kg, where Cox will likely reside, or down to 74kg, where Burroughs has won every U.S. Olympic or world trials dating to 2011. There’s also David Taylor to reckon with. Taylor won the 86kg world title last year but missed this season due to injury.

“We’ve got a guy at 79 kilos that’s going to win a world championship tomorrow,” Burroughs said, smiling, of Dake, “I’m hopefully going to be waiting for [Dake at Olympic trials], healthy and prepared.”

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