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Novak Djokovic outlasts Roger Federer in epic Wimbledon final

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WIMBLEDON, England — For nearly five tight, tense and terrific hours, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer traded the lead, playing on and on and on until an unprecedented fifth-set tiebreaker was required to settle their memorable Wimbledon final.

In the end, it was Djokovic who emerged victorious, coming back to edge Federer 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 13-12 (3) and become the first man in 71 years to take home the trophy from the All England Club after needing to erase championship points.

“Unfortunately in these kinds of matches, one of the players has to lose,” Djokovic said. “It’s quite unreal.”

After facing two match points at 8-7 in the last set, he wound up claiming his fifth Wimbledon title and second in a row.

This triumph also earned Djokovic his 16th Grand Slam trophy overall, moving him closer to the only men ahead of him in tennis history: Federer owns 20, Rafael Nadal has 18.

“I just feel like it’s such an incredible opportunity missed,” said Federer, who actually accumulated 14 more total points, 218-204. “I can’t believe it.”

He has ruled grass courts since the early 2000s; he has won Wimbledon eight times dating to 2003, and this was his record 12th appearance in the title match. But Djokovic is now 3-0 against Federer in finals at the place and 4-0 against him in five-setters anywhere.

This one was unlike any other, though.

That’s because, while it was reminiscent of Federer’s 16-14 fifth-set victory over Andy Roddick in the 2009 Wimbledon final, that score is no longer possible: The All England Club altered its rule this year to do away with never-ending matches and institute a tiebreaker at 12-all in a deciding set.

At one point during the final set Sunday, Djokovic asked chair umpire Damian Steiner whether the change called for the tiebreaker at 10-10. Later, when Djokovic held for an 11-10 lead, it was Steiner who got confused, beginning to call out the score as 11-9, before catching himself.

“I respect whatever the rule is,” Federer said when asked what he thinks of the altered setup. “So really, it is what it is, you know?”

Federer and Djokovic pushed each other to the limit in what became as much a test of focus and stamina as it was about skill. It is the longest final in the history of a tournament that dates to the 1870s, eclipsing by nine minutes Nadal’s five-set win over Federer in 2008.

Like that one, this is destined to be discussed for years.

“I’ll try to forget,” joked Federer, who is less than a month shy of his 38th birthday and would have been the oldest man to win a Grand Slam title in the professional era.

“It was a great match. It was long. It had everything. I had my chances. So did he. I thought we played some great tennis. In a way, I’m very happy with my performance, as well,” Federer said during the trophy ceremony. “But Novak, it’s great. Congratulations, man. That was crazy. Well done.”

First, it was Federer who kept falling behind, then coming back. He twice trailed by a set even though he came quite close to winning the match in three: Federer was two points from grabbing the opening set on seven occasions but couldn’t do it; he was one point from seizing the third, but again came up short.

Then, Federer was down a break early in the crucible of the fifth. And then, after seemingly gaining the upper hand, standing a single point from winning while serving for the victory at 8-7, 40-15, he faltered.

He sent a forehand wide on the first championship point, and Djokovic produced a cross-court forehand winner on the next. Soon enough, the 32-year-old Djokovic had broken back and on they would play for another 45 minutes.

“Definitely tough to have those chances,” Federer said.

Djokovic has done this to him before.

In the semifinals of the 2010 and 2011 U.S. Opens, Djokovic erased two match points each time before coming back to win.

Looking at the bigger picture, there’s also this takeaway from Sunday: Nadal’s status as Federer’s principal nemesis has been well-documented and much-examined over the years — which is a small part of why Friday’s semifinal victory for Federer was fraught with meaning. But it’s now high time to discuss Djokovic’s edge over Federer.

Djokovic has won their past five meetings and holds a 26-22 advantage overall head-to-head, including 10-6 at Grand Slam tournaments and 3-1 at Wimbledon.

By the reverberating sound of things around the old arena Sunday, a vast majority of the spectators were pulling for the popular Federer. Made it seem as though he might be British, not Swiss.

While one person cried out, “We love you both!” — a fitting sentiment, given the high quality and unceasing shifts in momentum — the “Come on, Roger!” count far outnumbered the shouts for his Serbian foe.

Yes, they roared for Federer’s ace on the very first point and when he sent the final to a fifth set. They even applauded when he kicked a ball to a ball boy or when he brought his racket around his back to make meaningless contact after Djokovic served a let.

And then there were the “Awwwws.” So many “Awwwws” — pained sighs of despair accompanying a missed backhand here, a double-fault there, by their guy.

It wasn’t until the fourth set that Federer faced so much as one break point, no small accomplishment against Djokovic, considered by many to be the greatest returner of his, or perhaps any, generation. Still, even though Federer did get broken in that set, he won it to send this match to a fifth.

What already was fun to watch became completely riveting.

That’s not to say the tennis was perfect, because both men showed signs of fatigue and perhaps nerves. Federer’s mediocre approach shot provided Djokovic an opening for a backhand pass that earned a break and a 4-2 lead.

Djokovic’s double-fault in the next game helped Federer break back, and the ensuing changeover was filled with a fugue of fans’ voices chanting the first names of both.

As the newfangled tiebreaker carried the last set alone past the two-hour mark, it was Djokovic who was better. When Federer shanked a forehand off his racket frame, it was over, allowing Djokovic to renew his personal tradition of plucking some blades of Centre Court grass and chewing on them.

“Constant pressure,” Djokovic said. “I had to fight and find my game to stay in the match.”

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Serena Williams into Wimbledon fourth round; Sloane Stephens out

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WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Serena Williams walked into her news conference at Wimbledon holding her phone, a cold bottle of water and a statistics sheet that reinforced what was clear from watching her third-round singles victory Saturday:

She is as close to being back to her best as she’s been in a while.

Williams, hampered for much of this season by injuries or illness, took a step forward against 18th-seeded Julia Goerges, a powerful hitter in her own right who lost to the American in last year’s semifinals at the All England Club. Sure enough, Williams hit serves at up to 120 mph, put in a tournament-best 71 percent of her first serves, never faced so much as one break point and won 6-3, 6-4.

“It’s been an arduous year for me,” said Williams, who had competed only 12 times in 2019 until this week, mostly because of a bothersome left knee that finally is pain-free. “So every match, I’m hoping to improve tons.”

Maybe it was a good thing she played twice Saturday, then.

About 4½ hours after getting past Goerges at No. 1 Court, Williams headed out to Centre Court for her much-ballyhooed debut as Andy Murray’s teammate in mixed doubles. Other than one slip near the net when she lost her footing in the first set — she was fine and laughed it off — Williams looked good during the 6-4, 6-1 win against Andreas Mies and Alexa Guarachi, including smacking one serve at 122 mph, equaling the fastest hit in singles by any woman (her, naturally) during the tournament.

“Andy and I both love the competition. I know we both want to do well,” Williams said. “We’re not here just for show.”

She rarely is.

But if Williams is going to win an eighth singles championship at Wimbledon, and a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title overall, she will want more performances like the one she gave against Goerges.

Forceful, yes, but nothing was forced.

“I play pretty good when I’m calm, but also super-intense, just finding the balance in between there,” the 37-year-old Williams said. “So it’s a hard balance to find, because sometimes when I’m too calm, I don’t have enough energy. Still trying to find that balance.”

Two more key stats on the paper she brought to her media session: She produced more winners than unforced errors, 19-15, while Goerges finished with 32 forced errors, a reflection of just how difficult Williams can make it for opponents to handle shots she sends their way.

Goerges credited Williams with causing havoc with her returns, as well.

After averaging 10 aces in the first two rounds, Goerges was limited to half that many.

Of more significance, perhaps, was that Williams’ stinging replies to serves immediately put her in control of points.

“It’s fair to say that she builds up enormous pressure with her returns,” Goerges said. “That means I need to go to the limit in my service games.”

After the traditional middle Sunday off, action resumes Monday with all fourth-round men’s and women’s singles matches.

Williams, who is seeded 11th, will face No. 30 Carla Suarez Navarro, while the other matchups on the top half of the women’s field established Saturday are No. 1 Ash Barty, who has a 15-match winning streak, against unseeded Alison Riske of the U.S.; No. 21 Elise Mertens against Barbora Strycova; and two-time champion Petra Kvitova against No. 19 Johanna Konta of Britain.

On the bottom half, it will be the 15-year-old American sensation Coco Gauff vs. No. 7 Simona Halep; No. 3 Karolina Pliskova vs. Karolina Muchova; No. 8 Elina Svitolina vs. No. 24 Petra Martic; and Dayana Yastremska vs. Shuai Zhang.

In the men’s draw, eight-time champion Roger Federer and two-time winner Rafael Nadal both won in straight sets Saturday to move closer to a semifinal showdown. Federer’s record 17th visit to the fourth round at Wimbledon will come against No. 17 Matteo Berrettini, an Italian never before this far at the grass-court tournament.

“For me, I’m very happy how it’s going so far,” said Federer, a 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (4) winner over No. 27 Lucas Pouille. “I hope it’s going to take a special performance from somebody to stop me, not just a mediocre performance.”

Nadal, who defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, meets unseeded Joao Sousa next.

No. 8 Kei Nishikori meets Mikhail Kukushkin, and Sam Querrey plays Tennys Sandgren in the first Week 2 matchup at Wimbledon between two American men since Pete Sampras beat Jan-Michael Gambill in the 2000 quarterfinals.

Kukushkin’s four-set victory over Jan-Lennard Struff at Court 12 was interrupted when a 60-year-old female spectator had to be resuscitated after collapsing.

Sandgren beat No. 12 Fabio Fognini 6-3, 7-6 (12), 6-3 at tiny Court 14, with its 318 seating capacity. Fognini unleashed a tirade in Italian at one moment, saying he wanted a bomb to explode at the All England Club. He later said his comments came in the heat of the moment because he was upset about not playing well and the condition of the court’s grass.

“If I offended anyone, I apologize,” said the volatile Fognini, who was fined $27,500 at Wimbledon in 2014 for unsportsmanlike conduct and is in a Grand Slam probationary period after getting kicked out of the 2017 U.S. Open. “That definitely wasn’t my intention.”

WIMBLEDON: Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

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Maria Sharapova exits Wimbledon; Serena, Federer, Nadal advance

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WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Maria Sharapova retired from her first-round match at Wimbledon with a left wrist injury while trailing 5-0 in the third set.

The 2004 Wimbledon champion served for the match while leading 5-3 in the second set but lost to Pauline Parmentier of France 4-6, 7-6 (4), 5-0.

Sharapova, who was unseeded at the All England Club for the first time since her debut in 2003, called for a medical timeout after the second set and a trainer put some taping on her wrist. She called for the trainer a second time in the third set, and stopped just after Parmentier served for the 5-0 lead.

“I’ve had a history of a tendon in my left forearm flaring up,” Sharapova said. “It happened today in the second set.

“I probably couldn’t have gotten through the whole final set, but I did my best.”

This year’s Wimbledon was only Sharapova’s second tournament since January following shoulder surgery. She lost in the second round in Mallorca last month.

Also Tuesday, Serena Williams opened her bid for a 24th Grand Slam title with a straight-set victory on Centre Court.

The seven-time champion at the All England Club beat Giulia Gatto-Monticone of Italy 6-2, 7-5.

Williams, who lost in the Wimbledon final last year, is short on matches and training time this season, factors she cited after her third-round exit at the French Open, her most recent tournament.

Williams has been dealing with an injured left knee. She said on Saturday she has been “feeling better” and her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, said the 37-year-old American “doesn’t have pain anymore.”

The 31-year-old Gatto-Monticone was making her debut in Wimbledon’s main draw.

“I haven’t felt this good in months, almost five months,” Williams said. “Right now I have to have every match count, like 10 matches, because I haven’t had a ton of matches this year.”

Roger Federer rallied after losing the first set against an opponent playing his first tour-level match on grass.

Federer shrugged off an early deficit to beat Lloyd Harris of South Africa 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 on Centre Court as he began his search for a record-extending ninth Wimbledon title.

“Once I got going, just legs weren’t moving and things were not happening,” Federer said. “You know, it is always, yeah, slightly unusual first, let’s say, two to three matches maybe, here at Wimbledon, they’re always so different to any other court in the world, the way the ball bounces, the kick goes or doesn’t go.”

Harris was making his debut at the grass-court Grand Slam but rode his powerful serve to a one-set lead. But Federer dominated after that, breaking his opponent twice in each of the next three sets and serving out the match with an ace.

Playing his first match since winning his 12th French Open title, Rafael Nadal had little trouble in making the switch from clay to grass.

Nadal began his search for a third Wimbledon title by beating Japanese qualifier Yuichi Sugita 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 on No. 1 Court to reach the second round.

Nadal was broken in the opening game but dominated after that, breaking his opponent six times and served out the match when Sugita sent a return long. He will next face Nick Kyrgios.

Last year, the Spaniard reached the semifinals at the All England Club for the first time since 2011 before losing to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in five sets.

However, former women’s champion Garbine Muguruza is heading home early again.

Muguruza lost to Brazilian qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-4, 6-4 in the opening round, making for a second straight early exit for the Spaniard since winning the title in 2017. She lost in the second round last year.

American Sam Querrey, a 2017 Wimbledon semifinalist, ousted two-time French Open runner-up and fifth seed Dominic Thiem 6-7 (4), 7-6 (1), 6-3, 6-0. Thiem lost in the first or second round in five of his six Wimbledons.

WIMBLEDON: Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

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