Stan Wawrinka

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Novak Djokovic, injured, ousted by Stan Wawrinka at U.S. Open

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NEW YORK — The term Big Four faded from tennis over the last three years. Novak DjokovicRoger Federer and Rafael Nadal combined to win each of the last 11 Grand Slam singles titles. Andy Murray dropped out of the band with hip surgeries.

It is now Big Three. But Stan Wawrinka, the last man outside that group to win a Slam, looks closer to being ready to rejoin the fold.

Wawrinka, a major champion in 2014, 2015 and 2016, upset top-ranked and defending champion Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 2-1 in the U.S. Open fourth round on Sunday, with Djokovic retiring with his recent left shoulder injury. He received some boos leaving the court and refused to say how much and when it began affecting him during the match.

“I don’t want to talk about my injuries,” said Djokovic, who received treatment on the shoulder before the third set. “I did a lot of different treatments and diagnostics and everything the last couple of weeks. Obviously, I have to do it again and see how the shoulder reacts.”

Still, Wawrinka deemed his level of play “superb.”

“I was quite confident with the level I was going to bring tonight,” he said, “but against the No. 1 player you never know if you’re going to win or not.”

Wawrinka was ranked No. 3 when he played for the final time before two left knee surgeries — against Daniil Medvedev in the 2017 Wimbledon first round. (Medvedev, the hottest player on tour leading up to the Open, is Wawrinka’s quarterfinal opponent Tuesday.)

He missed the rest of 2017, plus two more months early in 2018. His ranking dropped to No. 263, due significantly to inactivity but also a year in which he went 4-4 at the Slams.

But Wawrinka showed grit at age 34, getting back into the 20 at the French Open three months ago. He outlasted 20-year-old Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in a 5-hour, 9-minute epic at Roland Garros, the longest match of his career. Two days later, he took a set off Federer and forced two others to tiebreaks. The knee held up.

“Maybe confirmed to you guys that I can still beat some top guys,” Wawrinka told media in Paris. “I know where is my level. I know what I have done to come back in that level physically.”

Djokovic’s shoulder has been volatile in New York. He said he was pain-free in Friday’s third-round win, but before that had some days of higher intensity pain.

“The pain was constant for weeks now, some days higher, some days with less intensity,” he said Sunday night.

His defeat has ramifications for the other Big Three members.

Djokovic, with 16 Slam titles, is closer to the totals of Nadal (18) and Federer (20) than ever. Now he will likely drop farther behind one of them. And faces uncertainty with that shoulder after winning four of the last five majors coming back from elbow surgery.

Federer’s path to a potential final with Nadal (they’ve never played at the U.S. Open) now no longer includes Djokovic. The three men left in his half are a combined 3-33 against him (the only three wins were by Wawrinka on clay).

Earlier Sunday, Federer needed just 79 minutes to take care of No. 15 David Goffin 6-2, 6-2, 6-0. That came two days after Federer advanced in 80 minutes out of the third round. And after he dropped the opening set of his first two matches at a Slam for the first time.

In Tuesday’s quarterfinals, Federer gets Grigor Dimitrov, who as he climbed to his peak (world No. 3 in 2017) gained the nickname “Baby Fed” for having a Federer-like game.

But Dimitrov is into his first Slam quarterfinal since the 2018 Australian Open and into the second week here after losing in the first round of three of his previous five Slams.

Federer is 7-0 against Dimitrov.

“I’m aware of the fact it’s a big match for him,” Federer said. “Yeah, I’ve done well against him in the past. But new match, new Grigor, new me.”

U.S. OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal set French Open semifinal clash

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal
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After two years off clay, and three away from the French Open, Roger Federer reached his goal without yet lifting a trophy. A semifinal match with Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.

“If I came back to play on clay,” Federer said after beating Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals, “I came back to play Rafa.”

Federer and Nadal will play for the 39th time on Friday (NBC, NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and NBC Sports app French Open semifinals coverage begins at 11 a.m. across all time zones).

Federer owns a personal-best five-match win streak in the rivalry (last meeting in 2017), but he’s 2-13 against Nadal on clay and 0-5 at the French Open. Nadal, an 11-time French Open champ, has the 23-15 edge overall.

“What I will do is try to do my best, so that the victories I have won on this surface against him count for something,” Nadal said after routing Kei Nishikori 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 in a quarterfinal that started and finished during Federer’s 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over Wawrinka. “And he will do his utmost to make sure that his latest victories against me have their weight. And so we’ll see.”

FRENCH OPEN: TV Schedule | Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

Federer, a 37-year-old with a male record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, missed the 2016 French Open with a back injury, then skipped the entire clay-court seasons in 2017 and 2018. Main reasons: rest, recovery and to extend his career. It did. After going four straight years without a major title, Federer won three between 2017 and 2018.

He returned to clay this spring and had moderate results, reaching the quarterfinals in Madrid and Rome. After arriving in Paris, he said he felt similar to when he came back from a knee injury to play the Australian Open in 2017. Which he won.

“I feel like I’m playing good tennis, but is it enough or is it enough against the absolute top guys when it really comes to the crunch?” Federer said on the eve of the French Open, which he won for the one and only time 10 years ago. “I’m not sure if it’s in my racket.”

Well, Federer didn’t drop a set in his first four matches in Paris. Wawrinka, who knocked out Federer en route to the 2015 French Open title, was Federer’s first formidable opponent. Perhaps Federer could have finished him off before a 75-minute rain delay if he had converted more than two of 18 break points.

“I exceeded my expectations here,” said Federer, into his first French semifinal since 2012. “I’m very happy to play Rafa, because if you want to do or achieve something on the clay, inevitably, at some stage, you will go through Rafa.”

Nadal, 91-2 all-time at the French, also dropped one set in his first five matches. He entered the tournament as a slight favorite over top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the likely Sunday final opponent for Federer or Nadal.

“Of course after having Roger in front in the semifinals is an extra thing,” Nadal said. “We shared the most important moments of our careers together on court facing each other. So is another episode of this, and happy for that and excited, no? Will be special moment, and let’s try to be ready for it.”

In Tuesday’s women’s quarterfinals, No. 7 Sloane Stephens was upset by No. 26 Jo Konta of Great Britain, 6-1, 6-4.

Konta, a former world No. 4, had been winless in four previous French Open appearances. Now she’s into her third Grand Slam semifinal and first since 2017 Wimbledon. She is the first British woman to reach the semifinals in Paris since Jo Durie in 1983.

Czech Marketa Vondrousova, a 19-year-old ranked No. 38, awaits in Thursday’s semis.

Men’s Quarterfinals
(1) Novak Djokovic – (5) Alexander Zverev (Wednesday)
(4) Dominic Thiem – (10) Karen Khachanov (Wednesday)
(3) Roger Federer def. (24) Stan Wawrinka 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4
(2) Rafael Nadal def. (7) Kei Nishikori, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3

Women’s Quarterfinals
(8) Ashleigh Barty – (14) Madison Keys (Wednesday)
(3) Simona Halep – Amanda Anisimova (Wednesday)
(26) Jo Konta def. (7) Sloane Stephens, 6-1, 6-4
Marketa Vondrousova def. (31) Petra Martic, 7-6 (1), 7-5

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Rain suspends Rafael Nadal’s opener at French Open; major champs fall

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Rain suspended Rafael Nadal‘s first-round match at the French Open as the 10-time champ led 6-4, 6-3, 0-3 over Italian Simone Bolelli on Monday.

The match will resume Tuesday, the same day Serena Williams plays her first Grand Slam match since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant.

Nadal, 31, is trying to tie Margaret Court‘s record for singles titles at a Grand Slam event (Court won 11 Australian Opens, but seven came when it was the Australian Championships, an amateur event.).

The Spaniard is an overwhelming favorite, ranked No. 1 in the world and going 19-1 on clay this spring leading into Paris. He doesn’t have to worry about Roger Federer, who skipped the entire clay-court season for a second straight year.

Other notables advanced in straight sets Monday, including 2016 French Open champion Novak Djokovic and Caroline Wozniacki, winner of the last major, the Australian Open.

Djokovic — a former No. 1 now ranked 22nd, his worst spot since 2006 — beat 134th-ranked qualifier Rogerio Dutra Silva of Brazil 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, quickly recovering after dropping the opening two games.

Since winning the 2016 French Open to complete a career Grand Slam and become the first man in nearly a half-century to collect four consecutive major trophies, Djokovic has taken a step back. He has not added another major championship since, and after dealing with right elbow trouble for more than a year, he finally opted for surgery in February.

“I had to dig deep,” Djokovic said, discussing the work it took to try to rebuild his game.

“It has been difficult to face … the most, say, challenging injury that I have ever had. It’s been a long 12 months behind me, but I’m starting to play better, I feel like, in the past couple of weeks,” said Djokovic, who is being coached at Roland Garros by his former long-time mentor Marian Vajda. “Not thinking about the elbow. Playing pain-free, which is the most important thing at the moment.”

Another former French Open champion exited in the first round as Stan Wawrinka lost a five-set battle with Guillermo Garcia Lopez of Spain.

Looking a shadow of the player who won the title in Paris three years ago, Wawrinka struggled with his serve and hit an awful lot of unforced errors (72) in his 6-2, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 loss.

“I won three Grand Slams in my career, and I know what it takes to do it,” said Wawrinka, who was seeded 23rd and is ranked only 30th, territory unfamiliar to him since April 2008. “And my goal is to get to my top. Sooner or later, I will.”

Wawrinka only recently returned to the tour after missing three months to rest his left knee, which was operated on twice last August. He’s played 11 matches in 2018, going 4-7.

As Monday’s match stretched to 3½ hours, Wawrinka was hindered by the physical strain of playing in a fifth set for the first time since his French Open semifinal victory over Andy Murray a year ago. But that wasn’t the biggest impediment to success.

“It was more the difficulty of continuing to go for it mentally,” he explained.

The owner of one of the prettiest one-handed backhands in the sport, Wawrinka — who is again working with coach Magnus Norman — only managed 12 winners, compared with 35 unforced errors, with that shot. He finished with 72 unforced errors in all, 32 more than Garcia-Lopez, who never has been past the fourth round at a major tournament.

“There is no frustration. It’s just tough,” said the 33-year-old Wawrinka, who’s been as high as No. 3 in the rankings. “But I’m on the right way. It was very close today.”

Former top-ranked player Victoria Azarenka also bowed out, beaten 7-5, 7-5 by Katerina Siniakova.

Azarenka, a semifinalist in Paris five years ago, is currently ranked 84th after giving birth to a son in December 2016.

After a poor clay-court campaign punctuated by early exits in Madrid and Rome, the two-time Grand Slam champion was unable to turn things around against the 54th-ranked Siniakova.

She hit 38 unforced errors on the remote Court 18.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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