Tennis

Roger Federer two wins away from 100th title

AFP-JIJI, AP

Roger Federer moved to within two wins of a 100th career title on Thursday after coming through a tough test in difficult conditions against Marton Fucsovics to reach the Dubai Championships semifinals.

The seven-time champion beat his Hungarian opponent 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 in conditions that were far from comfortable with gusting winds and brief rain delays.

“You just go out there and try your best. Sometimes you get in the lead, sometimes you don’t. It was important not to get down in the score early on,” Federer said.

“It was tricky. A couple of rain delays, especially one at 5-5, coming back with sort of no preparation.

“The energy of the body, the adrenaline, tactics, all that stuff kind of fades away just a little bit in those rain delays.

“We made the most of it, the tiebreaker was tough. I’m happy I found a way to get out of that one. That was an exciting match, to say the least.”

The 20-time Grand Slam winner will face Borna Coric after the Croatian sixth seed defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-1).

“You look at the score at home and it looks like an easy straight sets,” said Federer.

“But it is so close, you can never underestimate anyone. I’m very happy with my level. It was tough with the wind, but it’s a challenge and that’s why I’m here.”

Federer had to save two set points in an opener that lasted for just over an hour.

He then got into his rhythm but needed a big effort to break on his fifth chance of the ninth game of the second set, taking a 5-4 lead before serving it out on his second match point.

Earlier on Thursday, fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the last four as he defeated Hubert Hurkacz 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (1-7), 6-1 and set up a meeting with Gael Monfils.

France’s Monfils, who will return to the world top 20 on Monday, battled into the semifinals with a 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2 win over qualifier Ricardas Berankis.

Tsitsipas had to dig deep to get past Hurkacz, who knocked out top seed Kei Nishikori in the second round, going the distance in the first two sets and being broken when serving for the match, before seeing off the world No. 77 after more than two hours.

“The breaks I got in the third set refreshed my mind. I was able to raise my level,” Tsitsipas said.

“I knew that if I kept fighting, more chances would come — and they did.

“I was serving a bit better, maybe opening the court, making like less mistakes, being aggressive. When I broke him first time, I showed him that I’m still in the match.”

Unseeded Monfils, 32, revealed that he needed to get angry with himself to get over the line after missing chances to close out a straight-sets victory when a set up and leading the second 5-4.

“It was tough mentally, I was upset that I didn’t finish it (then). I had to get angry to find the energy to come back,” he said after coming from a break down to storm through the final set.

In Acapulco, Rafael Nadal tumbled out of the Mexican Open on Wednesday night, squandering three match points in a 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (8-6) loss to Australia’s Nick Kyrgios.

The top seed also fell in the women’s event, with Sloane Stephens losing to Brazilian qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-3, 6-3.

Playing his first event since losing to Novak Djokovic in late January in the Australian Open final, top-seeded Nadal dropped the first two match points on Kyrgios’ serve and the last one on his own first serve.

Nadal won in Acapulco in 2005 and 2013. On Tuesday night, the second-ranked Spanish star opened play with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Mischa Zverev.

Kyrgios set up a quarterfinal match against Stan Wawrinka, a 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 winner over seventh-seeded Steve Johnson in the hardcourt event at The Princess Mundo Imperial.

The fourth-ranked Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open winner, was making her first appearance in the event since winning the 2016 title. Haddad Maia earned her first victory in seven career matches against players ranked in the top 10.

“It was just a tough match, obviously she played well,” Stephens said. “A tough day. But I’m not too sad about it. I’m just going to go back and work some more, practice some more and get ready for Indian Wells.”