TENNIS • Toward the end of a tough year with zero Grand Slam final appearances, Roger Federer is splitting with coach Paul Annacone.
Federer, who owns a record 17 Grand Slam titles, announced Saturday on his website that he will stop working with Annacone after 3½ seasons together.
“After numerous conversations culminating at the end of our most recent training block, we felt like this was the best time and path for both of us,” the posting continues.
The move comes only two days after Federer’s latest surprising loss in a year filled with them: He was beaten 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3 in the third round of the Shanghai Masters by Gael Monfils, a former top-10 player now ranked 42nd and recently back from injury.
The defeat hurt the 32-year-old Federer’s chances of qualifying for the season-ending ATP Tour Finals, a tournament that gathers the top eight singles players.
Federer used to be a lock for the field, year-in and year-out — he spent more weeks at No. 1 in the ATP rankings than any other man. But Federer was ranked only No. 7 last Monday and is no longer nearly the dominant presence he was for a decade.
The tournament in China was the first for Federer since his fourth-round exit at the U.S. Open, where he lost to 19th-seeded Tommy Robredo in straight sets on Sept. 3.
“Roger, when he was No. 1, (compared) to the Roger right now,” Robredo said that day, “he’s not maybe (playing) with the same confidence, no?”
Federer has struggled at times in 2013 with a bad back. He’s also experimented off and on with a larger racket head. He failed to reach at least one final at any of the four Grand Slam tournaments, something that last happened to him in 2002. That year also marked the last time he was ranked lower than he is now.
He lost in the semifinals at the Australian Open in January, the quarterfinals at the French Open in early June, and the second round of Wimbledon — against a player ranked 116th — in late June. That ended Federer’s record run of reaching at least the quarterfinals at 36 consecutive major tournaments.
The loss to Robredo gave Federer a new, unwanted streak that he will carry into the 2014 Australian Open: two consecutive losses before the quarterfinals at majors.
His last Grand Slam championship came in 2012 at Wimbledon, which he won for the record-tying seventh time. That allowed Federer to return to No. 1 in the rankings, ended a 2½-year major title drought — and marked the lone Grand Slam trophy Federer and Annacone won as a pair.
In Saturday’s announcement, Federer refers to a three-year plan he and Annacone, who previously worked with Pete Sampras, established in order to earn a Grand Slam title and a return to No. 1.
“Along with many other goals and great memories,” the posting says, “these 2 main goals were achieved.”
• Rafael Nadal lost his first match since reclaiming the No. 1 ranking this week, falling to a resurgent Juan Martin del Potro 6-2, 6-4 in the Shanghai Masters semifinals on Saturday in Shanghai.
The fifth-ranked del Potro will try to win his first Masters title on Sunday against top-seeded Novak Djokovic, who defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the other semifinal 6-2, 7-5.
Del Potro hadn’t beaten Nadal since the semifinals of the 2009 U.S. Open where the Argentine went on to win his only Grand Slam title.
But del Potro is playing fully fit and confident — he’s coming off a win last week at the Japan Open that returned him to the top five in the rankings for the first time in three years.
He completely overpowered Nadal with his deep, punishing groundstrokes and fended off all six break points he faced.
Nadal’s serve, on the other hand, was under threat for the entire match. After not dropping serve in 28 games this week, the Spaniard was broken twice to start the match as del Potro raced out to 4-0.
Del Potro started to make a few mistakes in the second set, giving Nadal two chances to break in the second game. But the Argentine saved both with huge serves and put the pressure right back on Nadal, breaking him for a third time in the following game.
“I played so solid all the time, hitting so hard the ball. I saw Rafa playing very far off the baseline, which is good for my game, for my serve and confidence. That’s the way to beat this guy,” del Potro said.
Nadal said he hadn’t seen del Potro play this well in years. Or anyone, for that matter.
“Very few times I played against a player with a level like today I played against,” the Spaniard said. “At the end, I played against a player who served 80 percent of first serves, who hit every ball as hard as he can, I think, and with no mistakes.”
Del Potro wrapped up a spot in the ATP Finals in London with the win. He’s been working his way back into top form since a wrist injury knocked him off the tour for most of 2010 — just after he got his breakthrough win as a 20-year-old at the U.S. Open.
Now he believes he can challenge Djokovic, Nadal and Andy Murray for major titles again, as his run to the semifinals of Wimbledon this year showed. He lost a tight, five-setter to Djokovic in that match, but he had beaten the Serb a few months earlier at Indian Wells.
“I always believe (in) myself. I always believe (in) my game,” he said. “It could be my biggest challenge of my career, getting closer to the top position.”
Djokovic will be trying to win his 20th straight match — and fourth straight tournament — in China on Sunday. He won the China Open and the Shanghai Masters in 2012, and then successfully defended his title in Beijing last week, beating Nadal in the final.
“I’ve always been coming out in China and making some really, really good results, winning trophies,” Djokovic said. “It’s very positive because most of the people would think after the fourth Grand Slam of the year is over, that somehow the season is finished in the minds of maybe people who are not following consistently the tennis season.”
Djokovic took 3-0 after only seven minutes against Tsonga, who came out looking flat and misfiring wildly at times on his groundstrokes and volleys.
However, Djokovic then lost his temper in the second set when serving at 4-2, yelling angrily at chair umpire Ali Nili after two disputed calls. Tsonga twice challenged late calls that went against him - and both times the Hawk-Eye camera replay showed the balls had clipped the line.
The umpire awarded both points to Tsonga, prompting a furious reaction from Djokovic who thought the points should have been replayed.
“Twice I was on the ball, twice you take the point away from me,” Djokovic yelled. “Focus!”
Tsonga managed to break the rattled Serb to get back on serve at 4-3, but his comeback was short-lived as another error-strewn game allowed Djokovic to break him at 6-5 to close out the match.
“When you’re on the tennis court, it feels like an arena,” Djokovic said about his outburst. “You’re fighting. It’s emotional. It’s intense. It’s normal. It’s not the first nor the last time.”
• Two-time former champion Ana Ivanovic defeated Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland 6-4, 6-4 Saturday in Linz, Austria, to set up a final against top-seeded Angelique Kerber at the Generali Ladies.
Kerber overpowered Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 6-2, 6-0 to reach her second final of the season. The 10th-ranked German was beaten by Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic in the Tokyo final two weeks ago.
“Apart from the first set of my first match, everything is going very well this week,” said Kerber, referring to her 0-6, 6-1, 6-2 first-round win over Monica Niculescu.
The former top-ranked Ivanovic won the event in 2008 and ‘10 and holds nine more WTA titles, but this will be the Serb’s first final of the season.
Ivanovic is 3-1 against Kerber, but the German won their most recent match in straight sets in Tokyo last month. Kerber is eyeing her third career title.
“It wasn’t an easy draw for me, so I am happy to get though,” said Ivanovic, who also didn’t concede a set in the previous rounds against Yanina Wickmayer, Francesca Schiavone and Dominika Cibulkova. “I am still looking for more consistency.”
The opening set against Voegele went with serve until Ivanovic broke her 58th-ranked opponent in the ninth game. Ivanovic dropped serve early in the second set but dominated the remainder of the match.
Voegele upset second-seeded Sloane Stephens of the United States in the quarterfinals.
Earlier, Kerber used two breaks for a 3-2 lead in the opening set against Suarez Navarro and didn’t concede a game afterward. Kerber dominated with strong ground strokes, forcing Suarez Navarro into 16 baseline errors.
“I feel better with every round,” Kerber said. “Today I was more aggressive than in my previous matches.”
The fourth-seeded Suarez Navarro, who hadn’t lost a set getting to the semifinals, defeated Kerber in the fourth round of the U.S. Open last month.
Kerber was given a late wild-card entry in Linz to replace Kvitova after the former Wimbledon champion pulled out with a back injury.
By reaching the semifinals, Kerber secured the eighth and final spot in the season-ending WTA Championships in Istanbul.
Park City’s Holcomb posts best time
BOBSLED • For Nick Cunningham and Jamie Greubel, setting the second-best times in the opening round of this season’s U.S. bobsled team selection races was cause for some congratulations.
Both moved closer toward getting to drive at the upcoming Sochi Olympics.
Olympic medalists Steven Holcomb and Elana Meyers easily posted the best times Saturday at Mount Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid, N.Y., their showings almost expected and a bit irrelevant since both have spots onto the World Cup team already secured based on past performances.
The story of these selection races will be the order in which other drivers finish as they vie for a limited number of spots on this season’s World Cup team, a critical step toward qualifying for Sochi.
And for Cunningham and Greubel, the start of their Olympic seasons couldn’t have gone much better.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Greubel said. “I still have Park City to conquer, but I definitely gained some confidence today toward Sochi with this race.”
The men’s trials continue in Park City, Utah on Oct. 20, with the women’s trials resuming Oct. 25.
Meyers — a bronze medalist as a brakeman at the 2010 Vancouver Games before moving into her current role as a pilot — and Aja Evans topped the women’s race with a combined two-run time of 1 minute, 57.21 seconds, posting the two fastest starts in the field and almost cruising from there.
After that, no one was better than Greubel, who teamed with brakeman Katie Eberling to finish in 1:57.92.
Jazmine Fenlator and Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones (1:58.60) had the third-best time of the day. Bree Schaaf and Lauryn Williams (1:59.38) were next in what served as the first real bobsled race for Williams, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist in the 100-meter dash and part of the 4x100-meter relay team that won gold at last year’s London Games.
Greubel, Fenlator and Schaaf are basically competing for two available pilot spots on the women’s World Cup team.
“The ice felt amazing,” Greubel said. “Really good speed today. It definitely feels like the beginning of the season now.”
Holcomb drove USA-1 to a four-man gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, and his times with brakeman Steve Langton on Saturday suggested that they’re more than a little ready for another Olympic run. They had the two fastest pushes in the field and finished their two runs in 1:54.28, nearly a full second — a huge margin in sliding — ahead of Cunningham and Dallas Robinson (1:55.23).
Still, Cunningham had no complaints.
“This is kind of big for us,” Cunningham said. “We’re not peaking for team trials. We’re peaking for the start of the World Cup season and this is a stepping stone to get there. ... We’re pretty happy with where we are.”
Langton is a world push champion, and part of a deep corps of elite pushers in the U.S. men’s bobsled stable, a list that right now also includes Curt Tomasevicz and Chris Fogt, both of whom are expected to open the World Cup season in the other spots with Holcomb and Langton in the USA-1 four-man sled.
Robinson isn’t too far removed from the elite level, and Cunningham raved about what his brakeman did Saturday.
“He just has a champion’s mentality,” Cunningham said. “He wants to win. He’s just looking for the opportunity. He’s a racer. He’s a competitor. He’s an athlete. I look in his eyes and see that fire, that drive and how much he wants it, and that just makes me push harder.”
Racing continues in Lake Placid on Sunday with the start of USA Luge’s national championships.
Injured Donovan, Jones dropped from U.S. roster
SOCCER • Midfielders Landon Donovan and Jermaine Jones were dropped from the U.S. roster for Tuesday’s final World Cup qualifier at Panama because of injuries, and goalkeeper Tim Howard and defender Matt Besler were allowed to return to their clubs.
The U.S. clinched its seventh straight World Cup berth last month and beat Jamaica 2-0 Friday night to ensure first place in North and Central America and the Caribbean for the third straight cycle.
The Americans announced the roster moves Saturday, saying Donovan was bothered by the ankle he sprained while playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy and Jones by the knee injury that has cost him playing time with Schalke.
“Landon is still struggling with the ankle injury from a couple weeks ago, so he will go back to Los Angeles and try to get back to 100 percent,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “Jermaine’s case is more of a concern. His knee was bothering him all night but he battled through. It’s clear that the issue with his knee is something that should be taken care of right away so he can be 100 percent for Schalke and the national team as soon as possible.”
Klinsmann wanted to go with his No. 2 keeper in the final qualifier.
“Brad Guzan has earned the opportunity to start against Panama,” Klinsmann said. “He has been outstanding for Aston Villa all year, and he has been huge in the games he has played for us in World Cup qualifying. As I said before, we have one of the best situations in the world when it comes to our goalkeepers.”
Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson was added to the roster as a backup in addition to Nick Rimando, giving the Americans 19 players on the trip.
Klinsmann said Clarence Goodson will start in defense.
Panama is fifth at 1-3-5 with eight points following Friday’s 2-1 loss at Mexico (2-2-5), which moved into fourth. The top three nations qualify for next year’s 32-nation field in Brazil, and the No. 4 team advances to a playoff against Oceania champion New Zealand.
Mexico closes at Costa Rica and third-place Honduras (4-3-2) is at last-place Jamaica (0-5-4).
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England), Sean Johnson (Chicago), Nick Rimando (Salt Lake)
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla, Mexico), Geoff Cameron (Stoke, England), Edgar Castillo (Tijuana, Mexico), Brad Evans (Seattle), Clarence Goodson (San Jose), Michael Orozco (Puebla, Mexico)
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes, France), Brad Davis (Houston), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg, Norway), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht, Belgium), Graham Zusi (Kansas City)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland, England), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna, Austria), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose).
From wire reports