Friday, August 28, 2020

Resurgent Raonic, Azarenka in finals; Djokovic survives

Unseeded Victoria Azarenka topped eighth-seeded Johanna Konta 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the
semifinals of the Western & Southern Open. They won the Bank of the West Classic
at Stanford in 2010 and 2016, respectively. 2018 photo by Mal Taam
Tuning up for the U.S. Open, two resurgent players reached finals in the Western & Southern Open.

Unseeded Milos Raonic, a 29-year-old Canadian, beat fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece 7-6 (5), 6-3 today at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. 

The 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Raonic, who saved a set point serving at 5-6 in the first set, advanced to his first final since losing to Roger Federer on grass in Stuttgart in June 2018.

Earlier today, unseeded Victoria Azarenka, a 31-year-old mother from Belarus, topped eighth-seeded Johanna Konta of Great Britain 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to reach her first final since retiring against Garbine Muguruza in Monterrey in April 2019. 

Azarenka and Konta won the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2010 and 2016, respectively. 

The U.S. Open begins Monday at the National Tennis Center.

Unseeded Milos Raonic beat fourth-seeded
Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6 (5), 6-3. Raonic won
three of his eight career ATP singles titles
in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose,
Calif. 2016 photo by Paul Bauman 

In Saturday's finals (ESPN2), Azarenka will face fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka of Japan at 8 a.m. (PDT), followed by Raonic against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the 2018 Western & Southern Open champion in Cincinnati.

An ailing Djokovic literally gutted out a 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (0) victory over eighth-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut to improve to 22-0 this year and end a three-match losing streak to the Spaniard on hardcourts. The grueling baseline battle lasted 3 hours.

Osaka beat 14th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-2, 7-6 (5) one day after declining to play in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an African-American, in Kenosha, Wis. 

"During the quarantine, I was seeing a lot of (protests) happening, and I always thought it would be nice if someone started something in tennis," the 22-year-old Osaka, who's Black and Japanese, said on ESPN2. "Honestly, I'm more of a follower than a leader. I was just waiting and waiting, but then I realized that maybe I would have to be the one to take the first step."

Djokovic, 33, is 10-0 against Raonic. Osaka leads Azarenka 2-1, but Osaka's victories came on clay, and Azarenka's 6-1, 6-1 win in the third round of the Australian Open came in January 2016, when Osaka was only 18.

Both Osaka and Azarenka have won two Grand Slam singles titles, including the Australian Open, and been ranked No. 1. 

Osaka made her WTA main-draw debut in the Bank of the West Classic at 16 in 2014, stunning 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur.

Raonic will jump at least 12 places to No. 18 on Monday. He has been plagued by injuries since reaching the 2016 Wimbledon final, losing to Andy Murray, and ascending to a career-high No. 3 that November.

Raonic won three of his eight career ATP singles titles in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose, Calif. He never lost a set in the tournament, winning the last three titles (2011, 2012 and 2013).

Azarenka will soar at least 24 spots to No. 35. She played only two tournaments between May 2016 and March 2018 because of her pregnancy and a subsequent child custody dispute, plummeting to No. 978 in May 2017.

Djokovic was treated for a neck problem twice during the second set. Late in the match, he held his stomach, breathed heavily between points and bent over in apparent exhaustion. 

Osaka, struggling with her toss, converted only 50 percent of her first serves. Mertens, meanwhile, capitalized on only three of 21 break-point opportunities. At 4-4 in the second set, Osaka held serve after 10 deuces.

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