Sunday, September 20, 2020

Diego digs deep to reach first Masters 1000 final

   It would have been easy for Diego Schwartzman to suffer a letdown after shocking Rafael Nadal on Saturday.
   Instead, the 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter), 141-pound (64-kilogram) Argentine gutted out a 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (4) victory over Denis Shapovalov of Canada today in the semifinals of the Italian Open in Rome.
   Shapovalov, seeded 12th, served for the match at 5-4 in the third set, which lasted 1 hour, 27 minutes. Schwartzman, seeded eighth, ultimately prevailed in 3 hours, 15 minutes to reach his first Masters 1000 (the highest level besides the Grand Slams) final. 
   Schwartzman, ranked 15th, is scheduled to face top-ranked Novak Djokovic on Monday not before 8 a.m. PDT (Tennis Channel). If the 28-year-old Schwartzman wins, he will crack the top 10 for the first time. If he loses, the 14th-ranked Shapovalov, 21, will do the same.
   "I have two dreams tomorrow," Schwartzman said on atptour.com. "One is winning a tournament like this, and the second one is (being in the) top 10. I need to play more than my 100 percent. I don't want to say (it will be) impossible, because it's not. I know I can beat him, but it's going to be very difficult."
   Djokovic, who won the last of his four Italian Open titles in 2015, beat unseeded Casper Ruud, a semifinalist in the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger in 2018 at 19, 7-5, 6-3 for his 31st victory in his last 32 matches. 
   Djokovic, 33, advanced to his 10th Italian Open final. He is 4-0 against Schwartzman, including a 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-3 win in the Rome semifinals last year. 
   Top-seeded Simona Halep is set to play second seed and defending champion Karolina Pliskova in the women's final at 5:30 a.m. PDT in a showdown of 28-year-olds and former world No. 1s.
   Halep, the Rome runner-up in 2017 and 2018, outlasted ninth-seeded Garbine Muguruza 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 for her 13th consecutive victory and 18th in her last 19 matches. Both players have been ranked No. 1 and won two Grand Slam singles titles, coming at the French Open and Wimbledon.
   Pliskova, the runner-up in the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, outplayed 12th-seeded Marketa Vondrousova, a finalist in last year's French Open at 19, 6-2, 6-4 in an all-Czech affair. Vondrousova, a left-hander, had left-wrist surgery last summer and sat out for the rest of the year. 
   The second-ranked Halep, who will turn 29 on Saturday, is 7-4 against Pliskova, ranked fourth, but Pliskova has won three of the last four encounters. They have split two clay-court matches, including Halep's 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win in the semifinals of the 2017 French Open.   
   In today's men's doubles final, fourth-seeded Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina edged unseeded Frenchmen Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin 6-4, 5-7 [10-8] for their third title of the coronavirus-shortened season.
   Granollers, the singles runner-up in the $100,000 Tiburon (Calif.) Challenger in 2018, won his second Italian Open title in his fourth Rome final. He took the 2012 crown with compatriot Marc Lopez.
   Top-seeded Hsieh Su-Wei of Chinese Taipei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic claimed the women's doubles title, dominating unseeded Anna-Lena Friedsam of Germany and Raluca Olaru of Romania 6-2, 6-2. Hsieh and Strycova improved to 21-1 this year with four titles.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Schwartzman shocks Nadal; Italian has Ruud awakening

Rafael Nadal lost to Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 7-5 today in the Italian Open
quarterfinals in Rome. Nadal, who was seeking his third straight title in the
tournament and 10th overall, had been 9-0 against the diminutive Schwartz-
man. File photo by Mal Taam
   Raise your hand if you saw this one coming.
   In a monumental upset, eighth-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina defeated second-seeded Rafael Nadal 6-2, 7-5 today to reach the Italian Open semifinals in Rome for the second consecutive year.
   They are the only two semifinal appearances in a Masters 1000 tournament, the highest level besides the Grand Slams, in the 28-year-old Schwartzman's career.
   Nadal has won nine Italian Open titles, including the last two, and had been 9-0 against the 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter), 141-pound (64-kilogram) Schwartzman.
   Today's second set featured five consecutive service breaks until Schwartzman held serve for the match on his second attempt.
   "For sure, it's my best match ever," Schwartzman said on atptour.com. "I played a few times against the three big champions in tennis. I never beat them until today. I'm very happy."
    The second-ranked Nadal, 34, was playing in his first tournament since winning Acapulco for the third time in February. He chose not to play in the U.S. Open because of coronavirus concerns.
   The 15th-ranked Schwartzman is scheduled to play 14th-ranked Denis Shapovalov of Canada for the first time on Sunday not before 10 a.m. PDT (Tennis Channel).
   Shapovalov, a 21-year-old left-hander seeded 12th, beat 15th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 in the Battle of (One-Handed) Backhands. Shapovalov reached his first career Grand Slam quarterfinal in the recent U.S. Open.
   Meanwhile, both No. 4 seeds lost to 21-year-olds in contrasting fashion.
   Unseeded Casper Ruud of Norway edged Matteo Berrettini, the last remaining Italian, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in 2 hours, 57 minutes in Rome to reach his first Masters 1000 semifinal.
   On the women's side, 12th-seeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic dismissed Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, the 2017 and 2018 Italian Open champion, 6-3, 6-0 in 1 hour, 20 minutes.
   Ruud, a semifinalist in the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger in 2018 at 19, improved to 12-2 on clay this year. He reached two finals in three tournaments on the South American swing in February, winning his first ATP title in Buenos Aires and finishing as the runner-up in Santiago.
   Ranked a career-high No. 34, Ruud has surpassed his father Christian, who peaked at No. 39 in 1995.
   Berrettini, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, was attempting to become only the second Italian to reach the Rome semifinals since 2000. Filippo Volandri advanced to the semis in 2007.
   Ruud is set to take on top-ranked Novak Djokovic for the first time on Sunday not before 5 a.m. PDT. Djokovic, who won the last of his four Italian Open titles in 2015, topped German qualifier Dominik Koepfer, the runner-up in the $81,240 Aptos, Calif., Challenger last year, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 for his 30th victory in his last 31 matches.
   Djokovic, who was defaulted from his fourth-round match in the U.S. Open, smashed his racket on the clay court after he was broken at love to even the second set at 3-3.
   "It's not the first nor the last racket that I'll break in my career," Djokovic, who received a warning from the chair umpire, told reporters. "I've done it before, and I'll probably do it again. I don't want to do it, but when it comes, it happens. 
   "That's how, I guess, I release sometimes my anger, and it's definitely not the best message out there, especially for the young tennis players looking at me, and I don't encourage that — definitely."
   Before the Italian Open, the left-handed Vondrousova had only two wins in seven tournaments since reaching the Adelaide quarterfinals in January in her first event of the year. She advanced to last year's French Open final, losing to Ashleigh Barty. After falling in the first round at Wimbledon three weeks later, Vondrousova underwent left-wrist surgery and missed the last half of 2019.
   Vondrousova, ranked No. 19, is set to face fellow Czech Karolina Pliskova, the second seed and defending champion, on Sunday not before 7 a.m. Pliskova, a former world No. 1 and the runner-up in the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, outplayed 11th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-3, 3-6, 6-0.
  Pliskova defeated Vondrousova 6-3, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of last year's Miami Open on a hardcourt in their only previous meeting.
   In Sunday's other women's semifinal, top-seeded Simona Halep is scheduled to meet ninth-seeded Garbine Muguruza at 3 a.m.
   Halep, the Rome runner-up in 2017 and 2018, beat unseeded Yulia Putintseva, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist, 6-2, 2-0 (retired, lower back) for her 12th consecutive victory and 17th in her last 18 matches.
   Muguruza outlasted unseeded Victoria Azarenka, the U.S. Open runner-up to Naomi Osaka, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a matchup of two-time Grand Slam singles champions and former world No. 1s.
   Both Muguruza and Azarenka won doubles titles in the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic, and Azarenka won the singles crown at Stanford 10 years ago.
   Muguruza is 4-2 against Halep, but the Romanian has won both clay-court clashes. The players have much in common, although the 6-foot (1.82-meter) Muguruza is six inches (15.2 centimeters) taller. Halep also has been ranked No. 1 and won two majors, the same ones as Muguruza (the French Open and Wimbledon).

Friday, September 18, 2020

Italian teenagers Sinner, Musetti fall in Rome

   Both Italian teenage sensations lost in men's singles today, leaving fourth-seeded Matteo Berrettini as the only homegrown player in the Italian Open quarterfinals in Rome.
   Fifteenth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria outlasted 19-year-old wild card Jannik Sinner 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, and Dominik Koepfer of Germany defeated 18-year-old Lorenzo Musetti 6-4, 6-0 in a matchup of qualifiers.
   Sinner was coming off a victory over third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas on Wednesday. Musetti stunned 10th-seeded Stan Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam singles champion, and Kei Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up to Marin Cilic, in the first two rounds.
   Wawrinka underwent two operations on his left knee in August 2017, and Nishikori had right elbow surgery for the second time last October.
   Both Koepfer and Sinner played in last year's $81,240 Aptos, Calif., Challenger. Koepfer, who starred at Tulane University in New Orleans, reached the final to earn $6,360, and Sinner advanced to the second round one week after winning the Lexington, Ky., Challenger. Three weeks later, Koepfer reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open as a qualifier to pocket $280,000.
   Koepfer, a 26-year-old left-hander ranked 97th, is scheduled to face top-ranked Novak Djokovic on Saturday not before 5:30 a.m. PDT (Tennis Channel). Djokovic, a four-time Italian Open champion, beat fellow Serb Filip Krajinovic 7-6 (7), 6-3 for his 29th victory in his last 30 matches.
   Berrettini, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, topped countryman Stefano Travaglia, a wild card, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1) to set up a match against unseeded Casper Ruud, 21, of Norway. Ruud, the son of former top-40 pro Christian Ruud, reached the semifinals of the $100,000 Fairfield, Calif., Challenger in 2018.
   In the bottom half of the draw, Dimitrov will meet 12th-seeded Denis Shapovalov of Canada, and second-seeded Rafael Nadal will play eighth-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina.
   Shapovalov, a 21-year-old left-hander, advanced to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal in the U.S. Open. Nadal seeks his third consecutive Italian Open title and 10th overall. 
   Highlighting the women's quarterfinals will be a showdown between two-time Grand Slam singles champions Garbine Muguruza, seeded ninth, and Victoria Azarenka, who's unseeded. Azarenka has won 15 of her last 16 matches, losing to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open final, after going 0-3 since August 2019.
   Also, top-seeded Simona Halep will face Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist. Halep, a two-time Italian Open runner-up, has won 11 straight matches and 16 of her last 17.
   Second seed and defending champion Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic will meet 11th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium, and fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina of Ukraine will play 12th-seeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.
   Osaka out of French Open — Osaka, who won her second U.S. Open singles title on Saturday, withdrew from the French Open because of a left-hamstring injury.
   Osaka pulled out of the Western & Southern Open final on Aug. 29 because of the hamstring and played in the U.S. Open with her left thigh wrapped. 
   Top-ranked Ashleigh Barty chose not to play in the U.S. Open or defend her French Open title because of coronavirus concerns. Roland Garros is scheduled for Sept. 27 to Oct. 11.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Azarenka annihilates Kenin 6-0, 6-0 in Italian Open

Victoria Azarenka crushed third-seeded Sofia Kenin 6-0, 6-0
in 61 minutes today in the second round of the Italian Open
in Rome. 2018 photo by Mal Taam
   With the French Open 10 days away, Victoria Azarenka and Sofia Kenin are heading in opposite directions.
   In a clash of past or present Australian Open champions, the unseeded Azarenka blitzed the third-seeded Kenin 6-0, 6-0 in 61 minutes today in the second round of the Italian Open in Rome.
   Azarenka, the Australian Open champion in 2012 and 2013, did not face a break point. Kenin, who stormed to her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne early this year, still seeks her first WTA quarterfinal on clay.
   Azarenka has won 14 of her last 15 matches, losing to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open final, after going 0-3 since August 2019.
   Kenin, who received a first-round bye, suffered her second consecutive one-sided loss. Seeded second in the U.S. Open, the 21-year-old American fell to 16th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-3, 6-3 in the fourth round. 
   The week before the U.S. Open, Kenin lost her opener in the Western & Southern Open at the same site in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., to then-No. 60 Alize Cornet of France.
   Azarenka, 31, of Belarus and Kenin have had great success in Northern California at different levels.
   In the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic at Stanford on the WTA Tour, Azarenka won the 2010 singles title and the 2011 doubles crown with Maria Kirilenko of Russia. Azarenka also reached the doubles final at Stanford in 2007 with Anna Chakvetadze of Russia.
   Kenin captured NorCal Challengers in 2016 at 17, 2017 and 2018.
   Azarenka is scheduled to play qualifier Daria Kasatkina of Russia on Friday for a quarterfinal berth. Kasatkina, who has slumped from a career-high No. 10 in 2018 to No. 74, dispatched Katerina Siniakova, formerly ranked No. 1 in doubles, 6-2, 6-3.
   Kasatkina, 23, also coasted past compatriot Vera Zvonareva, a 36-year-old wild card who climbed as high as No. 2 in 2010, 6-2, 6-2 in the opening round.
   Also falling today were fifth-seeded Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, eighth-seeded Petra Martic of Croatia and 14th-seeded Anett Kontaveit of Estonia. 
   Polona Hercog of Slovenia topped Bertens, an Italian Open semifinalist last year and in 2017, 6-4, 6-4. Bertens played her first official match since February after skipping the U.S. Open because of coronavirus concerns.
   Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist, outlasted Martic 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-4, and Svetlana Kuznetsova, a 35-year-old Russian and two-time Italian Open runner-up, stopped Kontaveit 4-6, 7-5, 6-3. 
   Ninth-seeded Garbine Muguruza, a Rome semifinalist in 2016 and 2017, eliminated 16-year-old U.S. sensation Coco Gauff 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3.
   Four seeds also lost on the men's side: No. 5 Gael Monfils of France, No. 7 Fabio Fognini of Italy, No. No. 9 Andrey Rublev of Russia and No. 13 Milos Raonic of Canada.
   German qualifier Dominik Koepfer, the runner-up in last year's Aptos, Calif., Challenger, downed Monfils, playing his first match since February, 6-2, 6-4. Koepfer, a 26-year-old left-hander, will meet 18-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti, guaranteeing that a qualifier will reach the quarterfinals.
   Musetti, who stunned three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in the first round, beat Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-3, 6-4. Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up to Marin Cilic, had right elbow surgery last October. 
   Ugo Humbert, a 22-year-old left-hander from France, knocked off Fognini, who had arthroscopic surgery on both ankles on May 30,  7-5, 7-6 (4).
   Hubert Hurkacz, 23, of Poland took out Rublev, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-2, and Dusan Lajovic of Serbia beat Raonic, the runner-up to Novak Djokovic in the Western & Southern Open, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-2.
   In the second round of men's doubles, 40-year-old Rohan Bopanna of India and Denis Shapovalov of Canada ousted top seeds and two-time defending champions Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah of Colombia 6-3, 3-6 [10-5]. Bopanna reached the 2013 Italian Open final with countryman Mahesh Bhupathi.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Another Italian teenager scores big upset in Rome

Third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece lost to 19-year-old wild card Jannik
Sinner of Italy in three sets today in the second round of the Italian Open in Rome.
2019 photo by Mal Taam
   An Italian teenage man pulled off a major upset in the Italian Open for the second consecutive day today.
   One day after 18-year-old qualifier Lorenzo Musetti stunned 10th-seeded Stan Wawrinka, 19-year-old wild card Jannik Sinner ousted third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece 6-1, 6-7 (9), 6-2 in the second round in Rome. 
   Sinner, ranked No. 81, led 6-1, 5-2, but the 22-year-old Tsitsipas, ranked sixth, won four straight games to serve for the second set and saved two match points in the tiebreaker.
   Sinner recorded his second victory over a top-10 player. He knocked off No. 10 David Goffin in the second round in Rotterdam in February.
   Sinner, who reached the second round of last year's Aptos, Calif., Challenger one week after winning the Lexington, Ky., title, is set to face 15th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria on Friday for a quarterfinal berth.
   Dimitrov, a 2014 Rome semifinalist who climbed as high as No. 3 in 2017, demolished Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan 6-1, 6-0 in 55 minutes. Dimitrov won 24 of 25 points on his first serve.
   Another Italian wild card, 28-year-old Stefano Travaglia, surprised unseeded Borna Coric, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist last week, 7-6 (2), 7-5. Travaglia, ranked No. 84, is scheduled to take on countryman Matteo Berrettini, seeded fourth, on Friday.
   Top-ranked Novak Djokovic, playing his first match since getting defaulted from the U.S. Open on Sept. 6, outclassed Italian wild card Salvatore Caruso 6-3, 6-2.
   Djokovic, a four-time Italian Open champion, next will meet fellow Serb Filip Krajinovic, a 6-4, 6-1 winner over Italian qualifier Marco Cecchinato.
   Second-seeded Rafael Nadal, playing his first official match since winning Acapulco in February, overwhelmed Spanish countryman Pablo Carreno Busta, a U.S. Open semifinalist, 6-1, 6-1 in 73 minutes. 
   Nadal, seeking his third consecutive Rome title and 10th overall, will play the winner of Thursday's match between 13th-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada and Dusan Lajovic of Serbia.
   Both sixth seeds lost today. Marin Cilic, an Italian Open semifinalist in 2018 and a two-time Rome quarterfinalist, routed Goffin 6-2, 6-2. Qualifier Danka Kovinic of Montenegro dominated Belinda Bencic, playing her first match since February, 6-3, 6-1.
   Top-seeded Simona Halep, a two-time Italian Open runner-up, beat Italian wild card Jasmine Paolini 6-3, 6-4 for her 10th straight victory and 15th in her last 16 matches.
   In a matchup of former world No. 1s and Bank of the West Classic champions at Stanford, Victoria Azarenka eliminated 40-year-old Venus Williams 7-6 (7), 6-2.
   Azarenka has won 13 of her last 14 matches, losing to Naomi Osaka in the U.S. Open final, after going 0-3 since August 2019.
   Williams lost in the first round for the third consecutive tournament and fell to 1-7 this year. Her only victory is over Azarenka in the opening round in Lexington last month.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Musetti, 18, stuns Stan in first round of Italian Open

Stan Wawrinka, 35, had two operations
on his left knee in August 2017. File
photo by Paul Bauman 
   Lorenzo Musetti's first tour-level victory was a big one.
   The 18-year-old Italian qualifier stunned 10th-seeded Stan Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam singles champion, 6-0, 7-6 (2) today in the opening round of the Italian Open in Rome.
   "When I was young, I used to come see champions like Rafa, Federer, Wawrinka," the 249th-ranked Musetti told reporters. " ... I think it's a dream that comes true. I'm still not believing what I did tonight."
   Musetti had played only one tour-level match, losing to then-No. 14 Andrey Rublev 6-4, 6-4 in the first round at Dubai in February as a qualifier.
   Musetti, formerly ranked No. 1 in the juniors, won the 2019 Australian Open boys singles title by edging American Emilio Nava 14-12 in a third-set tiebreaker.
   Unlike Italy's eight top-100 men, Musetti has a one-handed backhand.
   "This kid's backhand is incredible!" commentator and former world No. 1 Jim Courier crowed during Tennis Channel's broadcast.
   Wawrinka, 35, won a Challenger in Prague last month. He reached the Italian Open final in 2008 (losing to Novak Djokovic) and semifinals in 2015 and underwent two operations on his left knee in August 2017.
   Musetti is scheduled to face Kei Nishikori, 30, of Japan on Thursday. Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open runner-up to Marin Cilic, defeated Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-4, 7-6 (3) on Monday for his first win since Flushing Meadows in 2019. He had right elbow surgery last October.
   Another qualifier, Pedro Martinez of Spain, beat Sam Querrey, a 32-year-old San Francisco native, 6-3, 7-6 (3) today. Querrey, the Italian Open doubles champion in 2011 and runner-up in 2010 with John Isner, is 0-3 since advancing to the third round of the Australian Open in January.
   In a women's matchup of Grand Slam singles champions, ninth-seeded Garbine Muguruza of Spain outplayed Sloane Stephens, a 27-year-old Fresno, Calif., product, 6-3, 6-3. 
   Muguruza won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017. Stephens captured the U.S. Open in 2017 and reached the Roland Garros final in 2018, losing to Simona Halep.
   Muguruza will play 16-year-old U.S. sensation Coco Gauff, who defeated Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 6-4, 6-3. Gauff rebounded from two consecutive opening-round losses in New York, including the U.S. Open, to win her first tour-level main-draw match on clay. 
   Jabeur, the 2011 French Open girls singles champion, reached her first Grand Slam women's quarterfinal in the Australian Open in January.
   Wawrinka wasn't the only three-time Grand Slam singles champ who lost in the first round. Angelique Kerber, seeded 15th, fell to Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-1 in 68 minutes. 
   Siniakova, formerly ranked No. 1 in doubles, ended a five-match losing streak at the WTA main-draw level dating to Dubai in February and defeated Kerber, the champion of the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, for the first time in four career meetings.
   Clay is Kerber's worst surface, which is odd because defense is her biggest strength. She has won every Grand Slam tournament except the French Open, in which she is a two-time quarterfinalist.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Thiem pulls off historic comeback for U.S. Open title

Dominic Thiem hosts the trophy at the 2019 BNP Paribas
Open in Indian Wells, Calif. In the background are runner-
up Roger Federer, left, and tournament director Tommy
Haas. Photo by Mal Taam
   For two-plus sets in today's U.S. Open men's final, Alexander Zverev dominated Dominic Thiem.
   Zverev, the underdog, looked relaxed while Thiem was clearly nervous as both players tried to seize a golden opportunity to win their first Grand Slam title.
   Suddenly, much like Naomi Osaka in Saturday's women's final, Thiem calmed down. He gradually clawed his way back into the match, which culminated in a dramatic fifth-set tiebreaker. 
   Experience ultimately prevailed, as it usually does, as Thiem triumphed 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6) in 4 hours, 1 minute despite suffering leg cramps late in the fifth set at nearly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. No fans were allowed at the tournament because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
   Both players served for the match before the decisive tiebreaker. With the second-seeded Thiem serving at 4-5 in the fifth set, the fifth-seeded Zverev twice was two points from victory.
   "Somehow, the belief today was stronger than the body, and I'm super happy about that," Thiem told reporters.
  It was the first time since Pancho Gonzales in 1949 that a player came back from a two-set deficit to win the U.S. championships and only the second Grand Slam final decided by a fifth-set tiebreaker. Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer 13-12 (3) in the fifth set at Wimbledon last year, when the tournament instituted a final-set tiebreaker at 12-12.
   Thiem, 27, became the first new Grand Slam singles champion since Marin Cilic of Croatia in the 2014 U.S. Open and joined Thomas Muster (1995 French Open) as the only Austrian men to win a major singles title.
   Thiem had been 0-3 in major singles finals, having lost to Rafael Nadal in the 2018 and 2019 French Open and Djokovic in this year's Australian Open
   Neither Nadal (coronavirus concerns), the 2019 U.S. Open champion, nor Federer (two arthroscopic surgeries on his right knee this year) played in this year's tournament. Djokovic was defaulted from his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball.
   Federer, 39, owns a record 20 Grand Slam singles titles. Nadal, 34, ranks second with 19, and Djokovic, 33, is third with 17. 
   Zverev, the son of former pro Alexander Zverev Sr. from Russia and younger brother of pro Mischa Zverev, played in his first major final. The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Hamburg native was bidding to become the first German to win the U.S. Open since Boris Becker in 1989 and the tallest Grand Slam singles champion along with Cilic.
   "I was a few games away, a few points away," said Zverev, who rallied from two sets down to beat Carreno Busta in the semifinals. "I'm 23 years old. I don't think it's my last chance."
   Zverev's shaky second serve proved critical in his loss. He broke serve to lead 2-1 in the third set, but Thiem broke right back as Zverev committed two of his 15 double faults. 
   Thiem scored the only break of the fourth set to lead 5-3 as Zverev double-faulted and netted a forehand on the last two points of the game.
   In the fifth set, Zverev and Thiem served for the match at 5-3 and 6-5, respectively. Zverev led 2-0 in the tiebreaker, but Thiem leveled at 2-2 on a double fault. Zverev double-faulted again for 3-5 but saved two championship points to pull even at 6-6. 
   Thiem earned a third championship point at 7-6 with a forehand passing shot down the line as Zverev charged the net. Zverev then slugged a cross-court backhand wide to end the suspense.
   Thiem, who earned $3 million, will remain No. 3 in Monday's new world rankings. Zverev, who received $1.5 million, will stay at No. 7.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Osaka overcomes poor start, vanquishes Vika for title

Naomi Osaka, shown at 16 in 2014, became the first
woman to win the U.S. Open after dropping the open-
ing set since 1994. Photo by Paul Bauman
   This time, there was no controversy, crying or crowd.
   There was, however, a comeback.
   In a matchup of former world No. 1s and two-time Grand Slam singles champions, Naomi Osaka overcame a terrible start to defeat resurgent Victoria Azarenka 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in today's U.S. Open final in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Osaka, 22, became the first woman to win the tournament after dropping the opening set since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario beat Steffi Graf 1-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 in 1994. It was Osaka's second U.S. Open title in three years and third major crown overall.
   Two years ago, Osaka defeated heavily favored Serena Williams in a tumultuous final at Flushing Meadows for her first Grand Slam title. Williams was assessed a game penalty late in the match for her third code violation. During the awards ceremony, tears rolled down Osaka's cheeks as the pro-Williams crowd booed. 
   With no fans allowed at 23,770-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fourth-seeded Osaka trailed the unseeded Azarenka 0-2 in the second set before finding the range on her powerful serve and groundstrokes. After hitting only five winners and committing 13 unforced errors in the opening set, Osaka had 29 and 13, respectively, the rest of the way. 
   "I thought it would be very embarrassing to lose this in under an hour, so I just (told myself I) have to try as hard as I can and stop having a really bad attitude," Osaka, who made her WTA main-draw debut at 16 in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, said during the awards ceremony.
   Osaka led 4-1 in the third set, but Azarenka won the next two games to get back on serve. Osaka broke right back and held serve for the match, converting her second championship point when Azarenka netted a backhand after another in a long line of furious rallies.
   Osaka improved to 3-0 in Grand Slam finals after failing to reach the quarterfinals in four consecutive majors. She also ended Azarenka's winning streak at 12 matches, including a walkover against Osaka in the final of the Western & Southern Open two weeks ago in Flushing Meadows.
Victoria Azarenka played in her first major singles
final in seven years. 2014 photo by Paul Bauman
   Azarenka, 31, played in her first major singles final since losing to Williams in three sets in the U.S. Open title match for the second consecutive time in 2013.
   "I thought third time was the charm, but I guess I'll have to try again," the two-time Australian Open champion, who ousted six-time U.S. Open winner Williams in the semifinals (by the same score as in the final), said during the awards ceremony.
   After 2013, Azarenka struggled with injuries and depression. She played only two tournaments between May 2016 and March 2018 because of pregnancy and a subsequent child custody dispute that ultimately was ruled in her favor, plummeting to No. 978 in May 2017. Azarenka then went 0-3 from August 2019 until last month's Western & Southern Open.
   Osaka, who will vault six places in the world rankings to No. 3 on Monday, collected $3 million for winning the title. Forbes magazine reported in May that the Japanese icon is the highest-paid female athlete ever with $37.4 million in endorsements and prize money in the preceding 12 months.
   Azarenka, who will jump 13 spots to No. 14, pocketed $1.5 million as the runner-up.  
   Both finalists played with social or political issues in the back of their minds. 
   Osaka — who has a Haitian father, was born in her mother's native Japan and grew up in Florida — has been a prominent supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. She wore a mask showing the name of a different victim of racial violence for each of her post-match interviews during the U.S. Open. Osaka also sparked a one-day postponement of the Western & Southern Open to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. 
   "I just want people to have more knowledge," Osaka said on time.com. "I feel like the platform that I have right now is something that I used to take for granted, and I just feel like I should be using it for something."
   Azarenka's native Belarus, meanwhile, has been rocked by mass protests against autocratic President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994. He has brutally suppressed demonstrations since claiming a landslide victory in the Aug. 9 election, The New York Times reported.
   "That's breaking my heart to see what's happening, because not being able to be there and understand the whole situation, it's really sad," Azarenka, who lives in Manhattan Beach in the Los Angeles area, reportedly said last month. "I can't even speak without tears in my eyes when I think about it."
   Serena out of Italian Open — Williams withdrew from next week's Italian Open in Rome, citing a strained Achilles tendon. She suffered the injury early in the third set of her loss to Azarenka on Thursday.
   The French Open is scheduled for Sept. 27 to Oct. 11 in Paris. Williams — the Roland Garros champion in 2002, 2013 and 2015 — remains one Grand Slam singles title short of Margaret Court's record of 24.

Friday, September 11, 2020

After big comeback, Zverev will take on Thiem for title

Alexander Zverev won for the first time after trailing two sets
to none. 2016 photo by Paul Bauman
   Alexander Zverev's demons were returning.
   The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) German climbed to No. 3 at age 20 in 2017 but, feeling the pressure of great expectations, underachieved in Grand Slam tournaments until this year.
   He came out flat today in his second consecutive major semifinal and quickly trailed two sets to none in the U.S. Open.
   Suddenly, the fifth-seeded Zverev found his explosive game and topped 20th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 to reach his first Grand Slam final. Zverev will play second-seeded Dominic Thiem on Sunday at 1 p.m. PDT (ESPN). 
   Zverev, now ranked seventh, scored the only break of the fifth set in the opening game to become the first German man to reach the U.S. Open final since Michael Stich lost to Andre Agassi in 1994.
   "I was actually looking at the scoreboard when I was down to sets to love," the 23-year-old Zverev, who have never come back from that deficit, said in an on-court interview. "I was like, I can't believe it. I'm playing in a (Grand Slam) semifinal where I'm supposed to be the favorite, and I'm down two sets to love, and I have no chance. I'm playing that bad. I knew I had to come up with better tennis and be more stable.
   "The conditions today were completely different. ... The ball wasn't as fast, so my serve wasn't as effective. But I'm through to my first Grand Slam final, and that's all that matters."
   Zverev still blasted 24 aces, 20 more than the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Carreno Busta, in the 3-hour, 23-minute match.
   Carreno Busta, who also was seeking his first Grand Slam final, took a medical timeout for a hip problem after the fourth set but didn't appear inhibited. He had advanced to the quarterfinals when top-ranked Novak Djokovic was defaulted for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball.
   Thiem overcame an Achilles tendon injury to beat third-seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia 6-2, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5). Medvedev, last year's runner-up to Rafael Nadal in a five-set epic, was rattled by a non-call in the first set and led by a service break in the second and third sets.
   Thiem is 0-3 in Grand Slam finals, having lost to Rafael Nadal in the 2018 and 2019 French Open and Djokovic in this year's Australian Open.
   Thiem, a 27-year-old Austrian, leads Zverev 7-2 (3-1 on hardcourts) in the head-to-head series. Thiem won the last meeting 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) in the Australian Open semifinals in January.
   Women's singles final — Fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka, 22, of Japan will meet unseeded Victoria Azarenka, 31, of Belarus on Saturday at 1 p.m. PDT (ESPN) in a matchup of former world No. 1s and two-time Grand Slam singles champions.
   Osaka, who made her WTA main-draw debut in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, is 2-1 against Azarenka, who won the Stanford title 10 years ago. But both of Osaka's victories came on clay. Azarenka routed Osaka 6-1, 6-1 in the third round of the 2016 Australian Open in their first meeting, but Osaka was only 18 at the time.
   Osaka won consecutive Grand Slam titles in the 2018 U.S. Open, shocking Serena Williams in a tumultuous final, and 2019 Australian Open.
   Azarenka will play in her first major final since winning her second straight Australian Open title in 2013. She extended her winning streak to 12 matches, including a walkover against Osaka in the final of the Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows, after going 0-3 since August 2019. 
   Azarenka played only two tournaments between May 2016 and March 2018 because of pregnancy and a subsequent child custody dispute, plummeting to No. 978 in May 2017.
   Women's doubles final — Playing in their first tournament together, unseeded Laura Siegemund of Germany and Vera Zvonareva of Russia beat third-seeded Nicole Melichar of the United States and Yifan Xu of China 6-4, 6-4.
   Siegemund, 32, and Zvonareva, a 36-year-old mother, also knocked off seventh-seeded Azarenka and Sofia Kenin in the second round and second-seeded Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka, the defending champions, in the quarterfinals.
   Melichar, 27, and Xu, a 32-year-old left-hander, did not play a seeded team in the tournament.
   Zvonareva earned her third major women's doubles crown and first since the 2012 Australian Open with compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova. Zvonareva, a two-time runner-up in women's doubles at Stanford (2005 and 2008), also won the 2006 U.S. Open with Nathalie Dechy of France.
   Zvonareva, formerly ranked No. 2 in singles, also owns two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, including the 2004 U.S. Open with ex-Stanford All-American Bob Bryan.
   Siegemund played in her first major women's doubles final but won the U.S. Open mixed doubles crown of Mate Pavic of Croatia in 2016. Pavic captured the men's doubles title at Flushing Meadows with Bruno Soares of Brazil on Thursday.
   Melichar and Xu each fell to 0-2 in Grand Slam women's doubles finals. They were the Wimbledon runners-up in 2018 and 2019, respectively, with other partners. 
   Xu and Melichar won the doubles title at Stanford in 2015 and San Jose, Calif., last year, respectively, with other partners.
   Siegemund and Zvonareva split $400,000 for today's victory, and Melichar and Xu shared $240,000.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Vika shocks Serena, will face Osaka in U.S. Open final

Victoria Azarenka reached her first Grand Slam singles final
since winning her second consecutive Australian Open title
seven years ago. 2019 photo by Harjanto Sumali
   Victoria Azarenka continued her stunning comeback in stunning fashion tonight.
   In a loud, hard-hitting battle of mothers in their 30s and former world No. 1s, the unseeded Azarenka subdued third-seeded Serena Williams 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals of the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Williams strained an Achilles tendon in the second game of the third set and took a medical timeout, but she seemed fine after that.
   Azarenka raced to a 3-0 lead in the third set of the shriek-fest, and both players held serve the rest of the way in a rematch of the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Open finals, both of which Williams won in three sets.
   "We both know the match is never over (until the last point)," Azarenka said in an on-court interview regarding her turnaround after the first set. "I knew it's not going to be over at 5-3 (in the third set) either. I've been there before. Today was going to be different."
   Not only is Azarenka eight years younger than Williams, who will turn 39 on Sept. 26, the Belarusian was fresher. Williams played in her fourth consecutive three-set match, including one on Wednesday (players normally have a day off between singles matches in Grand Slam tournaments). Azarenka, meanwhile, annihilated 16th-seeded Elise Mertens 6-1, 6-0 in 73 minutes on Wednesday.
   Azarenka, who had been 0-10 against Williams in Grand Slam tournaments, reached her first major singles final since the 2013 U.S. Open. The two-time Australian Open champion will meet fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka of Japan on Saturday at 1 p.m. PDT (ESPN). 
   Osaka outslugged 28th-seeded Jennifer Brady of Orlando, Fla., 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-3 to reach her second U.S. Open final in three years. At age 20, Osaka shocked Williams in straight sets in a chaotic match for the first of her two Grand Slam titles.
   Azarenka extended her winning streak to 12 matches, including a walkover against Osaka in the final of the Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows, after going 0-3 since August 2019. She will climb at least 13 spots to No. 14 in the world rankings on Monday.
   Azarenka won the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic at Stanford 10 years ago and ascended to No. 1 in 2012 after capturing the first of her two consecutive Australian Open crowns. 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.
   Williams, who claimed the last of her three Bank of the West Classic titles in 2014, again fell short in her quest to tie Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.
   Williams has failed to win any of the nine majors in which she has played since capturing the 2017 Australian Open title — losing four finals, all in straight sets — or to reach a final in her last four tournaments. She had a daughter on Sept. 1, 2017, and suffered life-threatening complications.
   Osaka, who made her WTA main-draw debut in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic, is 2-1 against Azarenka, but both victories came on clay.
   Azarenka drubbed Osaka 6-1, 6-1 in the third round of the 2016 Australian Open in their first meeting, but Osaka was only 18 at the time.
   Men's singles semifinals — Fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany will meet 20th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain on Friday at 1 p.m. PDT (ESPN), followed by second-seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia versus third-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria.
    Either Zverev, the 23-year-old son of former Russian pro Alexander Zverev Sr., or Carreno Busta, 29, will play in his first Grand Slam final.
   The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Zverev defeated Carreno Busta 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the 2018 Miami semis in their only previous meeting.
   Carreno Busta advanced to the quarterfinals when top-ranked Novak Djokovic was defaulted for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball. Carreno Busta had just broken serve to lead 6-5.
   The 24-year-old Medvedev, last year's runner-up to Rafael Nadal in a five-set epic, is the only men's semifinalist who has not lost a set in the tournament.
   Thiem, a three-time Grand Slam runner-up, is 2-1 against Medvedev. However, the 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Russian won the last meeting 6-3, 6-1 in the Montreal quarters last year.
   Men's doubles final — Unseeded Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares of Brazil won their first Grand Slam title together, defeating eighth-seeded Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic of Croatia 7-5, 6-3.
   Soares, 38, claimed his third major men's doubles crown and Pavic, a 27-year-old left-hander, his second. They split $400,000.
   In the first round, Pavic and Soares trailed by a service break in the third set against fifth seeds and 2019 U.S. Open runners-up Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina. In the second round, Americans Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow served for the match against the eventual champions.
   Koolhof and Mektic, both 31, were playing in their first Grand Slam men's doubles final. They shared $240,000. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

In matchup of moms, Serena rallies to beat Pironkova

Serena Williams played her third consecutive three-set match
and eighth in 10 matches since the women's tour resumed.
2018 photo by Mal Taam
   Serena Williams survived another three-set match today to reach the semifinals of the U.S. Open.
   Overcoming a sluggish start, the third-seeded Williams beat unranked Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., in the first major quarterfinal between mothers.
   Pironkova, a Bulgarian who will turn 33 on Sunday, was playing in her first tournament since Wimbledon in 2017 after starting a family.
   Williams, who will turn 39 on Sept. 26, slugged 20 aces, her most in a match in eight years, and committed only one double fault. She twice returned a serve left-handed, winning each point, as she improved to 5-0 against Pironkova in their first meeting in five years.
   It was Williams' third consecutive three-set match and eighth in 10 matches since the women's tour resumed after a five-month hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic. She turned the match around after losing her serve in the opening game of the second set.
   "I was definitely feeling it a little in my legs," the former world No. 1 said in an on-court interview. "For whatever reason, an hour in, I get more energy. ... In the beginning, I was a little fatigued. Obviously, I can't do that if I want to keep winning, so I'm going to try to figure that out."
   Added ESPN commentator Chris Evert, a six-time U.S. Open champion: "Serena did not play her best, but she got herself out of trouble. She has to raise her level if she wants to win this tournament."
   Williams is 0-8 in attempts to tie Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam singles crowns since her daughter, Olympia, was born on Sept. 1, 2017. Williams won the last of her six U.S. Open singles titles in 2014, losing the last two finals to upstarts Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu
   Williams — the champion of the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2011, 2012 and 2014 —  is scheduled to play unseeded Victoria Azarenka on Thursday after the first semifinal between the fourth-seeded Osaka and 28th-seeded Jennifer Brady (4 p.m. PDT on ESPN).
   Azarenka, a 31-year-old mother, demolished 16th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-1, 6-0 in 73 minutes to extend her winning streak to 11 matches, including a walkover against Osaka in the final of the Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows, after going 0-3 since August 2019. She won the Bank of the West Classic 10 years ago and ascended to No. 1 in 2012 after winning the first of her two consecutive Australian Open crowns.
   Mertens, a semifinalist in the Australian Open and inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., in 2018, had not lost a set in four tournament matches. She was coming off a 6-3, 6-3 victory over second-seeded Sofia Kenin, the reigning Australian Open champion.
   Williams leads Azarenka 18-4 overall and 10-0 in majors, including three-set victories in the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Open finals, in the head-to-head series. 
   In the first all-Russian men's quarterfinal in a major, third-seeded Daniil Medvedev downed 10th-seeded Andrey Rublev 7-6 (6), 6-3, 7-6 (5). The volatile Rublev led 5-1 and 6-3 in the first-set tiebreaker. 
   Medvedev, a 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) right-hander, took a medical timeout at 4-5 in the third set for apparent cramps in his legs and for treatment on his right arm.
   The 24-year-old Medvedev, last year's runner-up to Rafael Nadal in a five-set epic, has not lost a set in this year's tournament.
   Rublev, 22, was playing in his second U.S. Open quarterfinal. He reached the last eight at Flushing Meadows in 2017 before missing three months in 2018 with a lower-back stress fracture and six weeks in 2019 with a wrist injury.
   Medvedev will face second-seeded Dominic Thiem, 27, of Austria on Friday. Thiem, a three-time Grand Slam runner-up, dismantled 21st-seeded Alex de Minaur of Australia 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. De Minaur, 21, was playing in his first major quarterfinal.
   Thiem is 2-1 against Medvedev, but the Russian won the last meeting 6-3, 6-1 in the Montreal quarterfinals last year on a hardcourt. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Brady breezes into first Grand Slam semifinal

   Since American Jennifer Brady began working with Michael Geserer of Germany last October, her career has reached new heights.
   The 28th-seeded Brady rolled to a 6-3, 6-2 victory over 23rd-seeded Yulia Putintseva, a Moscow native who plays for Kazakhstan, in 69 minutes today to reach the U.S. Open semifinals in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. 
   Brady was playing in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal and Putintseva her third in a matchup of 25-year-olds. The 5-foot-4 (1.63-meter) Putintseva also advanced to the last eight in the 2016 and 2018 French Open. 
   Brady had never won a set in two previous matches against Putintseva, both in 2018 and one on clay in the French Open.
   Since the WTA tour resumed last month, the 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Brady has used her powerful serve and forehand to win 11 of 12 matches, never surrendering more than four games in a set in the victories. Her closest victory during the hot streak was a 6-3, 6-4 decision over Jil Teichmann, a Swiss left-hander, in the Lexington, Ky., final. That gave Brady her first WTA title.
   The highest-ranked player Brady has beaten in the 11 victories was No. 23 Angelique Kerber in the fourth round of the U.S. Open. Brady recorded her first two top-10 wins this year before the women's and men's tours shut down in March. As a qualifier, she knocked off top-ranked Ashleigh Barty to reach the quarterfinals in Brisbane in January and No. 6 Elina Svitolina en route to the Dubai semifinals in February. 
   Geserer formerly coached Julia Goerges, a German who reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 2018 to climb to a career-high No. 9.
   "I told myself I want to try something new, do something different, commit to it, and I did, and I'm really happy I did," Brady told WTA Insider in January.
   Ranked No. 55 at the end of 2019, Brady will soar at least 16 places to a career-high No. 25 on Monday. 
   Geserer told WTA Insider in April that he tries "to have a positive look and a positive approach on every day and in every situation. I believe that with smart and good work you will reach your goals."
   Brady, a former UCLA All-American, starred in Northern California Challengers. She won the singles and doubles titles in Redding ($25,000) in 2014 at age 19 and reached the quarterfinals as the top seed in Sacramento ($60,000) in 2017, losing to defending champion Sofia Kenin.
   Also in 2017, Brady advanced to the fourth round of the Australian Open at age 21 and U.S. Open at 22. She became the first American female qualifier to advance to the last 16 in Melbourne in the Open Era.
   Brady will face Naomi Osaka, seeded fourth and ranked ninth. Osaka, who won the first of her two Grand Slam titles in the 2018 U.S. Open at age 20, dismissed unseeded American Shelby Rogers 6-3, 6-4.
   Osaka and Brady have split two career matches, most recently in 2018. 
   In the men's draw, fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany beat 27th-seeded Borna Coric of Croatia 1-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1), 6-3 to reach his second consecutive Grand Slam semifinal.
   The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Zverev rallied from a 2-4 deficit in the second set to improve to 2-3 against Coric and become the first German to reach the U.S. Open semifinals since Boris Becker in 1995.
   "I started playing more aggressively," Zverev, who had 18 aces and 12 double faults, said in an on-court interview. "I wasn't playing aggressively enough in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament.
   "I was more consistent (after that), and my serve got better. I had nothing to lose at that moment."
   Zverev, the 23-year-old son of former Russian pro Alexander Zverev Sr., is set to meet 20th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta, a 29-year-old Spaniard, on Friday.
   Carreno Busta outlasted 12th-seeded Denis Shapovalov of Canada 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 0-6, 6-3 to reach the U.S. Open semifinals for the second time. Carreno Busta scored the only break of the fifth set on a double fault to lead 4-2. The 4-hour, 8-minute match ended at 1:07 a.m. EDT Wednesday.
   Carreno Busta advanced to the quarters when top-ranked Novak Djokovic was defaulted Sunday for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball.
   Zverev defeated Carreno Busta, who also reached the U.S. Open semis three years ago, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the 2018 Miami semis in their only previous meeting.
   In the men's doubles semifinals, eighth-seeded Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic of Croatia eliminated third-seeded Rajeev Ram of Carmel, Ind., and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain 7-6 (3), 6-4.
   Ram, a volunteer assistant coach at the University of California, Berkeley, and Salisbury, who won the doubles title in the 2017 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger with compatriot Brydan Klein, were seeking their second consecutive Grand Slam title.
   Koolhof and Mektic will play unseeded Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares of Brazil for the title on Thursday. Pavic and Soares topped unseeded Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands and Horia Tecau of Romania, the 2017 U.S. Open champions, 6-4, 7-5.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Mamma mia: Serena, Pironkova, Vika reach quarters

Serena Williams avenged a loss to Maria Sakkari two weeks ago
in the Western & Southern Open. File photo by Paul Bauman 
   Two mothers in their 30s will meet in the U.S. Open quarterfinals on Wednesday.
   One of them was expected, the other far from it. 
   Third-seeded Serena Williams, who will turn 39 on Sept. 26, defeated 15th-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3 today in the fourth round in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Tsvetana Pironkova, a 32-year-old Bulgarian, beat Alize Cornet of France 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3 in a matchup of unseeded players. Pironkova is playing in her first tournament since Wimbledon in 2017 after starting a family.
   A third mother in her 30s, unseeded Victoria Azarenka, topped 20th-seeded Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic 5-7, 6-1, 6-4. Muchova, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist last year, appeared on the verge of retiring with a hamstring injury early in the third set.
   It's the first time that three mothers have advanced to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament.
   Williams overcame a 0-2 deficit in the third set to even her record against Sakkari at 1-1. Sakkari beat Williams 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-1 in the third round of the Western & Southern Open two weeks ago in Flushing Meadows.
   Williams won the last of her six U.S. Open singles titles in 2014. She has reached the last two U.S. Open finals, losing to upstarts Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu in straight sets in an attempt to tie Margaret Court's record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. That quest continues.
   Sakkari, the runner-up in the inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose, Calif., in 2018, was trying to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
   Williams — who won the now-defunct Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2011, 2012 and 2014 — is 4-0 against Pironkova. Williams won the last encounter 7-5, 6-3 in the second round in Cincinnati in 2015. Three weeks later, the top-ranked Williams lost to No. 43 Roberta Vinci of Italy in one of the biggest upsets in sports history while trying to complete the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988. 
   Azarenka, 31, extended her winning streak to 10 matches, including a walkover in the final of the Western & Southern Open, after going 0-3 since August 2019. She won the Bank of the West Classic 10 years ago and ascended to No. 1 in 2012.
   Azarenka will face 16th-seeded Elise Mertens, 24, of Belgium for the first time in the quarters. Mertens, a semifinalist in the inaugural Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, dominated second-seeded Sofia Kenin of the United States 6-3, 6-3.
   Kenin won Northern California Challengers in 2016 at 17, 2017 and 2018 and stormed to her first Grand Slam title in the Australian Open in January.
   In the men's draw, second-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria eliminated 15th-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 20-year-old Canadian, 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-1.
   Thiem, a three-time runner-up in Grand Slam tournaments, is set to play 21st-seeded Alex de Minaur on Wednesday. The 21-year-old Australian beat unseeded Vasek Pospisil of Canada 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-2 to reach his first major quarterfinal.
   Pospisil won the Wimbledon doubles title in 2014 with American Jack Sock, advanced to the singles final in the 2017 San Francisco Challenger and underwent back surgery in January 2019.
   Thiem, 26, is 2-0 against de Minaur, including a straight-set victory in the first round of the 2017 U.S. Open.
   The other quarterfinal in the bottom half of the draw will be an all-Russian affair. 
   Third-seeded Daniil Medvedev, last year's runner-up to Rafael Nadal in a five-set epic, dismissed the last remaining U.S. man, unseeded Frances Tiafoe, 6-4, 6-1, 6-0. The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Medvedev, 24, has not lost more than four games in a set in four tournament matches.
   Tiafoe won the 2016 Stockton, Calif., Challenger at 18 years old to crack the top 100 and climbed to a career-high No. 29 in February 2019. He will rise 16 places to No. 66 after the U.S. Open.
   Tenth-seeded Andrey Rublev outplayed sixth-seeded Matteo Berrettini, a semifinalist in last year's U.S. Open, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
   Rublev, 22, avenged a straight-set loss to the 24-year-old Italian in the round of 16 at Flushing Meadows in 2019 and reached his second Grand Slam quarterfinal. He also advanced to the Elite Eight in the 2017 U.S. Open at 19 before missing three months in 2018 with a lower-back stress fracture and six weeks in 2019 with a wrist injury.
   Medvedev has not lost a set in three career matches against Rublev.
   Barty out of French Open — Top-ranked Ashleigh Barty announced on Instagram that she will not defend her French Open title.
   The 24-year-old Australian cited coronavirus concerns and inadequate preparation. The French Open, normally held in late May and early June, was moved to Sept. 27-Oct. 11 because of the pandemic.
   "It has been a difficult decision to make but unfortunately I will not be competing in Europe this year," Barty wrote. "Last year's French Open was the most special tournament of my career so this is not a decision I have made lightly. There are two reasons for my decision. The first is the health risks that still exist with Covid. The second is my preparation, which has not been ideal without my coach being able to train with me due to the state border closures in Australia."
   Barty, who also skipped the U.S. Open, said she will not play again this year.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Djokovic defaulted for hitting line judge with ball

With Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer absent, Novak Djokovic
had been heavily favored to win his fourth U.S. Open title.
File photo by Paul Bauman
   As if the U.S. Open wasn't strange enough already, it became even more bizarre today.
   In a stunning development, top-ranked Novak Djokovic was defaulted from his fourth-round match in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball.
   After losing his serve to trail 20th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain 5-6 in the first set at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Djokovic flicked a ball underhand in anger toward the wall behind his baseline as he started to walk to his chair.
   The ball struck the line judge, who fell to the court. Djokovic immediately put his hand up in apology and walked to the woman, who gasped for air and moaned repeatedly while sitting on the court before walking off unassisted. She reportedly was OK. 
   After 10 or 15 minutes, during which officials conferred on the court and Djokovic pleaded his case in the virtually empty stadium, he was defaulted for ball abuse. The 33-year-old Serb shook hands with the 29-year-old Carreno Busta, a U.S. Open semifinalist in 2017, and left the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center without talking to the media.
   Fans are not permitted at the tournament because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
   "This whole situation has left me really sad and empty," Djokovic wrote on Instragram after his earliest exit from a Grand Slam tournament since a fourth-round loss in the 2018 Australian Open,. "I checked on the lines person and the tournament told me that thank God she is feeling OK. I'm extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong. I'm not disclosing her name to respect her privacy.
   "As for the disqualification, I need to go back within and work on my disappointment and turn this all into a lesson for my growth and evolution as a player and human being. I apologize to the @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behavior. I'm very grateful to my team and family for being my rock support, and my fans for always being there with me. Thank you and I'm so sorry."
   The 2020 Official Grand Slam Rule Book defines ball abuse as "intentionally hitting a ball out of the enclosure of the court, hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences."
   "Players have been defaulted for less," said ESPN commentator Darren Cahill, who coaches reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, reached a career-high No. 22 in 1989 and won one of his two ATP singles titles in San Francisco in 1991. "The tournament made the right decision. The ranking of a player cannot come into account. It's tough for the tournament and tough for Novak."
   Cahill's colleague and fellow Australian, former doubles world No. 1 Rennae Stubbs, declared, "This will be remembered by Djokovic and journalists for the rest of his career."
   Djokovic was on edge even before the incident. He furiously swatted a ball against a sign on the side of the court earlier in the set and hurt his left shoulder breaking a fall with his arm while serving at 5-5, 0-15.
   "He has many great qualities as a person, but he's not in control of (his emotions)," said ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe, a former U.S. Davis Cup captain who reached career highs of No. 28 in singles and No. 3 in doubles. "He has (smacked balls in anger) many times in his career. When you do that, you're playing with fire, and he played with fire one time too many."
   Djokovic, who has earned $143.9 million in prize money, also will forfeit $250,000 for reaching the round of 16 and faces a fine of up to the same amount. He fell to 26-1 this year and 29-1 since November.
   Ironies abound surrounding Djokovic's default.
   Two years ago at Arthur Ashe Stadium, heavily favored Serena Williams was penalized a game for her third code violation in a 6-2, 6-4 loss to 20-year-old Naomi Osaka in a chaotic U.S. Open final
   In the 2009 U.S. Open semifinals, Williams was assessed a point penalty for threatening a line judge who had called a foot fault against her. The penalty came on match point, giving Kim Clijsters a 6-4, 7-5 victory.
   Ashe, an International Tennis Hall of Famer, was known for his composure and grace on and off the court. He died of AIDS at 49 in 1993 after receiving a tainted blood transfusion during heart bypass surgery.
   Twelfth-seeded Denis Shapovalov, a 21-year-old rising star from Canada, beat seventh-seeded David Goffin of Belgium 6-7 (0), 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 in tonight's first featured match at Arthur Ashe Stadium to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Shapovalov was defaulted from a Davis Cup match in 2017 after hitting chair umpire Arnaud Gabas in the eye with a ball at age 17. Gabas had surgery for a broken eye socket.
   Pressure has been mounting on Djokovic for months. He came under fire in April after revealing that he opposes vaccinations and in June after several players, including himself, participated in a charity tournament in Serbia organized by Djokovic and subsequently tested positive for coronavirus. Fans packed the stands, and social distancing was not observed.
    Djokovic also resigned as president of the ATP Player Council last week and announced the formation of a new players association. 
    In the absence of defending champion Rafael Nadal (coronavirus concerns) and five-time winner Roger Federer (two arthroscopic knee surgeries this year), Djokovic had been heavily favored to win his fourth U.S. Open title. Djokovic has amassed 17 Grand Slam singles championships, third in history behind Federer (20) and Nadal (19).
   With Djokovic's departure, a new Grand Slam men's champion will be crowned next Sunday (1 p.m. PDT on ESPN) for the first time since Marin Cilic won the 2014 U.S. Open.
   Two remaining players, both in the bottom half of the draw, have played in major finals. Second-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria lost to Nadal in the 2018 and 2019 French Open finals and to Djokovic in the Australian Open title match in January. His best result at Flushing Meadows is a quarterfinal appearance in 2018. Third-seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia fell to Nadal in a five-set epic in last year's U.S. Open final.
   Cahill, McEnroe and colleague Brad Gilbert pick Medvedev to become the first man other than the Big Five of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka to win a Slam since Cilic.
   Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, who shocked Federer to claim the 2009 U.S. Open, is the only other player besides the Big Five to capture a major since 2005.
   This is also the first Grand Slam tournament since the 2004 French Open in which neither Federer, Nadal nor Djokovic has reached the quarterfinals.
   Much as Williams' histrionics overshadowed Osaka's breakthrough, Djokovic's default eclipsed two American women reaching the quarterfinals in the top half of the draw.
   Unseeded Shelby Rogers saved four match points in a 7-6 (5), 3-6, 7-6 (6) victory over sixth-seeded Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion. Rogers also advanced to the French Open quarterfinals in 2016 before having knee surgery in 2018.
   Rogers, 27, is scheduled to meet the fourth-seeded Osaka, a 6-3, 6-4 winner over 14th-seeded Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, on Tuesday. Osaka, 22, never faced a break point against Kontaveit and converted her sixth match point.
   Rogers has never lost a set in three career matches against Osaka, but their last meeting was in 2017 and two of the encounters were on clay.
   Jennifer Brady, seeded 28th, outslugged 17th-seeded Angelique Kerber, who won the second of her three Grand Slam singles crowns in the 2016 U.S. Open, 6-1, 6-4 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
   Brady excelled in Northern California Challengers. She won the singles and doubles titles in Redding ($25,000) in 2014 at age 19 and reached the quarterfinals as the top seed in Sacramento ($60,000) in 2017, losing to defending champion Sofia Kenin.
   Brady, who won her first WTA title three weeks ago in Lexington, Ky., is set to face 23rd-seeded Yulia Putintseva, a Moscow native who plays for Kazakhstan. The 5-foot-4 (1.63-meter) Putintseva, a  two-time French Open quarterfinalist, topped eighth-seeded Petra Martic of Croatia 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.
   The 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Brady, 25, has never won a set in two career matches against Putintseva, both in 2018 and one on clay in the French Open.
   "This is a different Jennifer Brady than two years ago," Stubbs asserted. "She absolutely can win this tournament if she truly believes in herself."
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