Muguruza’s first Slam title denies Williams 22nd

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PARIS (AP) The day before the French Open final, Serena Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, was discussing whether his player would need to lift her level to beat Garbine Muguruza and collect a record-equaling 22nd Grand Slam title.

“I don’t know why everybody’s so impressed with Garbine,” Mouratoglou said. “Did she win a Slam ever?”

His comment, accompanied by a chuckle, was intended in a lighthearted way. About 24 hours later, his question required a new answer.

Muguruza won her first major trophy and prevented Williams yet again from collecting No. 22, outplaying the defending champion in a 7-5, 6-4 victory at Roland Garros on Saturday.

“She has a bright future, obviously,” said Williams, who at 34 is 12 years older than her Spanish opponent. “She knows how to play on the big stage and … clearly, she knows how to win Grand Slams.”

The fourth-seeded Muguruza used her big groundstrokes to keep No. 1 Williams off-balance and overcame signs of nerves in the form of nine double-faults. Most impressively, Muguruza broke Williams four times, including three in a row.

“I can’t explain with words what this day means to me,” Muguruza said.

This was her second major final; she lost to Williams at Wimbledon last year. But Muguruza has won her past two matches against Williams on the clay of Roland Garros, including in the second round in 2014. So dating to the start of the 2013 French Open, Williams is 0-2 in Paris against Muguruza, 21-0 against everyone else.

“I have grown up playing on clay,” Muguruza said during the trophy ceremony, “so for Spain, and for me, this is amazing.”

For Williams, whose timing was not exactly right much of the afternoon, Saturday’s loss postponed her pursuit of Steffi Graf’s Open-era mark of 22 major singles championships. Margaret Court holds the all-time record of 24.

Williams got No. 21 at Wimbledon in 2015, her fourth major title in a row. Since, she was beaten in the U.S. Open semifinals by Roberta Vinci, in the Australian Open final by Angelique Kerber, and now by Muguruza. It’s the first time in Williams’ career she lost back-to-back Slam finals.

“Garbine played unbelievable,” Williams said. “The only thing I can do is just keep trying.”

This year’s visit to Paris hardly could have started off more inauspiciously for Muguruza: She lost the first set she played, against 38th-ranked Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

But, oh, how Muguruza turned things around. She won her next 14 sets, displaying take-the-ball-early aggressiveness.

The final began under a slate ceiling of clouds, but at least there was none of the heavy rain that led to flooding in Paris and a temporary shutdown of the Louvre museum. The showers jumbled the tournament schedule, and Williams was in action a fourth straight day in the final.

She did not blame that or a problem with a leg muscle.

“I don’t think it’s like something that I would say: `Oh, that was the reason,”‘ Williams said.

Muguruza won the coin toss and let Williams serve first, a fascinating choice given that the American is widely regarded as the best server in the women’s game. And the decision seemed only more dubious as Muguruza put the ball on play on only one of the first six points Williams served.

And yet, it all wound up working out. And how.

Muguruza won all six points of 10 shots or more in the first set and, indeed, there was no junkballing on this day. Both women hit hard, trading bold forehands and backhands from the baseline that made it seem unfair to characterize nearly anything as an “unforced error.”

Williams finished with 39 forced errors, 18 more than Muguruza.

After a run of breaks gave Muguruza the first set and a lead in the second, Williams never recovered. She did, however, cast aside a quartet of match points for Muguruza at 5-3. There was nothing Williams could do about the fifth, which Muguruza converted with a delightful lob that landed right on the baseline.

Williams applauded. Maybe stunned by that shot, maybe stunned that she was now a Grand Slam champion, Muguruza turned toward her coach and other supporters in the stands with a blank expression. Soon, she was flat on her back, caking her dress and arms with the rust-colored clay she will never forget.

“Just goes to show you, you really have to play the big points well,” Williams said, “and I think she played the big points really well.”

That’s the sort of thing Williams’ foes usually say.

Nadal, Dimitrov advance to Australian Open quarterfinals

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) After snuffing out local hopes for yet another Australian Open, Grigor Dimitrov huddled with Nick Kyrgios at the net and the pair exchanged encouraging words.

It was Kyrgios, having just lost 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (4) in the fourth round in a typically tempestuous performance, who left No. 3-ranked Dimitrov with this message: “Believe.”

Dimitrov has never won a major, coming closest here last year before losing a semifinal to Rafael Nadal in five sets, but is enhancing his credentials as a next generation champion.

Nadal secured his spot in a 10th Australian Open quarterfinal earlier Sunday on Rod Laver Arena, beating Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3 in 3 hours and 51 minutes.

The 16-time major winner draped an arm around his Argentine friend and patted him on top of the head. If he needed a fitness test in the first week in his comeback from an injured right knee, he got it.

“A great battle … he’s a good friend of mine,” Nadal said. “This is the first big match that I played in 2018. That’s confidence for myself … confidence I can resist for four hours on court at a good intensity.”

Nadal will next play 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic, who collected his 100th Grand Slam match win with a 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (0), 7-6 (3) victory over No. 10 Pablo Carreno Busta.

“I had the 300th win of my career at the U.S. Open in 2014, so this is also beautiful one,” Cilic said of his latest major milestone. “I hope I’m going to continue and gather three more here.”

Nadal lost last year’s Australian Open final to Roger Federer, but went on to regain the No. 1 ranking and win the French and U.S. Open titles before bringing his season to a premature end because of an injured right knee.

Despite not playing any competitive matches in his Aussie Open preparation, Nadal advanced through three rounds without dropping a set.

That streak finished when Schwartzman took the second set, rebounding three times after dropping serve to break back and win the tiebreaker.

Nadal lifted to win the third, but Schwartzman didn’t relent.

The second game of the fourth set lasted almost 13 minutes, with Nadal finally holding after saving five break points.

He broke again in the next game to regain control.

“It was a good test for me. It was a lot of hours on court. Moments under pressure,” Nadal said.

Britain’s Kyle Edmund reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal with a 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-2, 6-3 afternoon win over Andreas Seppi and could relax and watch the night-time entertainment featuring Dimitrov and Kyrgios. They all played two weeks ago in Brisbane, where Edmund lost to Dimitrov, who lost to eventual champion Kyrgios.

Both Dimitrov and Kyrgios got tense at key times in the night match. Dimitrov was broken while serving for the match. Kyrgios was called for a foot fault, double-faulted on a set point and smashed an easy overhead into the net on a break point after dominating the rally. He had 36 aces, and some second serves recorded at faster than 202 kph (125 mph).

“Only a couple points in it, you know. It wasn’t like I got demolished out there,” said Kyrgios, who missed the chance to end the drought for local men that dates back to the 1976 Australian Open. “I had a lot of chances to win the match and I just came up short.”

He tipped his mate Dimitrov to go far.

“He hasn’t even found his best form yet and he’s still getting through all those matches, which is pretty frightening,” Kyrgios said. “Once he finds his feet and he has more confidence, he’s got a real chance at winning it.”

Dimitrov thanked him for the support, and said he’s growing more confident in his game.

Caroline Wozniacki continued to cash in on her second chance, reaching the quarterfinals here for the first time since 2012 with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Magdalena Rybarikova.

After saving match points and coming back from 5-1 down in the third set of her second-round win, No. 2-ranked Wozniacki said she was “playing with the house money” and had nothing to lose.

Wozniacki next plays Carla Suarez Navarro, who rallied from a set and 4-1 down to beat No. 32 Anett Kontaveit 4-6, 6-4, 8-6.

The other quarterfinal will feature the winners of two tune-up events. Brisbane International champion Elina Svitolina beat Denisa Allertova 6-3, 6-0 in a match that started just before midnight.

Fourth-seeded Svitolina next plays Hobart International winner Elise Mertens, who beat Petra Martic to reach the quarterfinals in her Australian Open debut.

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More AP coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/AustralianOpen

Kerber beats Sharapova in 3rd round; Halep in long-haul win

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Angelique Kerber is the only major winner remaining in the Australian Open women’s draw after ending Maria Sharapova’s comeback tour to Melbourne Park.

The 2016 champion routed Sharapova 6-1, 6-3 in the third-round match on Saturday night to extend her winning streak to 12 matches, including winning the Sydney International title last week.

Five-time major winner Sharapova was back at the Australian Open for the first time since 2016, when a failed test for meldonium led to a 15-month doping ban.

It was all over in one hour and four minutes, a vast contrast to top-ranked Simona Halep’s 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 win in three hours, 45 minutes over American Lauren Davis in the opening match on Rod Laver.

The third set took 2:22 and momentum swung. Halep wasted chances to serve for the match in the ninth, 11th and 15th games, then had to save three match points in the 22nd. There were 11 service breaks and two medical timeouts – for Davis to get treatment on both feet – before Halep converted on her first match point.

“I never played the third set so long, so I’m really happy I could stay and win it. I’m almost dead,” Halep said of the match which equaled Chanda Rubin’s win over Arantxa Shanchez Vicario in 1996 – also 48 games – for the Australian Open record in terms of most games.

“I just feel that my muscles are gone,” said Halep, who badly twisted her left ankle in the first round. “My ankle is, I don’t know how it is because I don’t feel it anymore! But … it was nice to win this match.”

Halep will play Naomi Osaka, who beat 18th-seeded Ashleigh Barty 6-4, 6-2 in a match that was moved from the center court to Margaret Court Arena because of the two long matches on Rod Laver.

No. 20 Barbora Strycova beat U.S. qualifier Bernarda Pera 6-2, 6-2, leaving U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys as the only American woman to reach the fourth round.

Keys advanced 6-3, 6-4 over Ana Bogdan and will next play No. 8 Caroline Garcia, who beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3, 5-7, 6-2.

Sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat No. 29 Lucie Safarova 7-6 (6), 7-5 in a match featuring just one service break.

On the men’s side, Hyeon Chung took out a Zverev for the second time this week. Chung beat fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev 5-7, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 six days after a win over No. 32 Mischa Zverev in the first round.

Another unexpected loss at a major had the highly-touted Zverev admitted he may have a problem.

“Definitely not physical, so… I have some figuring out to do, what happens to me in deciding moments in Grand Slam,” he said.

The 20-year-old Zverev has five titles on the elite tour but his fourth-round exit at Wimbledon last year remains his best run at a major.

Tomas Berdych ended 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro’s return to Melbourne Park for the first time since 2014 with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win.

Fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem beat Adrian Mannarino 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 to set up a fourth-round match against Tennys Sandgren, who continued his career-best run by beating Maximilian Marterer 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (5).

Former world junior No. 1 Marton Fucsovics beat Nicolas Kicker 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 and No. 25 Fabio Fognini overcame Julien Benneteau 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.

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More AP coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/AustralianOpen