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.

Sharapova loses to Rybarikova at Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Maria Sharapova was beaten by Magdalena Rybarikova 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the first round of the Kremlin Cup on Tuesday, ending her bid for a second title in two weeks.

Sharapova, who won the Tianjin Open two days ago, brought her usual power but lacked accuracy with some wild swings on key points.

“I felt fine physically, to be honest, especially after having played five matches in five days (in Tianjin). That was a big surprise,” Sharapova said. “Maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been … Maybe if this tournament hadn’t been in Moscow, I wouldn’t have played it.”

Sharapova was under pressure on serve from the start and saved six break points before finally being broken to 6-5. She responded by breaking Rybarikova, but Sharapova’s double fault at 4-3 in the tiebreaker handed the Slovakian the momentum to close out the set.

Rybarikova, seeded eighth, sealed the match after saving two break points to lead 5-4, then breaking Sharapova in the next game. Rybarikova will play Alize Cornet in the second round.

Six months after she returned from a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova is still trying to move back up the rankings from her current position of 57th. Her first tour appearance in Moscow in a decade drew a large and enthusiastic crowd despite taking place on a Tuesday afternoon.

Also Tuesday, seventh-seeded Julia Goerges beat Russian qualifier Polina Monova 6-0, 6-3 to set up a second-round meeting with Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.

In the men’s Kremlin Cup tournament, sixth-seeded Damir Dzumhur defeated Thomas Fabbiano 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.

Maria Sharapova wins her 1st title since doping ban

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TIANJIN, China (AP) Maria Sharapova won her first WTA title since returning from a doping ban after defeating Aryna Sabalenka to win the Tianjin Open on Sunday.

The Russian, a tournament wild card, overcame Belarusian teenager Sabalenka 7-5, 7-6 (8) despite trailing heavily in both sets.

Sharapova last won a title at the Italian Open in May 2015.

The former top-ranked player and owner of five major titles, including the 2006 U.S. Open, tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January 2016. That led to a 15-month doping ban, which expired in April.

“Such a special, special tournament, and victory for me, one that I’ll remember forever,” Sharapova said. “Sometimes you never know when it will all come together but it happened to me this week in Tianjin.”

Sharapova displayed resilience as she came from behind in both sets to overcome her 19-year-old opponent.

Sabalenka led 4-1 in the opener and 5-1 in the second before relenting to Sharapova’s greater big-match experience. It was Sharapova’s 36th WTA singles title.

The 30-year-old Sharapova played in her first Grand Slam tournament following the ban at the U.S. Open in August, where she reached the fourth round. Sunday’s result will lift Sharapova up to No. 57 in the world rankings.