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Gong Show: After let call, Murray loses at Open; Serena wins

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NEW YORK (AP) Andy Murray lost his way, seven consecutive games and, eventually, his riveting five-set U.S. Open quarterfinal against Kei Nishikori after a loud noise from a malfunctioning sound system interrupted a key point, resulting in a do-over.

Whether or not the gong-like sound, and chair umpire Marija Cicak’s let ruling, was the reason that Nishikori wound up coming back to win 1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 on Wednesday, it surely will be what’s most remembered about the back-and-forth, 4-hour match.

After all, Murray’s extended discussions with Cicak and another official about the unusual episode came during a stretch in which he dropped 12 of 14 points.

He went from a lead of two sets to one, plus a break point at 1-all, to ceding the fourth set and trailing 2-0 in the fifth.

“I could have won the match for sure,” said Murray, the No. 2 seed and 2012 champion at Flushing Meadows.

Murray acknowledged a brief dip in play, but preferred to focus on other reasons for allowing the sixth-seeded Nishikori to reach a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time since he was the U.S. Open runner-up two years ago.

“I broke serve enough times,” Murray said. “I just didn’t hold serve enough. That was the difference.”

Perhaps.

But Murray complained about the ruling right away, gave away the next three points to lose the game, then brought it up again with Cicak at the ensuing changeover, saying something similar had happened earlier and play had continued.

“Exactly the same thing,” Murray exclaimed. “And I told you.”

He also spoke to a tournament supervisor about it, pleading his case and saying, “That’s not fair.”

That same type of noise came from the speakers again at 4-1 in the fourth set. It also had happened during a women’s match Monday night between Ana Konjuh and Agnieszka Radwanska.

The U.S. Tennis Association said Wednesday that a “digital audio sound processor” was at fault and would be replaced before the night session.

Despite all the fuss, Murray went ahead 5-4 in the fifth. But he wouldn’t take another game. At 5-all, 30-all, Murray double-faulted to set up break point, and Nishikori converted by reaching for a stretch volley winner.

Murray slammed his racket against the net and cursed. Soon enough, his career-best run of reaching seven straight tournament finals was done.

“I would have loved to have gone further,” Murray said, “but it wasn’t to be today.”

He had won 26 of his previous 27 matches, including a second Wimbledon championship and a second Olympic gold medal, beating Nishikori in straight sets in the semifinals at Rio de Janeiro.

This time, Nishikori came through, helped by a series of effective drop shots and an ability to keep his nerve over the closing three games.

“It was too exciting on the court, but I tried to stay calm,” he said. “It was really tough to stay calm. … There were many ups and downs.”

In the women’s quarterfinals, Serena Williams was broken for the first time in the tournament, and lost a set for the first time, too, but eventually got past No. 5 Simona Halep 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. A year ago in the U.S. Open semifinals, Williams’ bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam ended with a loss to unseeded Roberta Vinci of Italy.

On Thursday, Williams faces 10th-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, who reached the first major semifinal of her career by eliminating the 18-year-old Konjuh 6-2, 6-2. The other women’s semifinal is No. 2 Angelique Kerber vs. two-time runner-up Caroline Wozniacki.

Nishikori will face the winner of Wednesday night’s quarterfinal between 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro and No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka. The other men’s semifinal Friday is No. 1 Novak Djokovic against No. 10 Gael Monfils.

At 3-all in the second set of Murray vs. Nishikori, rain interrupted play for the second time in the match. The retractable roof atop Ashe was shut during the second, longer shower, and the break of about 20 minutes gave Nishikori’s coach, 1989 French Open champion Michael Chang, a chance to run through the concourse to get down to the locker room and consult with his player.

“That helped me a lot to regroup the tactics,” Nishikori said. “I (had) to change something to win the match.”

Maybe that made a difference. Murray also thought playing indoors helped Nishikori fare better in his return games. Indeed, Nishikori took that set by breaking in its last game, as Murray slapped a backhand into the net to close a 15-stroke exchange.

The edge went back to Murray late in the third, when he broke to lead 5-4 as Nishikori missed a backhand. Murray roared and punched the air as he went to the sideline. His coach, eight-time major champion Ivan Lendl, did not exactly mirror that celebratory mood, sitting with chin on hand up in the guest box.

Murray served out that set at love and seemed to be in good shape, up two sets to one. At 1-all in the fourth, though, everything changed.

 

Venus ready for return WTA Finals

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SINGAPORE (AP) Venus Williams returns to the year-end WTA Finals for the first time since reaching the 2009 final, and the fifth time overall, starting on Sunday in Singapore.

Williams joins top-ranked Simona Halep of Romania, second-ranked Garbine Muguruza of Spain, third-ranked Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic, fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, sixth-ranked Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, seventh-ranked Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia and ninth-ranked Caroline Garcia of France.

They’re all pretty special,” said Williams, of her career appearances in the year-end competition. “It’s the end of the year. Only Top 8 get here. It’s definitely something well earned.”

At 37-years-old, Williams is the third oldest player to qualify for the year-end championships behind a 39-year-old Billie Jean King in 1983, and a 38-year-old Martina Navratilova in 1994.

Williams is the oldest player in this draw with 27-year-old Wozniacki the next oldest.

Having played since 1995, Williams has seen the women’s game advance, saying: “The competition is so much greater. It’s a beautiful change, in fact.”

In 2008, Williams won the WTA Finals title, going 3-0 in the round-robin, and defeating Vera Zvonareva of Russia in the final.

She was also was a semifinalist in her first two appearances in the finals, in 1999 and 2000.

Williams reached two Grand Slam finals this season at the Australian Open, where she lost to what turned out to be an already pregnant younger sister, Serena, and at Wimbledon, where she fell to Muguruza.

Every player but Garcia has a possibility of playing themselves into the year-end No. 1 ranking depending on their result this week. Williams has ranked No. 1 for 11 weeks of her career.

In the round-robin, Williams is situated in the White Group with fellow big-hitters Muguruza and Pliskova, who both ranked No. 1 at some time during this season, and French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

Williams opens the competition against Pliskova on Sunday. The two are tied at one match apiece in their head-to-head.

She holds a 3-2 winning record over Muguruza and is 1-0 over Ostapenko.

“I think my group is more aggressive style players in the group and the other one is more defending,” Pliskova said. “I just like to play better these players.

“I start with Venus tomorrow, so I beat her once from match point and once I lost very close match. This one is open.”

Goerges ends 6-year title wait with victory at Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Julia Goerges ended her six-year wait for another WTA singles title Saturday with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Daria Kasatkina in the Kremlin Cup final.

Goerges cruised to victory against her Russian opponent, who was ranked one place below her at 28th.

The German swept the first five games of the first set before Kasatkina could even get on the board.

Kasatkina put up more resistance at the start of the second, forcing three break points in Goerges’ first service game, but couldn’t convert them and was broken next game.

Goerges is now 3-7 in career singles finals, with her last title in Stuttgart in 2011. Before Saturday’s match, she had lost six straight finals, including three in the space of two months this summer.