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Andy Murray beats John Isner to win Paris Masters title

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PARIS —¬†Andy Murray celebrated his rise to No. 1 by beating American John Isner 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-4 Sunday to win the Paris Masters for the first time.

It was his career-best eighth title this season, his 14th in Masters overall, and ended Isner’s bid for a first Masters title.

Murray, who officially replaces Novak Djokovic at the top of the rankings on Monday, now leads Isner 8-0 in their career meetings, dating back to their first match at the Australian Open six years ago.

He recently beat Isner 6-1, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the Erste Bank Open in Vienna, but this was a very different match and thoroughly contested by the big-serving American.

“John played unbelievable tennis,” Murray said on court, moments after his win. “We played last week and the difference was huge.”

Using 18 aces and hitting plenty of inside-out winners on his massive forehand, Isner generated considerable pressure.

But he was also erratic, wasting six break points overall.

In the second set, he was 4-3 ahead and 40-0 up on Murray’s serve, but again failed to punish the Briton – last year’s runner-up to Djokovic.

But in a rare dip, Murray double-faulted during the tiebreaker and Isner profited to take the set.

Isner saved break points on his first two service games of the third set, hanging on as Murray restored his superiority.

Then, serving to stay in the match, the 2.08-meter American double-faulted to trail 0-30. He won a tough first point and then hit yet another ace to make it 30-30.

Isner sank a difficult volley into the net, giving Murray a first match point. With Isner on second serve, Murray dominated a brief rally, pinging a pass down the line that Isner patted into the net with the ball close to his body.

It was a hard-fought victory and Isner stood with his head down at the net, waiting to congratulate Murray.

Murray has won four consecutive tournaments, taking his career tally to 43.

Next up is the season-ending ATP finals in London, beginning next Sunday.

Murray will cross the English Channel to try and take the title there, having secured his top ranking here.

“This has been an incredible journey to get to the top of the rankings,” Murray said, thanking his family back home. “I’ll keep working hard to get better.”

The 31-year-old Isner, playing in the third Masters final of his career, ends the year without a title.

He lost his other final this season to Australian Nick Kyrgios at Atlanta, Georgia, in August.

Some small consolation is that he finishes the year with the most aces: 1,159 – the fourth time he has achieved this.

Murray broke Isner twice, the first time to move 4-2 up in the first set.

Isner fought back, a booming forehand winner giving him two break points in the seventh game.

Murray saved the first one with a lob – an achievement against such a tall player – and volley. He rescued the second by pushing Isner back and forcing an unforced error.

Serving for the first set, Murray won the first point with an extraordinary backhand retrieve from a speedy Isner forehand that he somehow turned into a cross-court winner.

“That was pretty spectacular from him,” Isner said. “He always clamps down on me when I have a bit of an opening. He’s a match for everyone, especially me.”

In the second set, Isner got a deserved ovation in the eighth game when he won a 20-stroke rally.

Showing nimble footwork that belied his size, he traded shots with Murray, winning the point with a superb drop shot and then a forehand winner from Murray’s retrieve.

Isner was playing his best tennis of the match and had Murray 0-40 down.

Murray recovered but gave Isner another chance at deuce.

Isner sent a forehand slightly too long and just about restrained himself from smashing his racket. That, and other missed chances, summed up his match.

“It was very close and I had a few opportunities,” said Isner.

“My game is the best it’s been all year. There’s no question about that,” he said. “It’s important to take that into the offseason and do the right things.”

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.