Pliskova gives Czech Republic 1-0 lead in Fed Cup final

Leave a comment

STRASBOURG, France — Defending champion Czech Republic took a 1-0 lead over France in the Fed Cup final on Saturday after sixth-ranked Karolina Pliskova won a marathon third set against Kristina Mladenovic.

Pliskova recovered from a second-set blip to beat Mladenovic 6-3, 4-6, 16-14 after the French player came close to achieving a stunning comeback on the indoor hardcourt at Rhenus Sport arena.

Pliskova used her deep groundstrokes to take control of the match at first, but showed her nerves midway through the second set, allowing Mladenovic back into the match with a series of mistakes.

Mladenovic then rallied from 5-2 down in the decider and saved two match points with two big serves, including an ace, to level at 9-9. The Frenchwoman cracked on her serve in the 30th game when she was broken at love.

Mladenovic got off to a nervous start and was broken on her first service game of the match after hitting a double-fault. Pliskova, on the other hand, looked comfortable and quickly found her range with big forehand winners and deep returns.

Positioned well inside the court, the U.S. Open runner-up dictated from the baseline, but Mladenovic gradually found her rhythm and put her opponent under pressure in the sixth game with a series of good returns. Mladenovic converted her third chance when Pliskova double-faulted.

The change in momentum did not last long, though, as Pliskova capitalized on her opponent’s poor second serve to break in the next game. Mladenovic saved one set point at 5-3 but another double fault gifted Pliskova the opener.

The trend continued early in the second set as the Czech displayed her vast array of shots to keep Mladenovic at bay.

But Pliskova put herself into trouble when she double-faulted four times in the seventh game to drop her serve and bring Mladenovic back in the match.

Once again the big-hitting Mladenovic failed to hold when it mattered, and Pliskova broke back before being undone by her mistakes in the next game. This time, Mladenovic did not let her nerves get the better of her, firing a deep forehand winner on her first set point to level.

Pliskova broke in the sixth game of the decider, but failed to hold when she served for the match at 5-3. With the set at 9-9, Mladenovic received medical treatment at the changeover and returned on court with her left thigh bandaged. She did not seem hampered in her moves afterward, getting involved in long rallies although she tried to shorten points at the net.

Pliskova finally won – taking the 30th game with ease – in a match that lasted 3 hours, 48 minutes.

Naomi Osaka on her way up with first pro tennis title

AP Photo
Leave a comment

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) Naomi Osaka had just won the first title of her career and was waiting to be introduced for her post-match comments.

The 20-year-old from Japan had prepared, knowing what she was going to say and in what order.

But then her name was called.

“I freaked out,” she said. “I just started saying whatever came into my mind first, which is why I think I kept stopping halfway through my sentences, because I just remembered something else I had to say. That was pretty embarrassing.”

The crowd of 18,347 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Sunday seemed to sense Osaka’s nervousness, something she worked hard to hide during a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Daria Kasatkina of Russia in the BNP Paribas Open final.

“I was extremely stressed and extremely nervous,” Osaka said. “But my plan was to, like, fake that I’m very calm.”

As hesitant as she was behind the mic, Osaka was polished and professional in dismantling Kasatkina, a fellow 20-year-old who also enjoyed a surprising run to the final.

Osaka dropped just one set in seven matches, knocking off two-time winner Maria Sharapova, No. 5 Karolina Pliskova and top-ranked Simona Halep against whom she won the last nine games of the match.

She arrived at Indian Wells unseeded because of her No. 44 ranking. She left ranked No. 22 and with a $1.3 million check, nearly double her career earnings.

“I really wanted to win this, but also I just tried to think it was a first-round match and just not psych myself out too much,” Osaka said.

She had made it past the quarterfinals at a WTA event just once before, losing in the final at Tokyo 18 months ago. Now, she’s 15-4 this year.

“I feel like I have made it my goal to be more focused every match this year, so I think it’s paid off,” she said.

Born in Osaka, Japan, to a Haitian father and Japanese mother, she moved to the U.S. as a 3-year-old. She holds dual citizenship, living for a time in New York and now in South Florida while representing Japan in Fed Cup.

“I play now for myself,” she said, “but when I was little, I just played because I wanted to make my mom happy, mainly my mom, and also my dad, for him to be proud.”

Her parents and sister Mari, a tennis player, too, weren’t on hand in California.

Osaka and Kasatkina shared a private jet – their first such ride – to South Florida, where they will play in the Miami Open this week. Osaka faces a first-round match against Serena Williams, her idol growing up.

“I feel like I just started winning,” Osaka said. “It’s a new feeling for me to be this consistent, so I’m just trying to be happy about that.”


Del Potro edges Federer in 3 sets to win Indian Wells title

AP Images
Leave a comment

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) Juan Martin del Potro keeps surprising himself.

Close to quitting tennis after four wrist surgeries in recent years, the Argentine fought to get back to the ATP Tour even as he was reduced to hitting his backhand with one hand instead of his usual two.

The struggle paid off Sunday, when Del Potro staved off three match points in the third set to beat top-ranked Roger Federer 6-4,7-6 (8), 7-6 (2) for the BNP Paribas Open title.

The win ranks up there with Del Potro’s 2009 U.S. Open title, in which he beat Federer, and helping Argentina win the Davis Cup in 2016.

“I cannot believe I won this tournament, beating Roger in a great final and level of tennis,” Del Potro said.

Naomi Osaka of Japan won the women’s title 6-3, 6-2 over Russian Daria Kasatkina in a match-up of 20-year-old rising stars.

Del Potro and Osaka each earned $1.3 million.

Del Potro became the first Argentine champion in the 42-year history of the desert tournament. He handed Federer his first loss of the year, snapping the Swiss superstar’s 17-match winning streak that was the best of his career.

“I feel frustrated that I let an opportunity like this go by,” Federer said.

Del Potro held a match point at 8-7 in the second-set tiebreaker, but he lost the final three points on his own errors that allowed Federer to force a third set.

“It was a lot of frustration after that match point, but then I play well,” Del Potro said.

They were on serve in the third until Federer broke for a 5-4 lead with a backhand winner off del Potro’s serve.

Federer had a chance to serve out the match, holding two match points. But del Potro staved both off to force deuce.

Federer’s forehand went long, giving del Potro a break point. Federer answered with a backhand that hit del Potro at the net and then gained his third match point on del Potro’s forehand error.

Del Potro recovered to deuce with a forehand winner. Federer mis-hit a forehand high into the air beyond the baseline, giving del Potro another break point. The Argentine cashed in with a well-placed forehand in the corner to tie the set, 5-all.

In the tiebreaker, Del Potro raced to a 6-1 lead, helped by two of Federer’s double faults. He closed out the win on his third match point when Federer’s forehand failed.

“I would like to play that tiebreaker again because I don’t know what the hell happened,” Federer said.

Del Potro lost just six points on his serve in the first set.

In the second-set tiebreaker, Del Potro and Federer took turns arguing with chair umpire Fergus Murphy. Del Potro was annoyed the crowd was making noise on his serve and told the umpire he wasn’t warning them enough to be quiet.

“It had no effect on the outcome of the match,” Federer said. “I was just also just trying to pump myself up more, to get energy for me.”

Del Potro survived three-setters against countryman Leonardo Mayer in the fourth round and Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarterfinals. It was his first win against Federer since last year’s U.S. Open quarters. Del Potro trails in their series 18-7, but owns a 4-2 advantage in finals.

Del Potro arrived at Indian Wells having won a title in Acapulco and back in the top 10.

“I’m really enjoying playing tennis again,” he said. “I’m still surprising myself, and I want to keep surprising the tennis tour.”

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis