Venus Williams of the U.S. returns the ball to Kristina Mladenovic of France during the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy-2017 tennis tournament match in St. Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
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Venus Williams loses first match since Australian Open final

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Venus Williams lost her first match since the Australian Open in just 55 minutes as she was beaten 6-3, 6-1 by Kristina Mladenovic on Thursday in the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy.

Seeded fourth, Williams showed none of the spark which took her to Saturday’s Australian Open final, failing to record a single winner in the opening set compared to 15 for her French opponent.

Mladenovic broke the tired-looking Williams in the first game of the second set and swiftly wrapped up the second round win. She received a bye in the first round.

In the quarterfinals, Mladenovic meets defending St. Petersburg champion Roberta Vinci, who advanced earlier Thursday by beating Andrea Petkovic 6-4, 6-4. The sixth-seeded Italian was broken twice in the first set.

Also Thursday, fifth-seeded Russian Elena Vesnina progressed to the quarterfinals with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 defeat of Alize Cornet. Vesnina will next face either second-seeded Dominika Cibulkova or Donna Vekic.

Wozniacki into Dubai final, waiting for Kerber or Svitolina

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 20:  Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark plays backhand during her match against Daria Kasatkina of Russia on day two of the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship at the Dubai Tennis Stadium on February 20, 2017 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Caroline Wozniacki reached her second final in two weeks by beating Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 6-3, 6-4 at the Dubai Tennis Championships on Friday.

Wozniacki was a finalist at Doha last weekend, when she lost to Karolina Pliskova.

“Pretty good couple of weeks for me,” Wozniacki said. “Very happy how I have managed to get through these two weeks, because it’s been very tiring mentally.

“The fact that I have just been staying in there and keep grinding, I’m kind of proud of that.”

This will be Wozniacki’s 44th career singles final. She’s won 25 titles.

The last time she reached back-to-back finals was at the 2014 U.S. Open and Tokyo tournaments. She didn’t win either of them.

Wozniacki won the Dubai title in 2011. She’s reached at least the semifinals in six of the seven years she’s played in Dubai, compiling a 22-5 record.

“I love playing here,” she said. “To have a finals here again, it just feels good.”

Wozniacki posted an impressive 70 percent first-serve percentage against Sevastova. She lost her serve on the one break point she faced, in the eighth game of the second set, but otherwise was impenetrable on her serve.

Wozniacki plays top-seeded Angelique Kerber or seventh-seeded Elina Svitolina in the final on Saturday. She has a losing record against both potential finalists: Kerber leads 8-5, while Svitolina leads 1-0.

The semifinal finish will deliver Sevastova her first top-25 ranking.

Wozniacki back in Dubai Champs semifinals

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 23:  Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark plays a backhand during her quarter final match against Catherine Bellis of United States on day five of the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship at the Dubai Tennis Stadium on February 23, 2017 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Caroline Wozniacki reached her sixth career Dubai Tennis Championships semifinals when she defeated Catherine “Cici” Bellis 6-3, 6-2 on Thursday.

Wozniacki, who won the Dubai title in 2011, reached the Doha final last week. She’s played nine matches in the last nine days.

Bellis, the youngest player in the draw at 17, scored the biggest win of her six-month-old pro career on Wednesday when she upset her first top-10 player, sixth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.

The American started the match confidently, jumping out to 3-1, but couldn’t sustain the momentum.

“It was really fun for me to see what the highest level is (like),” Bellis said.

In a fight strictly from the baseline, Wozniacki won the next nine games to lead 6-3, 4-0.

“I stepped into the court a little bit after being down 3-1 and just tried to keep the pressure on her, make her think a little bit, not give her too many free points,” said Wozniacki, who had her upper left leg wrapped.

She will play Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia in the semifinals. The 35th-ranked Sevastova reached her first semifinal of the season via a 6-4, 7-5 win over Wang Qiang of China.

“She’s a player that mixes the pace up quite a bit,” Wozniacki said of Sevastova. “She’s definitely going to try and get me out of my own rhythm.”

Seventh-seeded Elina Svitolina of the Ukraine improved her career record against Lauren Davis to 4-0 after defeating the American 6-0, 6-4 in the quarterfinals.

Svitolina, a semifinalist last year, won her fifth career title at the Taiwan Open this month. She’ll play either top-seeded Angelique Kerber or Ana Konjuh of Croatia.