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Murray wins his first title of the year in Dubai

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Andy Murray captured his first title of the year and became the first British man to win the Dubai Tennis Championships in its 25-year history when he defeated Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 6-2 on Saturday.

This was Murray’s seventh final in his last eight tournaments, and 14th in his last 16 dating to last May in Madrid.

The only two tournaments he failed to make the final in that period were the 2016 U.S. Open and 2017 Australian Open.

“It’s been a great run. Can’t complain about much,” Murray said.

“Giving yourself a lot of matches gives you confidence to go into those big events (Grand Slams).”

Dubai was the first tournament Murray’s played since he lost in the Australian Open fourth round. Since that defeat he’s been recuperating from a bout with shingles.

“After the break that I have had, to get five matches in, six if you include the doubles, in six days is a really positive thing physically,” he said.

The top-ranked Murray, who was a Dubai finalist in 2012, improved his career record to 13-1 over Verdasco.

The first three games were service breaks as the players attempted to find their range in the final.

Verdasco had the service break until the Spaniard was broken by Murray in the sixth and then the eighth games to take the first set.

Murray broke Verdasco’s serve twice in the second set, in the third game with a forehand winner, and in the seventh on a third break point.

The 35th-ranked Verdasco, a former top-10 player, has never beaten a No. 1-ranked player in 12 career attempts.

“He pushes you,” Verdasco said. “At the same time, I didn’t really feel, of course, as comfortable or hitting the ball as clean as days before.”

Murray became the fourth player this year to win a title having saved match points en route to the title. He faced a career high seven match points in defeating Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarterfinals.

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.