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Mladenovic reaches Indian Wells semis and top 20 in rankings

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) Kristina Mladenovic outlasted Caroline Wozniacki 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 to reach the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open and break into the top 20 in the WTA Tour rankings for the first time in her career.

Neither Mladenovic nor Wozniacki had dropped a set before their quarterfinal Thursday. Wozniacki rallied from a 4-2 deficit in the second set to force the tiebreaker, but the former world No. 1 and 2011 Indian Wells winner never led in the tiebreaker.

Wozniacki held for a 2-1 lead in the third set and then had her right foot heavily taped by a trainer. She went on to lose the final five games and the match, making the 28th-seeded Mladenovic the lowest seed to reach the semis.

There were 11 service breaks in the 2 1/2-hour match played in 91 degree (32 C) heat.

Mladenovic will play the winner of a later match between 12th-seeded Venus Williams and No. 14 Elena Vesnina.

No. 3 Karolina Pliskova and Svetlana Kuznetsova are set for the other semifinal.

Besides moving up in the world rankings, Mladenovic becomes the new No. 1 in France, overtaking countrywoman Caroline Garcia by virtue of her results in the desert.

No. 3 Stan Wawrinka takes on No. 8 Dominic Thiem in an evening quarterfinal.

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.