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Sharapova wins another 3-setter to reach US Open’s 3rd round

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NEW YORK (AP) No one, not even Maria Sharapova herself, knew quite what to expect from her return to Grand Slam tennis at the U.S. Open.

It had been 19 months since she had entered a major tournament. She played only nine times anywhere since returning from a 15-month doping suspension in April. Two three-set tussles into her stay at Flushing Meadows, it’s clear that Sharapova’s game might be patchy, but she is as capable as ever of coming up with big strokes in big moments – and maybe, just maybe, could stick around for a while in a depleted draw.

Sharapova became the first woman into the third round at the U.S. Open by using 12 aces to help set aside a poor start and coming back to beat Timea Babos of Hungary 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-1 on Wednesday in Arthur Ashe Stadium. It was the highlight of a busy day that featured 87 singles matches on the schedule after rain washed out most play a day earlier.

“It wasn’t my best tennis,” Sharapova acknowledged in an on-court interview. “It felt like it was a scrappy match.”

Sure was, particularly in the early going. Sharapova made a whopping 19 unforced errors in the first set alone, including a pair of missed forehands that handed over the opening set to the 59th-ranked Babos. But as the match went on, Sharapova looked more and more like someone who used to be ranked No. 1 and owns five major titles – including the 2006 U.S. Open – than someone who needed a wild-card invitation from the U.S. Tennis Association because she is now 146th, on account of her ban and lack of play.

“In the second set, I just felt like I was physically fresh and that gave me a lot of confidence,” said the 30-year-old Russian, who wore a strip of black tape on the left forearm that bothered her earlier in the month. “I just wanted to be fittest player out there in the end, and I really felt like I was.”

She cut down her miscues to 12 unforced errors in the second set, then just five in the third, and finished with a 39-13 advantage in winners, looking as strong as she did while eliminating No. 2 seed Simona Halep in a three-set thriller in Ashe on Monday.

“It was definitely tough to control the emotions yesterday, because as much as you want to be happy about that match and what I accomplished there, you want to move on really fast,” Sharapova said. “And so finding that balance is really hard. Today I felt like going into the match I just wanted to get it done. And I did.”

Not quickly, though: She already has spent nearly 5 hours on court, and so perhaps the yelling and fist-pumping she showed at the end against Babos were as much a reflection of a sense of relief as celebration.

If her 14 return winners were a key to getting past Halep, it was Sharapova’s serving that really made a difference down the stretch against Babos: She won 16 of the last 19 points she served.

With so many matches going on, there were plenty of names to keep tabs on. Two other past U.S. Open champions, Juan Martin del Potro and Svetlana Kuznetsova won in the afternoon, while two-time winner Venus Williams faced Oceane Dodin of France at night. After that, 2008 Australian Open runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was scheduled to meet 18-year-old Canadian qualifier Denis Shapovalov.

There was a mix of first- and second-round matches thanks to Tuesday’s postponements, and No. 14 Nick Kyrgios, No. 22 Fabio Fognini, No. 26 Richard Gasquet and No. 27 Pablo Cuevas all lost their openers. Two top-10 men whose opening matches also were delayed – and will have to get back on court Thursday – expended little energy: No. 6 Dominic Thiem beat Alex de Minaur 6-4, 6-1, 6-1, and No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov was a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 winner against qualifier Vaclav Safranek.

The only seeded woman to exit in the afternoon was No. 19 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, beaten 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 by Christina McHale of the U.S.

 

Dimitrov defeats Goffin to win ATP Finals title

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LONDON — Grigor Dimitrov claimed the biggest title of his career at the season-ending ATP Finals on Sunday, prevailing on his fifth match point to beat David Goffin of Belgium 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

“It’s such an honor to play here,” Dimitrov said. “This week has been one of the best I’ve ever had.”

The sixth-seeded Bulgarian won in 2 hours, 30 minutes, 15 seconds for the longest final since the tournament returned to a three-set format in 2008.

Dimitrov won all five of his matches at the O2 Arena to become the first player to win the elite tournament on debut since 1998, when Alex Corretja of Spain triumphed in Hanover.

Goffin saved three match points on his own serve, but Dimitrov kept his cool, taking the second opportunity on his own delivery to close it out.

By reaching the final, Dimitrov had already secured a career-high No. 3-ranking to end the year. Goffin also moves up to a career-best No. 7.

The final lasted more than 11 minutes longer than Roger Federer took to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2011. It was a nervous start as both players failed to hold serve in the opening three games before Goffin settled down to control the opener as Dimitrov struggled with his timing.

However, Dimitrov fought his way back into the set. He leveled in the eighth game before breaking once more in the 12th to snatch the set in which Goffin hit eight more winners.

Dimitrov’s confidence carried into the second set, where he brought up the first break point in the sixth game, only for Goffin to produce a stunning cross-court backhand winner to save it. The momentum back with him, Goffin broke the following game for a 4-3 lead and calmly closed out the set.

Having come from behind to beat Federer in Saturday’s semifinal, Goffin had every reason to be confident and could have gone ahead. But he wasted four break points in the opening game – they would turn out to be his only chances in the decider.

Dimitrov was more clinical, striking in the sixth game to take control. Goffin tested Dimitrov’s nerve by saving three match points on his own serve, before saving one on Dimitrov’s. However the Belgian’s resistance came to an end as he netted a backhand volley, leaving Dimitrov in tears.

(This story has been corrected to show it was the longest three-set final since the tournament returned to a three-set format in 2008, not longest three-set final ever.)

Goffin ousts Federer in ATP Finals semis

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LONDON — David Goffin ended Roger Federer’s bid for a seventh ATP Finals title by stunning the favorite 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the semifinals on Saturday.

The Belgian claimed the biggest win of his career and qualified for the final on Sunday, when he will face Grigor Dimitrov or Jack Sock. They play later Saturday.

Federer looked to be heading toward his 11th final at the elite season-ending tournament when he cruised through the first set, but Goffin took advantage of a drop in his play to level.

Despite having lost all six of his previous encounters with Federer, Goffin was able to execute better in the deciding set, breaking in the third game and producing a nerveless display of serving to seal victory.