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Vandeweghe reaches first U.S. Open semifinal

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NEW YORK — CoCo Vandeweghe’s elimination of top-seeded Karolina Pliskova to reach the U.S. Open semifinals made it three down, one to go for American women.

The 20th-seeded Vandeweghe overpowered 2016 runner-up Pliskova 7-6 (4), 6-3 in a little more than 1+ hours on Wednesday at Flushing Meadows to give the host country at least three of the four semifinal spots.

Pliskova’s loss also means that she will be replaced at No. 1 in the rankings by Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza.

Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens earned berths in the final four a day earlier, setting up the first all-U.S. semi in New York since 2004.

There was a chance of a clean sweep later Wednesday: 15th-seeded Madison Keys of the U.S. was scheduled to face 418th-ranked Kaia Kanepi of Estonia at night in the last women’s quarterfinal.

“It would be even more exciting for you guys,” Vandeweghe told reporters, “to write about if there are two all-American semis.”

Not since 1981 have there been four Americans in the women’s semifinals at the U.S. Open – and it hasn’t happened at any Grand Slam tournament since Wimbledon four years after that.

“American tennis,” Stephens said, “is headed in the right direction.”

The 25-year-old Vandeweghe, a niece of former NBA player and current league executive Kiki Vandeweghe, certainly has her career pointed the right way. She reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open in January and now had made it that far at the U.S. Open for the first time.

Vandeweghe was the junior champion in New York in 2008, but never had success in the main draw until now: Of her previous eight appearances, half ended in the first round, half in the second.

One difference this time at the U.S. Open: Vandeweghe switched coaches midway through the season, teaming up in June with 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, who was nominated Tuesday for the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

The biggest way in which he’s helped, Vandeweghe said, “is channeling my intensity and tenacity out onto the court and putting it into a singular focus.”

How?

“You will have to ask him how he’s been able to do that. I don’t really know. Maybe it’s like some Jedi mind trick,” said Vandeweghe, who still did not hide her emotions on court, such as when she cracked a racket against the ground after a second consecutive double-fault in the opening set.

Regardless, pretty much everything Vandeweghe did worked against Pliskova, who leads the tour in aces in 2017 but found her top means of attacking opponents neutralized Wednesday.

Vandeweghe wound up with more aces, 5-2, and even produced three service winners.

“My best asset today was making her continually play on her service games. Whether it was not a great return that just got over the net, I know as a big server it’s really annoying when your serve keeps coming back,” Vandeweghe said. “I know that’s what my main focus was – just to get it back, not have her have a free point too easily.”

Pliskova did not exactly heap praise on her opponent afterward.

“Now I can say I was not playing my best tennis this tournament,” she said. “She can play much worse than she was playing today. I can play much better than I was playing today. I didn’t feel the best.”

Pliskova, who is from the Czech Republic, also offered this assessment of Vandeweghe: “She just (has) one plan, so either it’s working or it’s not.”

Pliskova moved up to No. 1 in the rankings after Wimbledon, despite losing in the second round there, and she sounded nonchalant about that brief stay at the top ending. Muguruza, who lost in the fourth round at the U.S. Open, will be the 24th woman to spend time at No. 1 when she rises from No. 3 on Monday.

“I mean, I don’t care,” Pliskova said. “I don’t think something is going to change if you are No. 2. Like, I don’t see any difference between this. So for me, no changes.”

 

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.