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Keys completes U.S. sweep at U.S. Open

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NEW YORK — Madison Keys completed the clean sweep for American women, giving the host country all four U.S. Open semifinal spots for the first time in 36 years.

The 15th-seeded Keys served impeccably, controlled groundstroke exchanges from the baseline and was never in trouble during a 6-3, 6-3 victory over 418th-ranked qualifier Kaia Kanepi of Estonia that lasted only 69 minutes Wednesday night.

That came several hours after 20th-seeded CoCo Vandeweghe’s 7-6 (4), 6-3 elimination of 2016 runner-up and top-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic. Pliskova’s loss means she will be replaced at No. 1 in the rankings by Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza.

On Thursday, Keys faces Vandeweghe – with the winner reaching her first Grand Slam final – and No. 9 seed Venus Williams meets 83rd-ranked Sloane Stephens.

“We’re going to have four American women playing tomorrow, and that’s pretty awesome,” Keys told the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd, drawing a roar of approval.

Williams, whose seven major championships include the 2000 and 2001 U.S. Opens, and Stephens won quarterfinals Tuesday.

“American tennis,” said Stephens, seeking her debut in a major final, “is headed in the right direction.”

Not since 1981 have there been four American women in the final four at the U.S. Open, when the quartet was champion Tracy Austin, runner-up Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Barbara Potter. It hadn’t happened at any Grand Slam tournament since Wimbledon four years after that.

While Williams is 37, the oldest semifinalist in tournament history, the other members of the remaining trio are all in their 20s.

Keys, 22, had a rough start to 2017, missing the first two months after offseason surgery on her left wrist, and then had another procedure in June because of lingering pain. She was terrific against Kanepi, who sat with a white towel over her head during changeovers and dropped to 0-6 in Grand Slam quarterfinals.

Keys set the tone in the opening game: ace at 108 mph, ace at 105 mph, service winner at 117 mph, service winner at 112 mph. She wound up with eight aces, part of a 23-8 in total winners.

“This means the world to me,” said Keys, also a semifinalist at the 2015 Australian Open. “If someone told me this is where I would be, right before Wimbledon, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

The 25-year-old Vandeweghe, a niece of former NBA player and current league executive Kiki Vandeweghe, reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open in January. She 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.”

 

Federer overpowers Dimitrov to win 97th career title

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ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) Roger Federer came to the ABN AMRO World Tournament aiming to secure a return to the top of the world rankings. He achieved that goal Friday. On Sunday, he put an exclamation point on a remarkable week by winning the tournament for good measure.

Federer overpowered an ailing Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 6-2 in less than an hour to win his 97th career title.

“What a week it’s been. Absolutely amazing,” Federer said. “The goal was to make the semis and I won the tournament so of course I’m incredibly excited and so, so happy.”

The 36-year-old Swiss extended his domination over the player once dubbed “Baby Fed” for the similarities in their playing style, registering his seventh victory in as many meetings.

Federer’s third title at the Rotterdam tournament comes a day before he officially returns to the top of the rankings, more than five years after he was last world No. 1.

He will become the oldest person to hold the No. 1 position when the rankings are updated on Monday. It’s been more than five years since Federer was last No. 1, and 14 years since he first reached the top spot.

Federer, who has 20 Grand Slams to his name, said his next target is 100 career titles. He moved a step closer Sunday.

Federer said ahead of the final that the more aggressive player would win and Dimitrov started the strongest, winning his first game to love as he slammed powerful forehands and backhands past Federer.

But the Swiss great quickly started matching Dimitrov’s groundstrokes and converted his first break point in the fifth game. Federer broke Dimitrov again to go up 5-2 and then served out the set.

Federer kept the pressure on Dimitrov in the second set, breaking the Bulgarian in the first game and continuing to dominate on his way to victory in just 55 minutes.

Federer won a massive 82 percent of points on his service compared to 55 percent for Dimitrov.

After his strong start, the Bulgarian appeared to be struggling physically, but said afterward that he simply wasn’t good enough.

“Against Roger in the current situation he is in you can’t play any less than 100 percent,” Dimitrov said.

Querrey advances to New York Open final

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) Second-seeded Sam Querrey advanced to the final of the New York Open, winning the last four games to beat No. 4 Adrian Mannarino 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-3 on Saturday.

Querrey will face top-seeded Kevin Anderson or No. 5 Kei Nishikori in Sunday’s final.

The U.S. Davis Cup player fought off three break points while serving at 2-3 in the third set, then broke Mannarino in the next game and cruised from there, closing out the match in just under 2 hours for his first victory over the Frenchman in four career meetings.

The California native is ranked a career-high 12th and had an opportunity to move into the top 10 if he won the tournament and Anderson lost in the semifinals.

Mannarino is still seeking his first ATP Tour title. At No. 25, he is the highest-ranked player without one.