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Wozniacki beats Halep to win first major at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) It took Caroline Wozniacki 43 majors and two failed attempts in finals before finally claiming her first Grand Slam singles title.

One of the first things she did as a champion was apologize to top-seeded Simona Halep following her 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-4 win in the Australian Open final on Saturday night.

“I’m sorry, I’m just taking a second to hug Daphne,” Wozniacki said, pausing as she clutched the winner’s trophy in the on-court ceremony. “I dreamt of this moment so many years, to be here now it’s a dream come true.”

More than seven years after appearing in her first Grand Slam final at the 2009 U.S. Open – a straight sets loss to Serena Williams – Wozniacki can finally erase the “but never won a major” footnote that has long been attached to her resume.

“I’m never going to get the question again about being a world No. 1 without a Slam,” she said after leaving the court.

Wozniacki will regain the top ranking next week for the first time in six years – beating Serena Williams’ record of 5 years, 29 days between stints at No. 1 on the women’s tour – in another benefit of beating the top-seeded Halep.

Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” played over the stadium speakers as the 27-year-old Danish player carried the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup around Rod Laver Arena.

Wozniacki lost two U.S. Open finals – in `09 and 2014 – and Halep lost two French Open finals before their meeting at Melbourne Park.

It was the first time in the Open era that players ranked No. 1 and 2 were meeting in a major final without either having won a Grand Slam title.

So the pressure was on.

It was the first time in the Open era that both Australian Open finalists had saved match points before reaching the final, also, so in some ways the pressure was off.

In Halep’s case, she was the first player who had saved match points in multiple matches to have reached the final. She saved triple match point and rallied in the third set to beat Laura Davis 15-13 in the third set of her third-round match, and also needed to save match points in her semifinal against Angelique Kerber.

Wozniacki saved match points in her second-round win over Jana Fett and later said she was relaxed because for the rest of the tournament she was “playing with the house money.”

So both players rolled the dice in the 2-hour, 49-minute final, which featured some long, absorbing rallies and 10 service breaks – including six in an eight-game run in the third set.

“I know that today is a tough day,” Wozniacki said to Halep. “I’m sorry I had to win today but I’m sure we’ll have many matches in the future. Incredible match, incredible fight. And again, I’m sorry.”

Halep was playing with an injured left ankle, needed treatment for dizziness in the second set and had rallied from a break down in the third set to lead 4-3 when Wozniacki took a medical time out to have her left knee taped. In the end, she just ran out of steam.

“It’s not easy to talk now,” Halep said at the presentation. “It’s been a great tournament for me. I started not very well with the ankle injury. I just wanted to give my best every match, which I did. Of course I’m sad I couldn’t win today but Caroline was better than me.

“Sad that I couldn’t make it the third time, maybe the fourth time will be with luck.”

Wozniacki is the third first-time major winner in the four Grand Slam tournaments since Serena Williams won the 2017 Australian Open for her record 23rd Grand Slam title. Serena Williams, who beat her older sister, Venus, in last year’s final, took time out for her pregnancy and the birth of her first child in September, and is preparing to return to competition next month.

Wozniaki was ranked No. 1 for 67 weeks, including 49 straight from Feb. 21, 2011 until Victoria Azarenka replaced her on Jan. 30, 2012.

Wozniacki got a break in Halep’s first service game and had a chance to serve for the first set at 5-3, but the Romanian rallied to break back and to force a tiebreaker. After getting an early jump in the tiebreaker, Wozniacki won the last three points to win a set for the first time in a Grand Slam final.

Halep fended off four break points to hold early in the second set, and called for the trainer after holding in the fifth to get her blood pressure and pulse taken.

She returned and broke for a 5-3 lead before leveling the match.

The players had a 10-minute break between the second and third sets with the temperature at 30.5 Celsius (87 Fahrenheit) and 60 percent humidity.

Wozniacki appeared to sense Halep’s fatigue and attacked hard, getting a break in the second game.

Halep converted her sixth breakpoint chance when Wozniacki double-faulted for the first time in the set. It was 2-1.

There was a total of four straight service breaks until Halep held and got on level terms. She broke Wozniacki for a 4-3 lead, but lost momentum after Wozniacki’s medical time out.

“I can still smile. It’s fine. I cried, but now I’m smiling,” Halep said. “Is just a tennis match in the end. But, yeah, I’m really sad I couldn’t win it. I was close again, but the gas was over in the end.”

Serena Williams didn’t watch the game, saying she gets too nervous, but tweeted to congratulate her good friend Wozniacki.

“New number one and aussie open champ. So awesome. So happy. Are those tears? Yup they are. From a year ago to today I’m so proud my friend so proud.”

Keys sends US into second straight Fed Cup final

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AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France (AP) Defending champion United States will play in a second consecutive Fed Cup final after defeating France on Sunday.

Madison Keys secured the decisive point for the visiting team by beating Pauline Parmentier 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the second reverse singles. Keys’ victory gave the defending champions an unassailable 3-1 lead over France in their semifinal.

The 13th-ranked Keys, a late replacement for CoCo Vandeweghe, came back from a 4-1 deficit in the first set and made the decisive break in the ninth game of the second set with two consecutive winners.

“The girls did so well, both today and yesterday. We are very fortunate to have such a strong group and now we are looking forward to what is going to be a great final,” U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said.

Parmentier fought hard until the end and saved two set points in the opener, but ultimately surrendered to Keys’ deep groundstrokes. The Frenchwoman had the chance to break back while trailing 5-4 in the second set but Keys used her big serve to win the next three points and seal the match.

The U.S. will play the Czech Republic in the final.

Earlier, Sloane Stephens had given a 2-1 lead to the U.S. with a 6-2, 6-0 thrashing of Kristina Mladenovic.

The U.S. Open champion delivered a ruthless display against the 20th-ranked Mladenovic and prevailed in 54 minutes. Stephens hit 16 winners and converted five of six break chances at the 6,700-capacity Arena Pays d’Aix on indoor clay.

“That was a really good one. You never anticipate a scoreline like the way it turned out but it was really solid,” Stephens said. She also won her first singles match on Saturday.

The Americans extended their winning record to 12-2 against the French.

The Czech Republic qualified for the final by defeating Germany 4-1 in Stuttgart.

Nadal beats Nishikori to win Monte Carlo Masters

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MONACO — Rafael Nadal won a record 31st Masters title after beating Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2 in the Monte Carlo Masters final on Sunday.

Nadal also became the first man in the Open era to win the same title 11 times – 13 years after his first title here – and moved one ahead of rival Novak Djokovic for career Masters titles.

“It’s great to have this trophy in my hands again,” Nadal said.

It gave him a 76th title overall and ensured the Spaniard keeps his top ranking ahead of Roger Federer.

Nishikori was chasing a first Masters title, but the Japanese player took 11 minutes to hold for 1-1.

He got some brief hope, breaking Nadal with a superb passing shot at full stretch to lead 2-1, but meekly surrendered the next four games.

“I knew it was going to be tough even though I was up break,” said Nishikori, who complained of tiredness. “My legs were very heavy today, playing three sets (for) three days in a row (before the final). It wasn’t easy physically.”

The second set was a procession and Nadal won on his first match point with a stinging backhand winner.

Nadal’s celebration was brief and low key. He thrust both hands into the air, and then jogged over to offer Nishikori a sympathetic hug after beating him for the 10th time in 12 meetings.

Nishikori saved a set point with a sharp, angled volley at the net. But Nadal was in relentless mood and sealed it on his next chance with a crisp forehand winner.

“It’s not easy to describe when you are coming back from injury and you start the clay-court season in this way,” Nadal said.

Nishikori is still working his way back to form and full fitness, after missing the 2017 U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open because of a torn tendon in his right wrist.

“It was a great week for me, I had an injury and couldn’t play for a long time,” said Nishikori, whose ranking has slipped to 36.

Nadal has not dropped a set in seven matches since coming back from a recurrence of a right hip injury that forced him to abandon during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

The injury relapse subsequently forced him out of the Mexico Open and Masters tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami, but Nadal now looks back to his ruthless best on clay.

He has his sights firmly set on an 11th title at Barcelona next week and then an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.