Alize Cornet

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Kasatkina upsets Halep at Wuhan Open

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WUHAN, China — No. 2-ranked Simona Halep lost her opening match at the Wuhan Open, dismantled by Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-1 on Tuesday.

Halep received a bye into the second round. She broke Kasatkina early but the Russian dominated thereafter.

It was Kasatkina’s third win over a top-five player, after two wins over then-No. 1 Angelique Kerber this year.

“The game was much more difficult than the score is,” Kasatkina said.

Halep had a chance this week to supplant Garbine Muguruza as No. 1 by reaching the final with other results going her way.

No. 4 Karolina Pliskova kept alive her shot at No. 1 by beating local Shuai Zhang 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. To regain the No. 1 ranking, Pliskova must win the Wuhan title and hope Muguruza loses before the semifinals. Muguruza was in action late.

“I always want to play better than I did last year; I already won one round so hopefully I can win one more,” Pliskova said.

Another Russian, two-time major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, lost to Alize Cornet of France 6-3, 6-3.

Three other seeds advanced: No. 7 and 2016 finalist Dominika Cibulkova, No. 8 Jelena Ostapenko, and No. 9 Agnieszka Radwanska.

Ostapenko came back to beat Barbora Strycova 2-6, 7-5, 6-3, and Radwanska saw off Julia Goerges of Germany 7-5, 7-5.

Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, Caroline Garcia of France, Wang Qiang of China, and Varvara Lepchenko of the U.S. were also winners on Tuesday.

Ruthless Pliskova routs Cornet, wins Brisbane title

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BRISBANE, Australia — A ruthless Karolina Pliskova won all but five points in the first six games to set up a 6-0, 6-3 rout of Alize Cornet in the Brisbane International final on Saturday night, setting an ominous tone for the first Grand Slam tournament of the season.

The U.S. Open finalist will return to a career-high No. 5 ranking for the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 16, after winning her first Brisbane title and seventh on the WTA tour.

The first set lasted less than 20 minutes, with third-seeded Pliskova not dropping a point on serve until the last game. Cornet, who was unseeded and ranked No. 41, didn’t get on the scoreboard until she held to open the second set.

“I didn’t miss almost whole set in the first set,” Pliskova said. “Yeah, I was feeling pretty good today.”

Cornet said she couldn’t get a read on Pliskova’s serve, rating it as more difficult to handle than 22-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams’ serve.

Pliskova is “serving really, really well. I mean, I played Serena a few times, and I could always be able to return a first serve … somehow,” Cornet said. “When you have a serve like this, it’s such a weapon. It’s pretty much nightmare, actually.”

The 24-year-old Pliskova had a breakout season in 2016, reaching her first Grand Slam final – beating both Venus and Serena Williams before losing to Angelique Kerber at the U.S. Open – and helping the Czech Republic win the Fed Cup.

On the men’s side, Milos Raonic’s title defense ended in a 7-6 (7), 6-2 semifinal loss to Grigor Dimitrov, who will play third-seeded Kei Nishikori in Sunday’s final.

Dimitrov fended off set point in the tiebreaker and converted his own moments later. He broke Raonic’s serve twice in the second set.

Raonic didn’t blame the late finish Friday in his comeback quarterfinal win over Rafael Nadal, or the toll that playing the 14-time Grand Slam winner took on his body.

Dimitrov “made it obviously very difficult (and) I didn’t turn around and bring the performance I needed to bring,” Raonic said. “I was just a tidbit slow. ”

Raonic made the semifinals at the Australian Open last year, reached his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon and finished the year at No. 3 in the rankings. But he hasn’t won a title since his success in Brisbane last year. He thinks his preparation can change that in 2017.

“I feel very good about it,” he said. “I’m on that right track – I feel like if I can avoid that hiccup, I can have a very, very good time in Melbourne.”

Nishikori beat U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka 7-6 (3), 6-3 to reach the final for the first time at the season-opening tournament, ending a run of three semifinal defeats. He has a 3-0 record against Dimitrov, who lost the 2013 Brisbane final to Andy Murray.

Wawrinka, who won the Chennai tournament in India in the first week of the season for the three previous years, had treatment on his left ankle in the first and second sets but didn’t expect it to cause him any trouble at the Australian Open.

Nishikori took full advantage, converting his first break point in the second set to take a 3-1 lead when Wawrinka missed consecutive backhands. The No. 2-seeded Wawrinka broke back immediately, but dropped his serve again in the next game.

Wawrinka beat Nishikori in the semifinals of the U.S. Open last year; his only win in their past four matches. Now they’re tied 4-4 in career meetings.

Nishikori was making his seventh trip to Brisbane, and playing a semifinal for the fourth time.

“I tried many times, and this is first time to get Sunday, so I’m really happy,” the 2014 U.S. Open finalist said. “And especially beating Stan today, it was a good start of the year. Tomorrow it’s going to be maybe tougher match, but I look forward to playing the final.”

Top-ranked Kerber loses to Svitolina in Brisbane quarterfinals

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BRISBANE, Australia — Angelique Kerber predicted that 2017 was going to have a different feel for her, considering her phenomenal breakout season last year.

It certainly started differently, with the top-ranked German losing to sixth-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the Brisbane International quarterfinals on Thursday.

Kerber reached the final here last year and fine-tuned to precision for the Australian Open, where she beat Serena Williams to claim her first Grand Slam title. She went on to reach the finals at Wimbledon and the Olympics before collecting a second major title by winning the U.S. Open. She overhauled Williams for the top ranking and finished the year at No. 1.

After a first-round bye, Kerber struggled with her serve and had nine double-faults in a three-set win over Australian wild-card entry Ash Barty in the second round. Against the No. 14-ranked Svitolina, the German left-hander cut her double-faults down to five, and had a break in the third set after winning the second. But she quickly surrendered the break and wasn’t consistent enough, finishing with 48 unforced errors against 39 winners.

“Of course I’m disappointed that I lost here in the quarters (but) I think I’m happy about my start,” Kerber said. “I’m not worried about my serve. I know I can improve it, but, I mean, that’s the second match of the year, the first tournament.

“It was not a bad match. I think we both play on the really high level tonight …so, yeah, next.”

Svitolina was the only player to beat both No. 1-ranked women last year, beating Kerber in straight sets in Beijing and Williams at the Olympics. The 22-year-old Ukrainian has now closed the gap to 5-4 in career head-to-head meetings with Kerber.

In the semifinals, she will meet U.S. Open finalist Karolina Pliskova, who advanced by beating eighth-seeded Roberta Vinci 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

French Open champion Garbine Muguruza rallied from a 4-1 deficit to beat fifth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5, 6-4 to set up a semifinal match against Alize Cornet, who ousted second-seeded Dominika Cibulkova 6-3, 7-5.

Defending men’s champion Milos Raonic will face 14-time major champion Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. The top-seeded Raonic, who had a first-round bye, had 12 aces in a 6-3, 6-2 win over Diego Schwartzman.

Nadal, who is coming back from months off the tour with a left wrist injury, needed only 55 minutes to finish off a 6-1, 6-1 win over Mischa Zverev in a late match.

“After injuries and hard times, it’s so special to be back on court,” the 30-year-old Nadal told the appreciative crowd at Pat Rafter Arena. “It means everything to me. When you fight a lot to be back in action, the support of the people means a lot.”

Nadal beat Raonic in an exhibition match last week in Abu Dhabi and has a 6-1 lead in career head-to-head meetings, but the Canadian was still looking forward to facing the Spaniard.

“It’s a great task,” Raonic said. “I feel like I’m doing a lot of things well and, hopefully, I can match up and play some good tennis.”

Fourth-seeded Dominic Thiem beat Australian wild-card entry Sam Groth 7-6 (5), 6-3 to move into a quarterfinal match against seventh-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, a 6-2, 6-4 winner over Nicolas Mahut.