Kudermetova, Kovinic set for Volvo Car Open final

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Veronikia Kudermetova of Russia and Danka Kovinic of Montenegro will play for their first WTA title in the Volvo Car Open championship.

Kudermetova, the 15th seed, rolled past Spain’s Paula Badosa 6-3, 6-3, continuing a run at the year’s opening clay-court tournament where she hadn’t lost a set in four matches this week.

Kudermetova, 23, reached the final of the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open in January before losing to Aryna Sabalenka.

Kudermetova said she’ll try not to think much about that defeat three months ago. “I’d just like to try and work and play the final here and have fun,” she said. “It’s an amazing atmosphere here.”

Badosa, who outsed top-ranked Ashleigh Barty in the quarterfinals, tried to scratch back in the match. After losing the opening set and down 2-0 in the second, she won the next two games to tie.

That’s when the two played a 12-minute game where Kudermetova saved two break points to pull ahead. She won four of the final five games.

Kudermetova said she was nervous entering the match, but called on her emotions to pull her through. “I liked it very much,” she said.

Kovinic, unseeded and ranked 91st in the world, defeated her third seeded opponent in Jabeur to make the final. She topped No. 3 seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova on Thursday, then dropped the opening set against 11th seeded Yulia Putintseva in the quarterfinals before rallying to victory.

Kovinic was tied with Jabeur at 3-all in the opening set, then won seven straight games to take control. It is Kovinic’s first finals’ appearance in a WTA tournament since a clay-court event in Instanbul, Turkey in 2016.

Kovinic, 26, had no illusions that would change when the week began. “To be honest, I didn’t feel 100 percent confident” entering this tournament, she said. “Match by match, my game improved and my confidence raised a little bit and everything came together. I’m in the final right now.”

Kudermetova and Kovinic have met just once previously, the Russian taking a qualifying round match for the Shenzhen Open in China in December 2018.

Fantasy no more: Blackmore 1st woman to win Grand National

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A Hollywood fantasy turned into reality on Saturday when Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win Britain’s grueling Grand National horse race, breaking down one of the biggest gender barriers in sports.

Blackmore, a 31-year-old Irishwoman, rode Minella Times to a landmark victory at odds of 11-1 in the 173rd edition of the famous steeplechase at Aintree in Liverpool, northwest England

“I don’t feel male or female right now. I don’t even feel human,” Blackmore said. “This is just unbelievable.”

Blackmore is the 20th female jockey to compete in a race that has been a mud-splattered British sporting institution since 1839. Women have only been allowed to enter the National as jockeys since 1975, making it a male-dominated event — until now.

“I never even imagined I’d get a ride in this race, never mind get my hands on the trophy,” Blackmore said.

After all, the 1944 Hollywood movie “National Velvet” was the story of a 12-year-old girl, Velvet Brown — played by a young Elizabeth Taylor — who won the Grand National on The Pie, a gelding she won in a raffle and one she decided to train for the world’s biggest horse race. In the story, Brown was later disqualified on a technicality, having dismounted before reaching the enclosure.

Even though Aintree was without race-goers because of the pandemic, cheers rang out as Blackmore made her way off the course — still aboard Minella Times — and into the winner’s enclosure. She looked as if she couldn’t believe what she had done.

“For all the girls who watched National Velvet!” tweeted Hayley Turner, a former female jockey. “Thank you Rachael Blackmore, we’re so lucky to have you.”

Blackmore, the daughter of a dairy farmer and school teacher, grew up on a farm and rode ponies. She didn’t have a classic racing upbringing, though, making her ascent in the sport all the more inspirational.

A professional jockey since 2015, she rode the second most winners in Irish jump racing in 2018-19, the same season she won her first races at the prestigious Cheltenham Festival. She was already the face of British and Irish horse racing before arriving at Aintree, having become the first woman to finish as the leading jockey at Cheltenham three weeks ago.

Now she’s won the biggest race of them all, one that even non-horse racing enthusiasts turn on to watch and one that first captured Blackmore’s imagination. Indeed, her first memory of horse racing is going over to a friend’s house and taking part in a sweepstake for the National.

A beaming Blackmore had special words for her parents, who “took me around the country riding ponies when I was younger.”

“I can’t believe I am Rachael Blackmore. I still feel like that little kid — I just can’t believe I am me,” she said.

“I hope it does help anyone who wants to be a jockey. I never thought this would be possible for me. I didn’t dream of making a career as a jockey because I never thought it could happen.”

The previous best performance by a female jockey in the National was Katie Walsh’s third-place finish on Seabass in 2012. That always looked under threat by Minella Times, who went out as the fourth favorite of the 40 horses in a race run over 4 1/4 miles (6.4 kilometers) and features 30 big and often brutal fences.

Minella Times was always near the front of the field and Blackmore timed the horse’s run for glory to perfection, easing past long-time leader Jett with around three fences to jump.

The famous, draining run to the line — about 500 meters from the last fence — was a procession as Minella Times won by 6 1/2 lengths.

“He was just incredible and jumped beautifully,” Blackmore said. “I tried to wait as long as I could. When I jumped the last and asked him for a bit, he was there.”

One of the other two female jockeys in the race, Bryony Frost, was taken to the hospital after being unseated from her horse, Yala Enki.

The Long Mile was destroyed after suffering an injury while running between two of the fences. It was the second equine fatality since safety changes to the race were introduced in 2013.

Primoz Roglic wins Tour of Basque Country for 2nd time

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MADRID — Primoz Roglic won his second Tour of Basque Country title.

He was second to Frenchman David Gaudu during the sixth stage to clinch overall victory, finishing 52 seconds in front of Danish rider Jonas Vingegaard.

Slovenian Tadej Pogacar was third overall, more than a minute behind countryman Roglic.

Gaudu was fifth overall, behind Britain’s Adam Yates. Veteran Spaniard Alejandro Valverde was seventh overall.

Roglic also won the Tour of Basque Country in 2018.

Last year’s race was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.