Sloane Stephens exits, again, in Australian Open 1st round

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Sloane Stephens figures she’s got plenty more Grand Slams ahead of her to improve upon her performance at this year’s Australian Open.

The 2013 semifinalist exited in the first round Monday, losing 6-3, 6-3 to Chinese qualifier Wang Qiang, who is ranked No. 102.

The match started out well for 22-year-old Stephens, seeded 24th, who raced to a 3-1 lead but then lost 10 straight games as she struggled to find momentum and regain focus.

“Today was definitely one of those bad days,” Stephens said. “Nothing was going my way. A lot of shots that I’d like to make, that I normally make weren’t going in. A lot of opportunities slipped away.”

[MORE: Serena starts off with win at Australian Open]

The early exit comes after a solid start to the year for Stephens, who is seen as part of the next generation of rising American players.

Earlier this month, Stephens won her second WTA title in Auckland at the ASB Classic after having won her first title a few months earlier in Washington.

After Auckland, she withdrew from the Hobart International, an Australian Open tune-up, citing a viral illness but did not blame Monday’s loss on health issues.

“I felt fine,” Stephens said. “It just kind of got away from me.”

The hard-hitting American gained a degree of stardom at the 2013 Australian Open where she reached the semifinals by beating Serena Williams and then followed-up by reaching the quarterfinals of Wimbledon that year.

Since then, Stephens hasn’t advanced past the 4th round at a Grand Slam and has had a few first-round exits, including at last year’s Australian and U.S. Opens.

“I’m disappointed that I lost here but if I play until I’m 35, I have plenty more Grand Slams to go. So I just have to look past it,” said Stephens, who was in good spirits despite the loss.

Asked if she really planned to play until she’s 35, Stephens laughed.

“No! But it sounded good.” she said, adding, “Of course, I’m going to be here for a long time.”

Unseeded Parks beats top-seeded Garcia for her 1st title

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LYON, France — Unseeded American Alycia Parks secured a stunning 7-6 (7), 7-5 upset win over WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in the Open Metropole de Lyon final to clinch her first career title.

“I think France has a special part in my heart right now,” Parks said. “I’ll be back next year.”

The 22-year-old Parks, who is ranked 79th, had 15 aces and saved all four break points against the top-seeded Garcia.

Parks secured the only break of a tight contest to win the match.

The fifth-ranked Garcia, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, was seeking a 12th career title.

“Congrats on a great tournament,” Garcia told Parks in English. “If you keep playing like this for sure you’re going to keep going up (the rankings).”

Parks has a career-best ranking of 75th.

The 29-year-old Garcia, who grew up in Lyon, took time to thank her home crowd – this time in French.

“It means a lot to play here, thanks for being here,” Garcia said. “You supported me from the first point to the last. Thanks for all your encouragement.”

Zhu beats Tsurenko to win Thailand Open

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Zhu Lin of China won her maiden career title after beating Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the Thailand Open.

In a match lasting one hour and 45 minutes, both players exchanged nail-biting baseline rallies before Zhu finally found a way past her determined opponent.

The 29-year-old Chinese player managed a break to go up 5-3 in the first set. Although she was broken to love in the following game, Zhu returned the favor straight back, also to love, to take the opening set in 46 minutes.

The second saw players trade breaks with Zhu eventually securing her first match point at 5-3. She sprayed a shot wide to miss the chance but capitalized on her third in the 10th game with a backhand winner.

“I’m so happy to finally win my first tour title. All the hard work finally paid off,” said the No. 54-ranked Zhu, who will crack the top 50 when the new WTA rankings are updated.

Zhu has started the season strongly, reaching the quarter-finals in Auckland and the last 16 at the Australian Open.

The victory also allowed Zhu to avenge her loss to the Ukrainian at the WTA Dubai Championships back in 2019.

Despite the loss, the No. 136-ranked Tsurenko, 33, will return to the top 100.