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.”

Sonego beats Bublik at Moselle Open to win 1st title of 2022

Winston-Salem Open - Day 5
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METZ, France – Lorenzo Sonego clinched his first title of the season by beating Alexander Bublik 7-6 (3), 6-2 in the Moselle Open final.

The 27-year-old Italian did not drop a set all tournament as he won the third title of his career and first on hard courts.

The unseeded Sonego recovered from 0-40 down in the fifth game of the match and secured victory when the seventh-seeded Bublik sent a backhand return long.

He then danced on court as he celebrated a perfect tournament where he also beat defending champion Hubert Hurkacz in the semifinals.

Sonego’s win will move him up 21 places in the ATP rankings and into 44th place.

Samsonova beats Zheng to win 3rd WTA title in 2 months

Toray Pan Pacific Open - Day Seven
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TOKYO – Liudmila Samsonova extended a remarkable summer run by clinching her third title in two months after beating rising Chinese player Zheng Qinwen 7-5, 7-5 at the Toray Pan Pacific Open.

No. 30-ranked Samsonova won in Washington and Cleveland in August and also reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open. The 23-year-old has now won 18 of her last 19 matches and didn’t drop a set in Tokyo.

“It’s amazing. I think I need a little bit of time to realize it, but it’s unbelievable,” Samsonova said. “It was like a nervous match today. I was really prepared physically but I was tired mentally because I was playing singles and doubles every day. I’m very happy with the way I managed the pressure.”

Samsonova added that the exclusion of Russian players from Wimbledon had helped her game though she stopped short of supporting the move.

“Wimbledon for me is the best tournament. I love it. The news really impacted me. I had one month without a tournament so I thought let’s work,” she said, adding: “I don’t agree that politics should be involved in sports because it’s unfair.”

The match between two power hitters with big serves was close throughout but Samsonova was striking the ball cleaner and stronger.

Zheng, who ousted top-seeded Paula Badosa and No. 4-seeded Veronika Kudermetova, was broken in the first set after giving up her first double fault on deuce in the 11th game.

Samsonova, who defeated Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the first round and former world No. 1 Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals, then sent a perfect forehand that landed in the right-hand corner of the court to break the 19-year-old and go 6-5 up. She took the first set with another strong service game that included her third ace.

Zheng was the first to crack in the second set when she handed Samsonova free points with two double-faults in the fifth game. A double-fault by the Russian saw her drop to 0-40 in the next game and the No. 36-ranked Chinese broke back to level at 3-3.

As in the first set, Zheng was broken in the 11th game. A long forehand at deuce gave Samsonova a breakpoint and she converted it with a crosscourt forehand that sent her opponent the wrong way. Samsonova then won her next game to love after three errors by Zheng, clinching the match 7-5, 7-5.

Samsonova has now won all of the finals she has appeared in.

In reaching the final, Zheng became the youngest Chinese finalist at a tour-level event, beating the mark set by Peng Shuai.