Defending champ Kerber wins in Charleston

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber opened defense of her Volvo Car Open title with a three-set victory over Lara Arruabarrena on Tuesday night.

Kerber, the top seed and ranked No. 2 in the world, moved on and won her sixth straight match here with a 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (3) win. It was also the second straight year Kerber upended Arruabarrena in Charleston, although the Spaniard put up more of a fight than in the 6-3, 6-0 defeat in 2015.

Other seeded winners at the clay-court even included No. 10 seed Sam Stosur and 14th-seeded Daria Kasatkina.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni topped 11th-seeded Kristina Mladenovic, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (13).

Most of the top seeds, including the highest-rated American in the field in No. 3 seeded Venus Williams, begins play Wednesday.

Kerber gave the crowd on hands on a chilly night at center court a few frightful moments as Arruabarrena rallied to force a third set.

The German led 5-3 and 6-5 in the final set, yet could not close out the match. Arruabarrena was up 1-0 in the tiebreak before Kerber won the next four points to take control and finish things off in a match that lasted nearly 2 hours, 40 minutes.

Kerber said Arraubarrena raised the level of her game the last two sets.

“It’s always freaky to play the first matches on clay, and I was trying to stay in the match, trying to play point by point in the tiebreak,” Kerber said. “Because I knew very well, and I was feeling that” Aurrabarrena had increased her intensity.

It was almost the second time in three seasons the Charleston tournament lost its feature attraction early in the week. In 2014, defending champion Serena Williams dropped her opening match to Jana Cepelova and spent the rest of the tournament watching big sister Venus advance to the round of 16.

Croatia advances in Davis Cup as Coric beats Thiem

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Borna Coric beat 2020 U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem 7-6 (3), 6-2 on Sunday to send Croatia into the group stage of the Davis Cup.

Coric helped the Croatians win their second Davis Cup title in 2018, but he was sidelined when they lost in the 2021 final while missing a year of action with a right shoulder injury.

He returned to the tour last March, winning a Masters 1000 title in August in Cincinnati, Ohio, and rejoined the Croatians when they reached the Davis Cup semifinals last year.

His victory over Thiem, who has also dealt with injuries in recent years, gave Croatia a 3-1 victory in Rijeka. The Austrians had taken the tie against the No. 1 team in the Davis Cup rankings to a fourth match when Alexander Erler and Lucas Miedler beat Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic 6-3, 7-6 (11) in the doubles match earlier Sunday.

Chile, Finland, the Netherlands, South Korea and the Czech Republic also completed victories Sunday to secure their places in the next round, which will be played in September.

On Saturday, the U.S. completed a sweep of Uzbekistan, while Serbia, France, Britain, Switzerland and Sweden also finished off victories. Those 12 countries will play in the group stage, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will then advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

In Sunday’s other matches:

– Finland 3, Argentina 1: On indoor hard courts in Espoo, Finland, Harri Heliovaara and Emil Ruusuvuori edged Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, before Ruusuvuori secured the winning point and a personal 3-0 weekend by beating Facundo Bagnis 7-5, 6-1.

– Netherlands 4, Slovakia 0: On indoor hard courts in Groningen, Matwe Middelkoop and Wesley Koolhof sent the hosts through with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Alex Molcan and Lukas Klein. Middelkoop then beat Jozef Kovalik 6-4, 6-4.

– South Korea 3, Belgium 2: On indoor hard courts in Seoul, the hosts rallied from a 2-0 deficit after the first day. Min-Kyu Song and Ji Sung Nam kept them alive with a 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) victory over Joran Vliegen and Sander Gille. Soonwoo Kwon then beat David Goffin 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 before Seong Chan Hong completed the comeback with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Zizou Bergs.

– Czech Republic 3, Portugal 1: On an indoor clay court in Maia, Portugal, Jiri Lehecka wrapped up the victory by beating Joao Sousa 6-4, 6-1.

– Chile 3, Kazakhstan 1: On an outdoor clay court in La Serena, Chile, Cristian Garin beat Alexander Bublik 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 after the hosts had taken the lead with a victory by the doubles team of Alejandro Tabilo and Tomas Barrios Vera.

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.”