Muguruza’s first Slam title denies Williams 22nd

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PARIS (AP) The day before the French Open final, Serena Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, was discussing whether his player would need to lift her level to beat Garbine Muguruza and collect a record-equaling 22nd Grand Slam title.

“I don’t know why everybody’s so impressed with Garbine,” Mouratoglou said. “Did she win a Slam ever?”

His comment, accompanied by a chuckle, was intended in a lighthearted way. About 24 hours later, his question required a new answer.

Muguruza won her first major trophy and prevented Williams yet again from collecting No. 22, outplaying the defending champion in a 7-5, 6-4 victory at Roland Garros on Saturday.

“She has a bright future, obviously,” said Williams, who at 34 is 12 years older than her Spanish opponent. “She knows how to play on the big stage and … clearly, she knows how to win Grand Slams.”

The fourth-seeded Muguruza used her big groundstrokes to keep No. 1 Williams off-balance and overcame signs of nerves in the form of nine double-faults. Most impressively, Muguruza broke Williams four times, including three in a row.

“I can’t explain with words what this day means to me,” Muguruza said.

This was her second major final; she lost to Williams at Wimbledon last year. But Muguruza has won her past two matches against Williams on the clay of Roland Garros, including in the second round in 2014. So dating to the start of the 2013 French Open, Williams is 0-2 in Paris against Muguruza, 21-0 against everyone else.

“I have grown up playing on clay,” Muguruza said during the trophy ceremony, “so for Spain, and for me, this is amazing.”

For Williams, whose timing was not exactly right much of the afternoon, Saturday’s loss postponed her pursuit of Steffi Graf’s Open-era mark of 22 major singles championships. Margaret Court holds the all-time record of 24.

Williams got No. 21 at Wimbledon in 2015, her fourth major title in a row. Since, she was beaten in the U.S. Open semifinals by Roberta Vinci, in the Australian Open final by Angelique Kerber, and now by Muguruza. It’s the first time in Williams’ career she lost back-to-back Slam finals.

“Garbine played unbelievable,” Williams said. “The only thing I can do is just keep trying.”

This year’s visit to Paris hardly could have started off more inauspiciously for Muguruza: She lost the first set she played, against 38th-ranked Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

But, oh, how Muguruza turned things around. She won her next 14 sets, displaying take-the-ball-early aggressiveness.

The final began under a slate ceiling of clouds, but at least there was none of the heavy rain that led to flooding in Paris and a temporary shutdown of the Louvre museum. The showers jumbled the tournament schedule, and Williams was in action a fourth straight day in the final.

She did not blame that or a problem with a leg muscle.

“I don’t think it’s like something that I would say: `Oh, that was the reason,”‘ Williams said.

Muguruza won the coin toss and let Williams serve first, a fascinating choice given that the American is widely regarded as the best server in the women’s game. And the decision seemed only more dubious as Muguruza put the ball on play on only one of the first six points Williams served.

And yet, it all wound up working out. And how.

Muguruza won all six points of 10 shots or more in the first set and, indeed, there was no junkballing on this day. Both women hit hard, trading bold forehands and backhands from the baseline that made it seem unfair to characterize nearly anything as an “unforced error.”

Williams finished with 39 forced errors, 18 more than Muguruza.

After a run of breaks gave Muguruza the first set and a lead in the second, Williams never recovered. She did, however, cast aside a quartet of match points for Muguruza at 5-3. There was nothing Williams could do about the fifth, which Muguruza converted with a delightful lob that landed right on the baseline.

Williams applauded. Maybe stunned by that shot, maybe stunned that she was now a Grand Slam champion, Muguruza turned toward her coach and other supporters in the stands with a blank expression. Soon, she was flat on her back, caking her dress and arms with the rust-colored clay she will never forget.

“Just goes to show you, you really have to play the big points well,” Williams said, “and I think she played the big points really well.”

That’s the sort of thing Williams’ foes usually say.

Madison Keys rallies late to take 1st Cincinnati title

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MASON, Ohio (AP) Madison Keys rallied late in both sets and beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5, 7-6 (5) for her first Cincinnati championship Sunday, sending her into the U.S. Open on a one-week upswing.

By winning her first hardcourt final since the 2017 U.S. Open, she’ll be No. 10 when she returns to New York. Keys entered the tournament on a streak of early flameouts in her last three tournaments.

At 34, Kuznetsova was the oldest finalist in the Western & Southern Open’s history. Keys broke her late in both sets to win the title. Kuznetsova beat three top-10 players during the week, her best showing of a season that started late as she recovered from a knee injury.

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Djokovic loses in Cincinnati

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MASON, Ohio (AP) Ashleigh Barty’s chance to move back to No. 1 was only one victory away. At the end of an up-and-down week, she didn’t have another comeback left.

Neither did Novak Djokovic, who went away with yet another disappointment in Cincinnati.

Barty lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open on Saturday. Djokovic ended the day with another stunner, getting overwhelmed by Daniil Medvedev’s serve as the Russian pulled out a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory.

It’s been that kind of week in Cincinnati, with top players in both brackets either struggling or hurt heading into the U.S. Open.

The women’s bracket has a lot questions with New York just around the corner. No. 1 isn’t one of them.

Barty’s seven-week run atop the field ended when Naomi Osaka edged ahead of her in the latest ranking. A victory Saturday would have moved Barty back ahead for the U.S. Open. Instead, she dropped the opening set for the third straight match and this time, there was no digging out.

“A week that we battled through,” Barty said. “I think at times I played some good stuff. At times, I played some pretty awful stuff.”

Which will it be for Barty at the Open? And will Osaka be in good enough shape to defend her title?

Osaka dropped out of her semifinal match Friday with discomfort in her left knee that caused her worry. She still plans to play in New York, but it’s unclear whether the knee will be a problem.

And then there’s Serena Williams, who retired in the finals at Toronto last Sunday because of back spasms. She also withdrew from Cincinnati before her first match, but stuck around to cheer sister Venus until her loss in the quarterfinals.

A resurgent Kuznetsova gave Barty no openings, knocking off a top-five player for the second time this week to reach her first final of the season. The 153rd-ranked player is recovering from seven-month layoff because of a knee injury.

In her ninth tournament of the season, she got her game together, winning her first Premier-level semifinal since 2017 at Madrid.

“Well, sometimes in life it’s like this,” Kuznetsova said. “It’s like really small things change everything. Definitely it’s different momentum I have now.”

She’ll face Madison Keys , who beat Sofia Kenin 7-5, 6-4 with the help of 14 aces. Keys ended her streak of failing to make it past the second round of her last three tournaments, playing through heat and humidity all week without problem.

“I feel really good” she said. “Every day I’m kind of waking up, hoping that everything still feels like it’s in one piece and it feels really good.”

In the men’s bracket, Djokovic overcame concerns about his right elbow but couldn’t prevail over Medvedev’s 14 aces. Djokovic got the muscles around his right elbow rubbed during his quarterfinal win on Friday night and showed no sign of a problem a day later.

Djokovic won the tournament for the first time last year, getting the only Masters 1000 title that had eluded him. This one slipped away in the second set.

Medvedev reached the final at Montreal last week and lost to Rafael Nadal. He’s back to a title match again after fighting off a break point midway through the second set and closing with a flurry, winning 12 of the last 14 points to even the match and take the momentum.

He’ll face David Goffin, who reached his first Masters 1000 final by beating Richard Gasquet 6-3, 6-4 . Goffin also is on an upswing after falling to No. 33 in the ATP rankings on June 10, his lowest since September 2014.

“Of course, it was a tough period there,” Goffin said. “I was coming back from injuries. I had some trouble with my confidence. I couldn’t find my rhythm, my game. So it’s great now. I’m feeling great. I’m back at my best tennis.”

The men’s bracket also took several notable hits throughout the week.

Originally billed as a reunion of the Big Four – Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray together for the first time since January – it quickly lost its luster. Nadal dropped out after winning the Rogers Cup, citing fatigue. Murray played singles for the first time since hip surgery in January and lost his opening match.

And Federer, the seven-time champion, failed to reach the weekend, losing in the quarterfinals.

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