Kerber defeats Pliskova for U.S. Open title

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The Latest on U.S. Open (all times local):

6:27 p.m.

Angelique Kerber won her first U.S. Open title and the second Grand Slam trophy of her breakthrough season, beating Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 on Saturday.

The No. 2-seeded Kerber came back to win five of the last six games after trailing by a break at 3-1 in the third set.

Kerber already was assured of making her debut at No. 1 in the WTA rankings on Monday, ending Serena Williams‘ record-tying 186-week stay at the top.

Never a Grand Slam finalist before 2016, Kerber beat Williams for the Australian Open title in January, then lost to the American in the Wimbledon final in July.

They seemed to be on course for a third meeting in the final at Flushing Meadows, but the 10th-seeded Pliskova eliminated Williams in the semifinals, after beating her sister Venus in the fourth round.

5:46 p.m.

Karolina Pliskova has taken the second set of the U.S. Open final against Angelique Kerber, sending the match to a third.

Pliskova broke Kerber for the first time Saturday to go up 4-3 in the second set, then took it 6-4.

Kerber had won the opening set 6-3.

The 10th-seeded Pliskova, who eliminated both Williams sisters in the tournament, is bidding for her first Grand Slam title. She had never been past the third round at a major.

Kerber is seeded No. 2, but already is assured of overtaking Serena Williams at No. 1 in the rankings on Monday, regardless of the outcome of the final. Kerber beat Williams in the Australian Open final in January for the first Grand Slam trophy of the German’s career.

5:05 p.m.

Angelique Kerber is one set from her second major title of 2016.

Kerber won the first set of Saturday’s U.S. Open final 6-3 over Karolina Pliskova. The big-serving Pliskova was broken just once in her last two matches combined, but Kerber got breaks in the first and last games of the set.

Kerber is 44-0 this season when she wins the first set.

Pliskova got in just 53 percent of her first serves, and Kerber was all over her second serves, winning 71 percent of those points. Pliskova made 17 unforced errors to three for Kerber.

Kerber, who is taking over the No. 1 ranking for the first time, is in her third major final of the year, while this is the first of Pliskova’s career. Kerber won the Australian Open title and was the runner-up at Wimbledon.

4:20 p.m.

Angelique Kerber and Karolina Pliskova are playing for the U.S. Open championship.

Kerber, who is taking over the No. 1 ranking for the first time, is in her third major final of the year, while this is the first of Pliskova’s career. Kerber won the Australian Open title and was the runner-up at Wimbledon. Pliskova had never even made a Grand Slam round of 16 before this tournament, but she upset Serena Williams in the semifinals to advance to Saturday’s championship match.

Pliskova beat Kerber in the final at Cincinnati nearly three weeks ago for a breakthrough title for the 24-year-old Czech, and she’s been riding that momentum ever since. Kerber was coming off a tiring run to the Olympic gold-medal match then and dealing with the pressure of her first chance to ascend to the top of the rankings.

2:05 p.m.

Jamie Murray of Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil won the U.S. Open doubles championship Saturday for their second Grand Slam title this year, beating Spaniards Pablo Carreno Busta and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-2, 6-3.

The No. 4-seeded Murray and Soares, who won the Australian Open in January, are the first winners of multiple major men’s doubles titles in a season since Bob and Mike Bryan won three in 2013.

They dropped only one service game and won 71 percent of first-serve points against their unseeded opponents. The duo only teamed up late last year.

“It’s a great feeling,” Murray said in his post-match interview when reminded he’s accomplished something his more famous younger brother, Andy, has not by winning two major titles this year. “I’m starting to move out of the shadows.”

Murray and Soares reached the final after taking out the top-seeded team, defending champions Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut.

Australian Open director: Novak Djokovic’s hamstring had 3-cm tear

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said Novak Djokovic played at the Grand Slam event with a muscle tear of 3 centimeters – a little more than an inch – in his left hamstring along the way to winning the championship.

“He gets a bad rap, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anyone can question his athleticism. This guy, I did see, he had a 3-centimeter tear in his hammy,” Tiley said in an interview.

“The doctors are … going to tell you the truth,” Tiley said. “I think there was a lot of speculation of whether it was true or not. It’s hard to believe that someone can do what they do with those types of injuries. But he’s remarkable.”

Djokovic won the trophy at Melbourne Park by beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets for a record-extending 10th title there and record-tying 22nd Grand Slam trophy overall. Rafael Nadal is the only other man who has won that many majors.

The triumph also allowed Djokovic to return to No. 1 in the ATP rankings.

The 35-year-old from Serbia hurt his hamstring during a tune-up tournament in Adelaide ahead of the Australian Open. He wore a heavy bandage on his left thigh and was visited by trainers during matches in Week 1 in Melbourne.

He said he took “a lot” of painkiller pills and did various treatments to help the leg.

“Let me put it like this: I don’t say 100%, but 97% of the players, when you get results of the MRI, you go straight to the referee’s office and pull out of the tournament,” Djokovic’s coach, Goran Ivanisevic, said after the final. “But not him. … His brain is working different.”

Aryna Sabalenka wins 1st Grand Slam title at Australian Open

2023 Australian Open - Day 13
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MELBOURNE, Australia – One point away from her first Grand Slam title, Aryna Sabalenka faulted. And then she faulted again. She grimaced. She yelled and turned her back to the court. She wiggled her shoulders and exhaled.

Clearly, this business of winning the Australian Open was not bound to happen without a bit of a struggle Saturday night. Sabalenka knew deep inside that would be the case. She also knew that all of the effort she put in, to overcome self-doubt and those dreaded double-faults, had to pay off eventually. Just had to.

And so, as she wasted a second match point by flubbing a forehand, and a third by again missing another, Sabalenka did her best to stay calm, something she used to find quite difficult. She hung in there until a fourth chance to close out Elena Rybakina presented itself – and this time, Sabalenka saw a forehand from her similarly powerful foe sail long. That was that. The championship belonged to Sabalenka via a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 comeback victory over Wimbledon winner Rybakina.

“The last game, yeah, of course, I was a little bit nervous. I (kept) telling myself, like, ‘Nobody tells you that it’s going to be easy.’ You just have to work for it, work for it, ’til the last point,” said Sabalenka, a 24-year-old from Belarus who is now 11-0 with two titles in 2023 and will rise to No. 2 in the WTA rankings on Monday.

“I’m super happy that I was able to handle all those emotions,” she said, “and win this one.”

The only set she has dropped all season was the opener on Saturday against Rybakina, who eliminated No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the fourth round.

It was telling that Sabalenka’s remarks during the post-match ceremony were directed at her coach, Anton Dubrov, and her fitness trainer, Jason Stacy – she referred to them as “the craziest team on tour.”

“We’ve been through a lot of, I would say, downs last year,” said Sabalenka, who was appearing in her first major final and had been 0-3 in Slam semifinals until this week. “We worked so hard and you guys deserve this trophy. It’s more about you than it’s about me.”

Well, she had a lot to do with it, of course. Those serves that produced 17 aces, helping erase the sting of seven double-faults. Those hammered groundstrokes and relentlessly aggressive style that produced 51 winners, 20 more than Rybakina’s total. And, despite her go-for-broke shotmaking, somehow Sabalenka limited her unforced error count to 28. One more key statistic: Sabalenka managed to accrue 13 break points, converting three, including the one at 4-3 in the last set that put her ahead for good.

“She played really well today,” said Rybakina, who has lost all four matches she’s played against Sabalenka, all in three sets. “She was strong mentally, physically.”

While the latter has long been a hallmark of her game, even Sabalenka acknowledges that the first has been an issue.

Her most glowing strength was also her most glaring shortfall: her serve. Capable of delivering aces, she also had a well-known problem with double-faulting, leading the tour in that category last year with nearly 400, including matches with more than 20.

After much prodding from her group, she agreed to undergo an overhaul of her mechanics last August. That, along with a commitment to trying to keep her emotions in check – she used to work with a sports psychologist but no longer, saying she relies on herself now – is really paying off.

“She didn’t have great serve last year, but now she was super strong and she served well,” said Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan. “For sure, I respect that. I know how much work it takes.”

With seagulls squawking loudly while flying overhead at Rod Laver Arena, Rybakina and Sabalenka traded serious racket swings for nearly 2 1/2 hours.

The serves were big. So big. Rybakina’s fastest arrived at 121 mph (195 kph), Sabalenka’s at 119 mph (192 kph).

The points were over quickly. So quickly: Seven of the first 13 were aces.

Sabalenka had been broken just six times in 55 service games through the course of these two weeks, but Rybakina did it twice in the opening set.

And never again. Sabalenka resolved to take the initiative even more, and the payoff for her high-risk, high-reward attitude was too much for Rybakina to withstand over the last two sets.

Sabalenka said ahead of time that she expected to feel some jitters. Which makes perfect sense for anyone: This was the most important match of her career.

At the end, when it mattered more than ever, Sabalenka was able to steady herself. After the final point, she dropped to her back on the court and stayed down for a bit, covering her face as her eyes welled with tears.

Quite a difference from a year ago at Melbourne Park, when Sabalenka departed after 15 double-faults in a fourth-round loss.

“I really feel right now that I really needed those tough losses to kind of understand myself a little bit better. It was like a preparation for me,” Sabalenka said at her post-match news conference, her new trophy nearby and a glass of bubbly in her hand. “I actually feel happy that I lost those matches, so right now I can be a different player and just a different Aryna, you know?”