Kerber wins 1st US Open title by beating Pliskova in final

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NEW YORK (AP) Early in what would become a tight test of a U.S. Open final, Angelique Kerber sprinted forward to somehow reach a drop shot and scoop a down-the-line winner to a corner.

The Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd roared, and Kerber celebrated by raising her right hand and wagging her index finger in the air, as if to remind opponent Karolina Pliskova – and everyone else – “I’m No. 1!”

Yes, she is. And a two-time Grand Slam champion, too.

Kerber won her first U.S. Open title and the second major trophy of her out-of-nowhere breakthrough season, taking five of the last six games to beat a fading Pliskova 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 on Saturday.

“It means a lot to me. When I was a kid, I was always dreaming to one day be the No. 1 player in the world, to win Grand Slams,” said Kerber, a 28-year-old German who will move up one spot from No. 2 and replace Serena Williams atop the WTA rankings on Monday. “I mean, all the dreams came true this year, and I’m just trying to enjoy every moment on court and also off court.”

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

On Saturday, the No. 2-seeded Kerber trailed by a break at 3-1 in the third set before coming back against Pliskova, a 24-year-old Czech who was seeded 10th and hadn’t been past the third round at a major until this tournament.

“For sure,” Kerber told Pliskova during the trophy ceremony, “you have a great future.”

The present could not be brighter for the left-handed Kerber, the first woman from Germany to win the U.S. Open – and to get to No. 1 – since her idol and mentor, Steffi Graf.

It was Pliskova who guaranteed Kerber’s ascension in the rankings by beating Williams in the semifinals, ending her record-tying 186-week stay at the top, which began in February 2013.

Kerber, who collected $3.5 million in prize money Saturday, lost to Pliskova the last time they met, just three weeks ago in the final of a hard-court tournament in Cincinnati.

But at the outset of this final, it was Kerber who was in charge. Her defense is exemplary, scrambling along the baseline to put her racket on seemingly every ball, crouching so low that her knees would come close to scraping the ground.

As she does against most opponents, Kerber would make Pliskova swing two, three, four extra times to try to end a point. And Pliskova was troubled by that in the early going, making 17 unforced errors in the first set alone, 14 more than Kerber. By the conclusion of the 2-hour, 7-minute final, Pliskova totaled 47 unforced errors, 30 more than Kerber.

“I was really trying to (stay) in the moment,” Kerber said, “trying to play my game, being aggressive.”

Kerber won the toss and elected to receive, perhaps for two reasons: Her serve is the biggest question mark in her otherwise solid game, and it made sense to force Pliskova to deal with an early test of nerves. Either way, the decision worked: Pliskova double-faulted on the match’s first point and got broken right from the get-go.

There were plenty of lengthy exchanges in that first set, and Kerber tended to get the better of them, winning 9 of 14 points that lasted at least 10 strokes.

But Pliskova hung in there. And after frittering away her first four break points of the match, she converted her fifth with a lob-volley winner that curled over Kerber and alit right by the baseline. Suddenly up 4-3 in the set, Pliskova turned to her coach up in the stands and yelled, pumping her fists.

Now it was a match, filled with terrific points, tense moments and plenty of emotion. Pliskova served out the second set – the only one dropped by Kerber all tournament – and spiked a ball. Kerber got broken early in the third and bounced her racket off the court. Moments later, she trailed 3-1.

But this was Kerber’s turn to show some mettle, breaking back to 3-all and again to end it. She dropped on her back after the last point, then climbed into the stands to begin the celebration with her coach and others.

“She really proved she’s the world No. 1,” Pliskova told the fans. Then she addressed Kerber directly, saying: “It was a great match, and I’m very honored to play with you.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Gilbert Klier Junior hit with 12-month doping ban

Landon Bost/Naples Daily News/USA TODAY Network-Florida /USA TODAY NETWORK
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LONDON — Brazilian Gilbert Klier Junior, a bronze medalist at the 2018 Youth Olympics, has been banned for 12 months in a doping case, the International Tennis Integrity Agency said.

The ITIA said it had accepted that Klier Junior had not deliberately doped and that the banned substance SARM S-22 had entered his body through a contaminated supplement. However, it said he bore some responsibility, especially “following other high profile cases involving Brazilian tennis players and other sports people.”

The 22-year-old Klier Junior has a career high ranking of 354th and won bronze in the singles event at the 2018 Youth Olympics.

The ban was backdated to start from last June, when Klier Junior was first suspended from competition while the case was resolved.

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 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.