Kuznetsova 2-0 at WTA Finals after beating Pliskova

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SINGAPORE — Svetlana Kuznetsova closed in on a spot in the semifinals of the WTA Finals on Wednesday, beating Karolina Pliskova 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6).

Both players served for the match in the third set, but Kuznetsova finally finished it off on her fourth match point.

“I felt the support of the crowd and I couldn’t let anyone down,” said Kuznetsova, who fell to the court after improving to 2-0 in the White Group. “So I had to fight.”

Kuznetsova will qualify for the semifinals if Agnieszka Radwanska defeats Garbine Muguruza in the second match. Plishkova is 1-1.

Kuznetsova, who has the most three-set match wins of the year with 22, led 4-1 lead in the final set and served for the match at 5-3. But she never held a match point until the tiebreaker.

Pliskova had an opportunity to serve out the match at 6-5.

Kuznetsova, the last player to qualify for the season-ending tournament, returned to the top 10 this year for the first time since she last played at the WTA Finals in 2009.

“I’ve not been at my best my past years,” Kuznetsova said. “Something changed this year and I’m just enjoying my game.”

On Monday, Kuznetsova won her opening match against Radwanska after cutting her own hair during a changeover because she said it was bothering her while she played.

French players get life bans for fixing

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LONDON — Two low-ranked French players were banned from the sport for life after being found guilty of match-fixing by a hearing officer.

Jules Okala, a 25-year-old with a career-best ATP ranking of No. 338, and Mick Lescure, a 29-year-old with a top ranking of No. 487, “admitted multiple charges,” the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Neither player is allowed to compete at – or even attend – any sanctioned event again.

Okala was found guilty of seven match-fixing charges and fined $15,000 in addition to the permanent suspension. Lescure was found guilty of eight charges and fined $40,000 on top of the ban.

The punishments come after both players were involved in law enforcement investigations in France and Belgium, according to the sport’s integrity agency.

Ash Barty wins Australia’s top sports award for second time

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Ash Barty’s Australian Open singles title in January was enough to ensure the former top-ranked player won Australia’s most prestigious annual sports award — despite retiring from the game less than two months later.

Barty has been given The Don Award, named after its most accomplished and famous cricketer Don Bradman.

Barty shocked the tennis world in March when she announced her retirement at the age of 25. The three-time major winner was the No. 1-ranked female player at the time of her retirement decision.

The Sport Australia Hall of Fame’s Don Award is given to an athlete or a team “which has provided the most inspiration to the country through performance and example in the past year.”

Barty (2019, 2022) joins Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sally Pearson (2012, 2014) and Olympic champion pole vaulter Steve Hooker (2008, 2009) as a multiple winner of the award.

Barty said she had decided before the Australian Open started that it would be her last major tournament.

“This year was certainly my most enjoyable Australian Open . . . because it felt free,” Barty said in a television interview. “I played without consequence, I played like a little kid. In my eyes, there was no pressure. It was just about me trying to redeem myself, in a way, and playing how I’d always wanted to play – go out there and play like the kid that fell in love with sport.”

Barty said she has no plans to return to tennis.

“In my mind there was never going to be a perfect ending, but it was my perfect ending,” Barty said of her retirement. “It was never about finishing on a win or on a really high emotional feeling. It was just about collectively, I felt it was right.

“Now (that decision) has led to nine months of just an incredible life off the court. It’s been amazing.”

Barty married her long-time partner Garry Kissick in late July. She also golfs frequently and is reported to be playing off a handicap of low single figures.