Pursuing a record 23rd major title, Serena Williams opens with win

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) For five games in the second set, Serena Williams played almost flawless tennis in her first-round match at the Australian Open.

Then came the rustiness that tends to follow a lengthy layoff, giving Belinda Bencic a glimmer of hope, before Williams regained her composure to win 6-4, 6-3 on Tuesday. The six-time Australian Open champion improved her impressive record in the first round of Grand Slam tournaments to 65-1.

The No. 2-ranked Williams’ priority here is an Open era record 23rd major title. She’s has taken the first step, beating a player who was seeded 12th here last year and reached a career-high No. 7 ranking.

“She was just recently in the top 10. I knew it would be one of the toughest first-round matches I’ve ever played,” the newly engaged Williams said.

In round two she’ll meet Lucie Safarova, who beat Yanina Wickmayer 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-1.

Bencic got one service break in the first set, but only took two points in the first three games on Williams’ serve in the second.

Serving for the match at 6-4, 5-1, things changed for Williams. She finished her 2016 after the U.S. Open, resting injuries, and started 2017 with an error-prone loss in New Zealand.

Williams served only her second double-fault of the match to give Bencic a break-point chance, and the Swiss teenager converted it with a crosscourt winning forehand.

Bencic held at love to close the gap, but then faced a match point.

Williams double-faulted again on her first match point, but made no mistake on her second. She finished with 30 winners and 30 unforced errors, eight errors and four double-faults.

Karolina Pliskova and Johanna Konta both made their Grand Slam breakthroughs last year, both prepared for the season’s first major with title runs in Australia and both advanced with straight sets wins.

U.S. Open finalist Pliskova following her title win at the Brisbane International with a 6-2, 6-0 victory over Sara Sorribes Tormo.

“I feel good on the court, especially when I win my first title in the first week of the year,” said Pliskova, who beat Serena Williams in the U.S. Open semifinals before losing to Angelique Kerber. “So I’m ready for the tournament.”

Konta, who won the Sydney International title last week, had a 7-5, 6-2 win over Kirsten Flipkens.

“I definitely love playing here. It’s a dream,” Konta said. “A lot has happened in the last year, but I’m just enjoying playing and getting better each day.”

Ninth-seeded Konta was a surprise semifinalist in her debut at the Australian Open last year, starting with a first-round win over Venus Williams and sparking a strong 2016 season which ended with her in the top 10.

Also advancing were No. 21 Caroline Garcia, No. 30 Ekaterina Makarova and Naomi Osaka of Japan beat Thai wild-card entry Luksika Kumkhum 6-7 (2), 6-4, 7-5.

Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic got his campaign started with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win over Dustin Brown. The No. 3-seeded Raonic reached the semifinals here last year in his best run so far at Melbourne Park.

No. 24 Alexander Zverev held off Robin Haase 6-2, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, No. 25 Gilles Simon beat U.S. wild-card entry Michael Mmoh 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 and No. 32 Philipp Kohlschreiber advanced.

Nishioka beats Shapovalov to win Korean Open

2022 US Open - Day 1
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SEOUL, South Korea – Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka claimed his second career title after beating fourth seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada 6-4, 7-6 (5) to win the Korean Open.

The 27-year-old Japanese, who beat top seed and world No.2 Casper Ruud in the quarterfinals, was impressive in defense and his counter-punching style eventually wore down his higher ranked opponent in just under two hours at the Seoul Olympic Park Tennis Center.

The unseeded Nishioka, appearing in his second championship match this year after reaching the Washington final in August, started the brighter and found his rhythm early to claim the first set.

The second set saw momentum change as Shapavolov found his range from the backcourt to take a 3-1 lead. But Nishioka rallied to take the set into a tiebreak where he held firm to win his first tournament since his maiden title at the Shenzen Open in 2018 – where he also beat Shapovalov in their only previous meeting.

The ATP Tour returned to Seoul for the first time since 1996 after the city was awarded a single-year license to stage the Korean Open.

Mayar Sherif becomes first Egyptian to win WTA Tour event

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PARMA, Italy — Mayar Sherif became the first Egyptian to win a WTA Tour event by beating top-seeded Maria Sakkari 7-5, 6-3 at the Parma Ladies Open.

Besides earning her first career title, Sherif also notched her first win over a top-10 opponent.

Along with Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, who reached the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals this year, Sherif is raising the profile of tennis in North Africa.

The 74th-ranked Sherif actually had to win two matches on Saturday, first overcoming sixth-seeded Ana Bogdan 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the semifinals, which were postponed a day due to rain.

The seventh-ranked Sakkari beat Danka Kovinic 7-5, 6-2 in her semifinal earlier Saturday.