Svitolina beats Kerber, will face Wozniacki in Dubai final

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Top-seeded Angelique Kerber struggled with a knee injury during a 6-3, 7-6 (3) loss to seventh seed Elina Svitolina in the semifinals of the Dubai Tennis Championships on Friday.

Kerber would have reclaimed No. 1 ranking if she won the Dubai title, but that seemed of secondary importance after her loss.

“I’m not thinking about this,” Kerber said. “For me it’s really important to be healthy.”

Kerber was not sure what caused the injury.

“I don’t know what’s with my knee now, but I feel pain a little bit,” the German player said. “At the end, I tried my best. This is how I am.”

Svitolina beat Kerber for the third straight match and advances to play 10th-seeded Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, who earlier reached her second consecutive final of the season with a 6-3, 6-4 semifinal win over Latvian Anastasija Sevastova.

Svitolina’s victory increased her winning streak to 11 matches. The Ukrainian won the Taiwan Open earlier this month for a fifth career title.

Wozniacki, a losing finalist at the Doha tournament last week, is seeking her 26th career title.

“Very happy how I have managed to get through these two weeks, because it’s been very tiring mentally,” she said. “The fact that I have just been staying in there and keep grinding, I’m kind of proud of that.”

The last time she reached back-to-back finals was at the 2014 U.S. Open and Tokyo tournaments, but lost both.

Wozniacki won the Dubai title in 2011 and has reached at least the semifinals in six of the seven years she’s played at the event, compiling a 22-5 record.

“I love playing here,” she said. “To have a finals here again, it just feels good.”

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.