Getty Images

Federer beats Wawrinka for tying 5th Indian Wells title

Leave a comment

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) Forget the comeback talk. Roger Federer is back.

He defeated Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 7-5 to win a record-tying fifth BNP Paribas Open title in an all-Swiss final Sunday to go with his record 18th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January after missing most of last year with various injuries.

Federer kept reminding everyone during the ATP Masters 1000 event that he was “on the comeback” and, wanting to see how he felt, hadn’t planned beyond the first three months of year

He might want to think bigger now.

Federer tied the tourney record of Novak Djokovic, who lost in the fourth round, while winning his 90th career title, keeping him third behind Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl on the all-time list in the Open era.

At 35 years and seven months, Federer became the oldest champion in the desert tournament’s history, surpassing Connors, who was 31 years and five months when he won in 1981.

His twin daughters cheered and jumped up and down in a box above the court when Federer put away a high forehand volley while keeping Wawrinka pinned deep behind the baseline on match point.

Federer dropped serve just once in five matches, losing the first game of the second set against No. 3 seed Wawrinka. He saved one break point against Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, and never lost set in the tournament. No. 9 seed Federer advanced to the semifinals via walkover when Nick Kyrgios withdrew.

In an all-Russian women’s final, Elena Vesnina defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-4.

Federer will move up four spots to No. 6 in the ATP world rankings on Monday.

He hit 23 winners, including 16 off his backhand in the 80-minute match. Wawrinka had 17 winners and 21 unforced errors in front of the announced crowd of 17,382 that didn’t fill the stadium.

Vesnina had never advanced beyond the third round in singles and just last year she lost in the first round of qualifying, although she has won three doubles titles at the tournament. She beat No. 2 seed Angelique Kerber and No. 12 Venus Williams on her way to the biggest final of her career at age 30.

Kuznetsova is 0-3 in finals here, also finishing runner-up in 2007 and 2008.

At age 31, Kuznetsova was the fifth-oldest women to reach the final. But the two-time major champion struggled playing with the lead as the No. 8 seed in front of hundreds of empty seats.

“I didn’t feel good today because she was very aggressive and I was a little bit out of my game,” Kuznetsova said. “I couldn’t figure out a lot the wind and stuff like that. But still, I give a lot of credit to her because she was aggressive.”

Kuznetsova led 4-2 in the third before 14th-seeded Vesnina broke her twice in sweeping the final four games of the match.

Kuznetsova served one of her nine aces to lead 4-1 in the second, prompting Vesnina to bring out her coach-father Sergey Vesnin for a chat.

It worked.

Vesnina reeled off four straight games to lead 5-4. Her forehand error led to Kuznetsova’s break in the 10th game that tied it 5-all. But Vesnina broke back and served out the set 7-5.

“She had so many break points on my serve,” Vesnina said. “She was 30-love up couple of times on her serves, and I always keep coming back.”

Kuznetsova had luck on her side early, winning the first set on a net cord in the tiebreaker. She gave the traditional wave acknowledging her good fortune to Vesnina, who had blown leads of 2-0 and 4-2.

“Oh, it was such a heartbreaking moment for me,” Vesnina said. “I was, like, `Oh, my god, I was fighting so much. We played set for more than an hour, this is how it’s going to end?’ I kind of lost that momentum, fighting momentum.”

Vesnina had 46 winners and 49 unforced errors. She successfully gambled at the net, winning 24 of 32 points during the three-hour match.

“I tried my best and she won because she was more aggressive,” Kuznetsova said. “I was too passive. That’s it. Too much behind and didn’t serve well.”

Vesnina earned $1,175,505 for her third career singles title and will move up two spots to a career-high No. 13 in the world rankings on Monday.

The only other all-Russian women’s final was in 2006, when Maria Sharapova beat Elena Dementieva.

Rival players support seeding Serena Williams at French Open

AP Images
Leave a comment

ROME – Several of Serena Williams’ biggest rivals believe that the 23-time Grand Slam champion deserves more than just a guaranteed spot in the French Open draw.

Williams, who is expected to play in her first major since returning from maternity leave, should also receive a top seed that befits the No. 1 ranking she held when she left the tour, the players say.

The WTA Tour said it is considering a rule change to add protected seeding for highly-ranked players returning from maternity leave but the earliest that could take effect is next year.

“I would like to see that change,” Maria Sharapova said. “It’s such an incredible effort for a woman to come back from physically, emotionally. … There’s just another whole dimension to the travel, to the experiences, to the emotions to the physicality of every single day.

“Tennis is such a selfish sport but I think when there’s a child in your life you lose a little bit of that, because there’s something that’s so much more important,” added Sharapova, who has lost three Grand Slam finals to Williams. “So yeah, I definitely think that would be a nice change.”

The French Open draw will be made Thursday, with the tournament starting on Sunday.

All Grand Slam events make their own decisions on seeding players, so it’s still possible that Roland Garros will make Williams one of the 32 seeded players even though her current ranking is down to near No. 500.

Otherwise, Williams could be forced to play top-ranked players in the early rounds.

The French tennis federation did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s normal to give birth to a kid. It’s normal to have protected ranking. … It’s more than tennis,” top-ranked Simona Halep said. “So the people will decide what seed she will get. But in my opinion it’s good to protect the ranking when someone is giving birth.”

Williams returned to the tour briefly this year, after a 14-month absence to give birth to her daughter. She was not seeded at tournaments in Indian Wells, California, and Miami, and compiled two wins and two losses.

Williams has recounted the difficulties she faced in childbirth and a pulmonary embolism that made it hard for her to breathe shortly after her daughter was born. But after a period of training, coach Patrick Mouratoglou last week told the WTA tour’s website “Serena will play the French Open to win it.”

Current rules covering maternity leave and injuries allow a protected or “special” ranking to be utilized for entry into tournaments but not for seeding purposes regardless of the reason for a player’s absence.

However, this past year the WTA adjusted the rule so that absences for maternity leave are treated the same as those for injury and illness by providing all players a two-year window to begin using a special ranking, plus an additional year from the date of return to utilize the special ranking.

“Historically, WTA players have not been supportive of the use of special rankings for seeding purposes,” the WTA said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The rule is currently under further review as part of our 2019 rules process. We remain committed to evolving with the needs of our players and are very supportive of those players returning from maternity leave to the tour.”

Fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina, who defended her Italian Open title on Sunday, was also supportive of seeding Williams.

“If you’re like finished or you stopped because you’re going to have a child and you will be in top eight, I think you should have this kind of thing, to have protected seeding,” Svitolina said. “She was No. 1 so she deserves seeding.”

William has won the French Open three times – more than any current player – and last year’s Roland Garros champion, Jelena Ostapenko, is looking forward to her return.

“She’s someone who the tour was missing – because she’s a great champion,” Ostapenko said. “She was my idol since I was growing up.”

AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington and AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin in Paris contributed.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Nadal beats Zverev for Italian Open title

AP Photo
Leave a comment

ROME — Rafael Nadal came out on top in a matchup of this year’s top two clay-court players, beating defending champion Alexander Zverev 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 Sunday to win a record-extending eighth Italian Open title.

Nadal recovered from an early break in the third set after a 50-minute rain delay.

The victory means Nadal will reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Roger Federer on Monday.

Federer is sitting out the clay season to prepare for Wimbledon.

Nadal and Zverev had each won two titles on clay this season entering the final, with Nadal lifting trophies in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and Zverev taking Munich and Madrid.

Nadal improved to 5-0 in his career against Zverev and gained an extra measure of confidence entering the French Open, which starts next Sunday.

Earlier, Elina Svitolina defended the women’s title, facing little resistance from top-ranked Simona Halep in a 6-0, 6-4 win.