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Unseeded Jelena Ostapenko tops Simona Halep for first title at 2017 French Open

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Unseeded Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia used bold strokes and an unbending will to come back and stun No. 3 Simona Halep 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in an enthralling French Open final Saturday for the first title of her career.

Ostapenko, ranked only 47th and just two days past her 20th birthday, became one of the most unlikely Grand Slam champions in tennis history. She also denied Halep what would have been her first major championship and the No. 1 ranking.

“I still can’t believe I won,” Ostapenko told the crowd at Court Philippe Chatrier. “It was always my dream, when I was a child I was watching players here. I’m just so happy. I’ve just enjoyed it so much. I have no words.”

Halep appeared on the way to a relative runaway victory, leading by a set and 3-0 in the second, then holding three break points for the chance to go ahead 4-0. But Ostapenko would not go quietly, winning that game and the next three en route to forcing a third set.

And then, in the third, Ostapenko again summoned a veteran’s resolve, taking the last five games after being down a break at 3-1. She took advantage of a bit of luck, too, holding for a 5-3 lead when she hit a backhand that clipped the top of the net, popped way up in the air, then dropped over onto Halep’s side.

Soon enough, Ostapenko was striking two more winners on the last two points to provide a fitting conclusion.

“All the credit for what you’ve done. It’s an amazing thing. Enjoy, be happy, and keep it going,” Halep told Ostapenko, “because you’re like a kid.”

Sure is. Quite a precocious one.

It was a match filled with wild momentum swings between two players displaying completely disparate styles: Ostapenko’s grip-it-and-rip-it approach vs. Halep’s more conservative keep-the-ball-in philosophy. By the end, the numbers were stark: Ostapenko built a 54-8 edge in winners, but she also had far more unforced errors than Halep, 54-10.

Halep, a 25-year-old from Romania, was playing in her second major final. She was the runner-up to Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros in 2014.

“I’ve been sick in the stomach with emotion,” Halep said. “Maybe I was not ready to win it.”

Ostapenko was playing in only her eighth Grand Slam tournament, never having been past the third round. A year ago in Paris, she lost in the first round. A year before that, she lost in the first round of qualifying at Roland Garros.

The last woman to win her first tour-level title at a major was Barbara Jordan at the 1979 Australian Open. Not coincidentally, that was also the last time at any Grand Slam tournament that none of the women’s quarterfinalists had previously won a major championship.

So Ostapenko stepped into the considerable opening created by the absences of Serena Williams (who is pregnant) and Sharapova (denied a wild card after a drug ban). Also missing was two-time major champ Victoria Azarenka, while No. 1 Angelique Kerber lost in the first round.

That all added up to an up-for-grabs feeling, and Ostapenko seized the opportunity.

She burst onto the scene over these two weeks with a brash brand of tennis. Accenting shots with high-pitched exhales, she likes points quick and is not shy about unleashing a forehand measured as being faster than that of men’s No. 1 Andy Murray. The impatience of youth not only showed up in Ostapenko’s play but also, occasionally, in her demeanor. When she’d miss, she would slap her thigh or crack her racket on the red clay or raise a palm as if to say, “What was up with that shot?”

And when things went her way? She screamed “Come on!” or pumped a fist or smiled broadly.

Halep presents something of a polar opposite with the ball in play: She extends points, grinding along the baseline and sliding to retrieve ball after ball, forcing foes to come up with the goods time after time.

Put those games together and, predictably, the points were often entertaining, played in a slight breeze with the temperature at about 80 degrees (above 25 Celsius) and with nary a cloud marking the azure sky.

Ostapenko showed right away she would not be bashful in, by far, the biggest match of her nascent career, breaking Halep at love in the opening game by bashing the ball, drawing loud, appreciative gasps of “ooh!” and “aah!” from spectators. But Halep broke right back, and then took the set with a break in the final game.

A telling statistic: Of the 33 points Halep won in the first set, only one — yes, just one! — came via a winner off her racket.

Halep moved ahead in the second set, before faltering midway through. And the same scenario played out in the third.

Soon enough, Ostapenko was holding her silver trophy — remember, the first she’s ever won on tour — while listening to the Latvian national anthem ring through a Grand Slam stadium after a singles final for the first time.

Paul, McDonald give U.S. 2-0 lead over Uzbekistan in Davis Cup

Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports
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LONDON – Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul and Mackenzie McDonald, who beat Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park, gave the United States a 2-0 lead over host Uzbekistan in Davis Cup qualifying.

Paul beat Khumoyun Sultanov 6-1, 7-6 (6) after McDonald’s Davis Cup debut produced a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Sergey Fomin on an indoor hard court in Tashkent.

The best-of-five-match series finishes with one match in doubles followed by two in singles. The Americans can clinch a spot in the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals if Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek defeat Fomin and Sanjar Fayziev in doubles.

“A sweep would be nice,” Paul said. “Bring out the broomsticks.”

Paul moved into the top 20 in the ATP rankings for the first time this week by reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal in Australia, where he lost to eventual champion Novak Djokovic. McDonald eliminated 22-time Grand Slam champion Nadal in the second round at the year’s first Grand Slam tournament.

David Nainkin is serving as interim captain for the United States, replacing Mardy Fish.

There are 12 qualifiers being held this weekend with the winners of each advancing to the Davis Cup Finals group stage in September, 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.

Nick Kyrgios pleads guilty to assault, has no conviction recorded

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios apologized for shoving a former girlfriend to the ground two years ago after he escaped conviction on a charge of common assault.

The 2022 Wimbledon runner-up pleaded guilty in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court to assaulting Chiara Passari during an argument in his hometown of Canberra in January 2021.

Magistrate Beth Campbell did not record a conviction against Kyrgios for reasons including that the offense was at the low end of seriousness for a common assault, was not premeditated and he had no criminal record.

Kyrgios, who was using crutches following recent surgery on his left knee, ignored reporters’ questions as he left court but issued a statement through a management company.

“I respect today’s ruling and am grateful to the court for dismissing the charges without conviction,” Kyrgios said. “I was not in a good place when this took place and I reacted to a difficult situation in a way I deeply regret. I know it wasn’t OK and I’m sincerely sorry for the hurt I caused.

“Mental health is tough. Life can seem overwhelming. But I’ve found that getting help and working on myself has helped me to feel better and to be better,” he added.

The only media question he responded to as he was about to be driven away from the court was: “what’s next for Nick Kyrgios?”

“Just recovery and get back on court,” Kyrgios replied.

Campbell described the shove as an act of “stupidity” and “frustration.”

She assured him his celebrity was not a factor in him avoiding a criminal record.

“You’re a young man who happens to hit the tennis ball particularly well and your name is widely recognised outside this court room,” Campbell told Kyrgrios.

“I deal with you exactly the same way as any young man in this court.”

Kyrgios’ psychologist, Sam Borenstein, said in a written report and testimony by phone that Kyrgios had suffered major depressive episodes around the time of the assault and had used alcohol and drugs to cope. Kyrgios’ mental health led to impulsive and reckless behavior.

His recent knee injury had resulted in mild to moderate symptoms of depression, but his mental health was improving, Borenstein said.

“He’s doing very well,” Borenstein said. “His mental health has improved significantly.”

“Given the history, he is still vulnerable to recurrent episodes of depression depending on life circumstances,” Borenstein added.

Lawyers for Kyrgios had sought to have charge dismissed on mental health grounds but the application was unsuccessful.

In arguing against a conviction being recorded, defense lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith cited the opinion of Kyrgios’s manager of a “strong likelihood of sanctions and impact upon sponsorship” from a conviction. Kyrgios had faced a potential maximum 2-year prison sentence if convicted.

The assault occurred when Kyrgios had been attempting to leave Passari during an argument late Jan. 10, 2021, outside her apartment in the inner-Canberra suburb of Kingston.

He called an Uber but Passari stood in the way of him closing the front passenger door. The driver wouldn’t leave with the door open.

Kyrgios eventually pushed Passari’s shoulders backward with open palms, causing her to fall to the pavement and graze her knee, according to agreed facts read to the court.

Passari signed a police statement alleging the assault 11 months later, after her relationship with Kyrgios had ended.

His current partner, Costeen Hatzi, wrote in a character reference that she had no concerns of such violence in her relationship. Hatzi was among Kyrgios’ supporters who sat behind him in court.

Kyrgios, wearing a dark suit and using the crutches for support, first spoke in court when the magistrate asked him if he could stand to enter a plea.

Kyrgios replied: “Yep, no worries, Your Honor,” as he rose to plead guilty.

In February last year, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs last year to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense last September to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

The 27-year-old Kyrgios had a career setback last month when he withdrew from the Australian Open because the knee injury which later required arthroscopic surgery.

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