Victoria Azarenka reaches fourth round at Wimbledon

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LONDON– Victoria Azarenka’s Grand Slam comeback has extended into the second week at Wimbledon.

The former No. 1 from Belarus, who gave birth to her first child in December, advanced to the fourth round on Friday by beating Heather Watson 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 on Centre Court.

Azarenka also lost the first set in her opening match, but that was only her third match since her return. Friday’s match was her fifth.

“This is the matches that you’re looking for,” Azarenka said, “try to find a way when not everything goes great.”

The two-time Grand Slam champion will next face Simona Halep on Monday in the fourth round. The second-seeded Romanian beat Peng Shuai 6-4, 7-6 (7).

Two-time champion Rafael Nadal was next on Centre Court against Karen Khachanov, and defending champion Andy Murray was to follow against Fabio Fognini.

On No. 1 Court, five-time champion Venus Williams was to play Naomi Osaka.

Also, ninth-seeded Kei Nishikori was eliminated. The 2014 U.S. Open finalist lost to Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3.

“I couldn’t maintain my level high enough,” Nishikori said. “He served well every set. Was really tough time (on) my return game.”

Marin Cilic, the man who beat Nishikori in that U.S. Open final, advanced to the third round by beating Steve Johnson 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-4. The seventh-seeded Croat will next face Bautista Agut on Monday.

Sixteenth-seeded Gilles Muller also advanced in the men’s draw, while fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina, sixth-seeded Johanna Konta, 21st-seeded Caroline Garcia and 27th-seeded Ana Konjuh reached the fourth round among the women.

Unseeded Parks beats top-seeded Garcia for her 1st title

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LYON, France — Unseeded American Alycia Parks secured a stunning 7-6 (7), 7-5 upset win over WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in the Open Metropole de Lyon final to clinch her first career title.

“I think France has a special part in my heart right now,” Parks said. “I’ll be back next year.”

The 22-year-old Parks, who is ranked 79th, had 15 aces and saved all four break points against the top-seeded Garcia.

Parks secured the only break of a tight contest to win the match.

The fifth-ranked Garcia, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, was seeking a 12th career title.

“Congrats on a great tournament,” Garcia told Parks in English. “If you keep playing like this for sure you’re going to keep going up (the rankings).”

Parks has a career-best ranking of 75th.

The 29-year-old Garcia, who grew up in Lyon, took time to thank her home crowd – this time in French.

“It means a lot to play here, thanks for being here,” Garcia said. “You supported me from the first point to the last. Thanks for all your encouragement.”

Zhu beats Tsurenko to win Thailand Open

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Zhu Lin of China won her maiden career title after beating Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the Thailand Open.

In a match lasting one hour and 45 minutes, both players exchanged nail-biting baseline rallies before Zhu finally found a way past her determined opponent.

The 29-year-old Chinese player managed a break to go up 5-3 in the first set. Although she was broken to love in the following game, Zhu returned the favor straight back, also to love, to take the opening set in 46 minutes.

The second saw players trade breaks with Zhu eventually securing her first match point at 5-3. She sprayed a shot wide to miss the chance but capitalized on her third in the 10th game with a backhand winner.

“I’m so happy to finally win my first tour title. All the hard work finally paid off,” said the No. 54-ranked Zhu, who will crack the top 50 when the new WTA rankings are updated.

Zhu has started the season strongly, reaching the quarter-finals in Auckland and the last 16 at the Australian Open.

The victory also allowed Zhu to avenge her loss to the Ukrainian at the WTA Dubai Championships back in 2019.

Despite the loss, the No. 136-ranked Tsurenko, 33, will return to the top 100.