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Sharapova wins another 3-setter to reach US Open’s 3rd round

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NEW YORK (AP) No one, not even Maria Sharapova herself, knew quite what to expect from her return to Grand Slam tennis at the U.S. Open.

It had been 19 months since she had entered a major tournament. She played only nine times anywhere since returning from a 15-month doping suspension in April. Two three-set tussles into her stay at Flushing Meadows, it’s clear that Sharapova’s game might be patchy, but she is as capable as ever of coming up with big strokes in big moments – and maybe, just maybe, could stick around for a while in a depleted draw.

Sharapova became the first woman into the third round at the U.S. Open by using 12 aces to help set aside a poor start and coming back to beat Timea Babos of Hungary 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-1 on Wednesday in Arthur Ashe Stadium. It was the highlight of a busy day that featured 87 singles matches on the schedule after rain washed out most play a day earlier.

“It wasn’t my best tennis,” Sharapova acknowledged in an on-court interview. “It felt like it was a scrappy match.”

Sure was, particularly in the early going. Sharapova made a whopping 19 unforced errors in the first set alone, including a pair of missed forehands that handed over the opening set to the 59th-ranked Babos. But as the match went on, Sharapova looked more and more like someone who used to be ranked No. 1 and owns five major titles – including the 2006 U.S. Open – than someone who needed a wild-card invitation from the U.S. Tennis Association because she is now 146th, on account of her ban and lack of play.

“In the second set, I just felt like I was physically fresh and that gave me a lot of confidence,” said the 30-year-old Russian, who wore a strip of black tape on the left forearm that bothered her earlier in the month. “I just wanted to be fittest player out there in the end, and I really felt like I was.”

She cut down her miscues to 12 unforced errors in the second set, then just five in the third, and finished with a 39-13 advantage in winners, looking as strong as she did while eliminating No. 2 seed Simona Halep in a three-set thriller in Ashe on Monday.

“It was definitely tough to control the emotions yesterday, because as much as you want to be happy about that match and what I accomplished there, you want to move on really fast,” Sharapova said. “And so finding that balance is really hard. Today I felt like going into the match I just wanted to get it done. And I did.”

Not quickly, though: She already has spent nearly 5 hours on court, and so perhaps the yelling and fist-pumping she showed at the end against Babos were as much a reflection of a sense of relief as celebration.

If her 14 return winners were a key to getting past Halep, it was Sharapova’s serving that really made a difference down the stretch against Babos: She won 16 of the last 19 points she served.

With so many matches going on, there were plenty of names to keep tabs on. Two other past U.S. Open champions, Juan Martin del Potro and Svetlana Kuznetsova won in the afternoon, while two-time winner Venus Williams faced Oceane Dodin of France at night. After that, 2008 Australian Open runner-up Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was scheduled to meet 18-year-old Canadian qualifier Denis Shapovalov.

There was a mix of first- and second-round matches thanks to Tuesday’s postponements, and No. 14 Nick Kyrgios, No. 22 Fabio Fognini, No. 26 Richard Gasquet and No. 27 Pablo Cuevas all lost their openers. Two top-10 men whose opening matches also were delayed – and will have to get back on court Thursday – expended little energy: No. 6 Dominic Thiem beat Alex de Minaur 6-4, 6-1, 6-1, and No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov was a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 winner against qualifier Vaclav Safranek.

The only seeded woman to exit in the afternoon was No. 19 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, beaten 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 by Christina McHale of the U.S.

 

Zverev beats Djokovic to win ATP Finals title

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LONDON — Alexander Zverev upset Novak Djokovic to claim the biggest title of his career with a 6-4, 6-3 victory at the ATP Finals on Sunday.

The 21-year-old Zverev became the youngest champion of the season-ending event since Djokovic claimed the first of his five titles a decade ago, and the first from Germany since 1995.

Top-ranked Djokovic was attempting to tie Roger Federer’s record of six titles but followed the same path as the Swiss great, who lost to Zverev in the semifinals at the O2 Arena.

Djokovic’s serve hadn’t been broken all tournament until the final. Zverev did it once in the first set and three times in the second, completing the victory with a spectacular backhand winner up the line.

Both players began the match in the same form that had seen them earn straight-sets semifinal victories a day earlier, with few points going against the server.

It was Djokovic, who had lost just two of his previous 37 matches, who began to feel the pressure as consecutive forehand errors gave Zverev a chance to serve out the opening set at 5-4.

Fans gave Zverev a huge ovation as he stepped up to serve, and it appeared to inspire him. Three straight aces brought up three set points, the second of which he took when Djokovic sent another forehand long.

Zverev even began to outlast Djokovic in longer rallies, an area of the game the 14-time Grand Slam champion usually dominates. A 26-shot duel brought up another break point in the opening game of the second set and, although Djokovic saved it, Zverev won another lengthy exchange moments later with a forehand winner to go 1-0 up.

With the biggest win of his career in sight, Zverev began to show some nerves. Although he is the only active player outside of the Big Four of Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray to possess three or more Masters titles, the young German has only reached one Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Two double faults and two backhand errors gifted Djokovic an immediate break back, but Zverev quickly refocused to win a 28-shot rally on his way to breaking in the following game.

From there he remained solid on serve, before ending with a flourish. Having been pushed wide, a backhand winner on the run drifted past the helpless Djokovic.

Zverev sunk to the ground in tears as Djokovic sportingly crossed the net to embrace the player who will now be considered among the favorites to end the Serb’s run of two consecutive Grand Slam victories in Australia in two months’ time.

Earlier, American pair Mike Bryan and Jack Sock saved a match point in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Pierre-Hughes Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 5-7, 6-1, 13-11 for their first ATP Finals doubles title together.

Having failed to take advantage of five championship points during the first-to-10 match tiebreaker, Bryan and Sock then had to save one against their French opponents before finally closing out victory.

“It was a hell of a match,” Bryan said.

The 40-year-old Bryan has now won the tournament five times. He won four times with his usual partner – and brother – Bob, who has been out with an injured hip since May.

Sock and Bryan have dominated since teaming up, winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before finishing their season in style in London.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Bryan said. “This could be our last hoorah because Bob’s training back in Florida.”

Bryan, Sock win ATP Finals doubles title

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LONDON — American pair Mike Bryan and Jack Sock saved a match point in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Pierre-Hughes Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 5-7, 6-1, 13-11 for their first ATP Finals doubles title together on Sunday.

Having failed to take advantage of five championship points during the first-to-10 match tiebreaker, Bryan and Sock then had to save one against their French opponents before finally closing out victory at the O2 Arena.

“It was a hell of a match,” Bryan said.

The 40-year-old Bryan has now won the season-ending tournament five times. He won four times with his usual partner – and brother – Bob, who has been out with an injured hip since May.

Sock and Bryan have dominated since teaming up, winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before finishing their season in style in London.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Bryan said. “This could be our last hoorah because Bob’s training back in Florida.”

After reaching the singles semifinals last year, Sock has endured a torrid season in that format, falling outside the top-100 ranked players. However, he became the first American since John McEnroe to add a doubles final appearance at the tournament to his last-four singles showing.

“This is special because it was a pretty bad year in singles,” Sock said. “This makes up for some of the low moments I’ve had.”

The French duo’s season is not over yet. Herbert and Mahut are part of their nation’s squad for the Davis Cup final against Croatia, which starts in Lille on Friday.