No. 1 Nadal remains on track for first Paris Masters title

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PARIS (AP) Rafael Nadal remains on track for an elusive Paris Masters title after beating Pablo Cuevas 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals on Thursday.

He has not reached the final since losing to David Nalbandian in his first appearance 10 years ago. Nadal improved to 4-1 overall against Cuevas and next plays Serbian qualifier Filip Krajinovic for the first time.

“He had a very successful season, winning a lot of challengers, and now he’s playing well on the tour,” Nadal said of Krajinovic. “When you’re winning a lot of matches you’re in a good dynamic.”

Cuevas competed well in spells against a nervy Nadal, who was erratic on serve and made countless unforced errors in a gritty contest.

One of the most glaring came at 5-5 in the second-set tiebreaker, when Nadal hit an easy forehand into the net to give Cuevas a set point. After a brief rally, Nadal hit a backhand long and Cuevas leveled the match.

Nadal had some strapping under his right knee before the deciding set, then raced into a 3-0 lead before the jitters came back.

“It’s not the moment to talk much about the knee,” he said. He also was elusive about whether it might prevent him from playing in the season-ending ATP Finals next week in London.

“Anything can happen in one week and a half,” Nadal said. “But if nothing strange happens then I’m going to be there.”

Nadal was not moving with his customary speed around court in the third set but held comfortably enough for 5-2. He clinched victory on his first match point when Cuevas sent a return wide.

Nadal is guaranteed to finish the year with the top ranking for the fourth time. A maiden victory here would give him a record 31 Masters titles, one more than Novak Djokovic.

In the late match, No. 3 Marin Cilic faced No. 14 Roberto Bautista Agut.

Earlier in the third round, Juan Martin del Potro moved closer to securing the last spot for the finals by beating Robin Haase 7-5, 6-4.

Del Potro, who lost to Roger Federer on Sunday in the Swiss Indoors final, is in 10th place in the race to qualify for the tournament. Only the top eight players will compete in London and there is one place left, to be taken in Paris.

“I would love to reach London once again. It could be a fantastic moment for me,” said del Potro, who was way back in 47th place in the race before the U.S. Open. “I’m excited to keep improving for this kind of surprise.”

Del Potro has a tough challenge next, against big-serving American John Isner.

The ninth-seeded Isner, last year’s runner-up to Andy Murray, hit 25 aces as he beat sixth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria 7-6 (10), 5-7, 7-6 (3).

Seventh-seeded David Goffin of Belgium was through to the finals in London, despite a surprise loss to unseeded Julien Benneteau 6-3, 6-3. The Frenchman reached the quarters of a Masters for the first time since Shanghai in 2014 in his final tournament before retiring.

Goffin will have waited nervously on the result of Frenchman Lucas Pouille’s result against Jack Sock. But Pouille’s 7-6 (6), 6-3 loss to the American sent him through, at Pouille’s expense, making him the first Belgian to qualify for the season finale.

“I would have preferred to have qualified by winning and Lucas is a friend,” Goffin said. “But I am still so happy to have qualified.”

Dominic Thiem went out early again, falling to Fernando Verdasco 6-4, 6-4.

Since losing to Del Potro in the fourth round of the U.S. Open, the fifth-seeded Austrian has won only two matches in five tournaments.

Verdasco next plays Sock. Krajinovic advanced with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 win against Nicolas Mahut.

Sonego beats Bublik at Moselle Open to win 1st title of 2022

Winston-Salem Open - Day 5
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METZ, France – Lorenzo Sonego clinched his first title of the season by beating Alexander Bublik 7-6 (3), 6-2 in the Moselle Open final.

The 27-year-old Italian did not drop a set all tournament as he won the third title of his career and first on hard courts.

The unseeded Sonego recovered from 0-40 down in the fifth game of the match and secured victory when the seventh-seeded Bublik sent a backhand return long.

He then danced on court as he celebrated a perfect tournament where he also beat defending champion Hubert Hurkacz in the semifinals.

Sonego’s win will move him up 21 places in the ATP rankings and into 44th place.

Samsonova beats Zheng to win 3rd WTA title in 2 months

Toray Pan Pacific Open - Day Seven
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TOKYO – Liudmila Samsonova extended a remarkable summer run by clinching her third title in two months after beating rising Chinese player Zheng Qinwen 7-5, 7-5 at the Toray Pan Pacific Open.

No. 30-ranked Samsonova won in Washington and Cleveland in August and also reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open. The 23-year-old has now won 18 of her last 19 matches and didn’t drop a set in Tokyo.

“It’s amazing. I think I need a little bit of time to realize it, but it’s unbelievable,” Samsonova said. “It was like a nervous match today. I was really prepared physically but I was tired mentally because I was playing singles and doubles every day. I’m very happy with the way I managed the pressure.”

Samsonova added that the exclusion of Russian players from Wimbledon had helped her game though she stopped short of supporting the move.

“Wimbledon for me is the best tournament. I love it. The news really impacted me. I had one month without a tournament so I thought let’s work,” she said, adding: “I don’t agree that politics should be involved in sports because it’s unfair.”

The match between two power hitters with big serves was close throughout but Samsonova was striking the ball cleaner and stronger.

Zheng, who ousted top-seeded Paula Badosa and No. 4-seeded Veronika Kudermetova, was broken in the first set after giving up her first double fault on deuce in the 11th game.

Samsonova, who defeated Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the first round and former world No. 1 Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals, then sent a perfect forehand that landed in the right-hand corner of the court to break the 19-year-old and go 6-5 up. She took the first set with another strong service game that included her third ace.

Zheng was the first to crack in the second set when she handed Samsonova free points with two double-faults in the fifth game. A double-fault by the Russian saw her drop to 0-40 in the next game and the No. 36-ranked Chinese broke back to level at 3-3.

As in the first set, Zheng was broken in the 11th game. A long forehand at deuce gave Samsonova a breakpoint and she converted it with a crosscourt forehand that sent her opponent the wrong way. Samsonova then won her next game to love after three errors by Zheng, clinching the match 7-5, 7-5.

Samsonova has now won all of the finals she has appeared in.

In reaching the final, Zheng became the youngest Chinese finalist at a tour-level event, beating the mark set by Peng Shuai.