Wozniacki beats Mertens, reaches 1st Australian Open final

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Caroline Wozniacki has reached the Australian Open final for the first time with a 6-3, 7-6 (2) win Thursday over Elise Mertens, moving within one win of a Grand Slam breakthrough.

It’s her first Grand Slam final anywhere outside of the United States, where she lost U.S. Open finals in 2009 (to Kim Clijsters) and 2014 (to Serena Williams).

Wozniacki appeared to be coasting against the 22-year-old Mertens, getting breaks in the middle of each set. But she began getting tight when she was serving for the match at 5-4: From 30-15, she double-faulted twice and Mertens passed her with a forehand winner in between to make it 5-5.

The No. 37-ranked Mertens lifted, holding her serve at love and then having two set points in the next game before Wozniacki eventually held a game that lasted almost 8 1/2 minutes.

Wozniacki dominated the tiebreaker and put memories of her last Australian Open semifinal behind her – she had match points against Li Na in the semifinal in 2011, but was unable to convert.

This time, experience helped.

“It means so much to me. I got really tight at 5-4. I kind of felt head against the wall,” she said. “I knew I had to try and stay calm.

“Once she had set points. I thought, `OK, now you just have to go for it … she’s nervous now too.”

Mertens, who trains at Clijsters’s academy in Belgium, was appearing in the semifinals on her debut at Melbourne Park and in just her fifth Grand Slam tournament. She had won 10 matches in as row after successfully defending her Hobart International title two weeks ago.

She took out No. 4-seeded Elina Svitolina in straight sets in the quarterfinal but was struggling to match a consistent Wozniacki until late in the second set.

Wozniacki’s win moves here a step closer to potentially regaining the No. 1 ranking, a position she hasn’t held in six years.

No. 1-ranked Simona Halep was playing two-time major winner Angelique Kerber later Thursday in the second of the semifinals.

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Mayar Sherif becomes first Egyptian to win WTA Tour event

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PARMA, Italy — Mayar Sherif became the first Egyptian to win a WTA Tour event by beating top-seeded Maria Sakkari 7-5, 6-3 at the Parma Ladies Open.

Besides earning her first career title, Sherif also notched her first win over a top-10 opponent.

Along with Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, who reached the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals this year, Sherif is raising the profile of tennis in North Africa.

The 74th-ranked Sherif actually had to win two matches on Saturday, first overcoming sixth-seeded Ana Bogdan 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the semifinals, which were postponed a day due to rain.

The seventh-ranked Sakkari beat Danka Kovinic 7-5, 6-2 in her semifinal earlier Saturday.

Parma Ladies Open semifinals postponed to same day as final

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PARMA, Italy — The semifinals of the Parma Ladies Open have been postponed by a day and will be played shortly before the final.

The decision was made because of persistent rain at the clay-court tournament.

Top-seeded Maria Sakkari will start on center court against Danka Kovinic at 10:30 a.m. local time (0830 GMT) before sixth-seeded Ana Bogdan’s match against Mayar Sherif.

The final will be after 6 p.m. local time, shortly after the doubles final – with the doubles semifinals also being played earlier in the day on a different court.