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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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Michael Stich, Helena Sukova inducted into tennis hall

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NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) Michael Stich and Helena Sukova have been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

They were enshrined Saturday during a ceremony on Newport’s grass center court outside the hall.

Stich won Wimbledon in 1991 and a gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in doubles with German countryman Boris Becker, also a Hall of Famer.

The 49-year-old Stich said he is “so proud and honored to be a part of the family.”

Hall of Famer Jim Courier told the crowd that “the beauty of his game is what really sticks with me.”

Sukova, a 53-year-old Czech, captured 14 Grand Slam doubles crowns – nine in women’s, five in mixed.

Victoria Azarenka misses direct entry for U.S. Open

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NEW YORK — Two-time U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka is ranked just below the cutoff for direct entry into the year’s last Grand Slam tournament.

Azarenka, a former No. 1 and twice the champion at the Australian Open, is No. 108 this week, seven spots outside of an automatic spot in the main draw.

The U.S. Tennis Association announced Wednesday that defending champion and top-ranked Rafael Nadal is one of six past male singles champions in the U.S. Open field, along with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic. Another past title winner at Flushing Meadows, Stan Wawrinka, is ranked 199th this week.

The women’s winners with direct entry based on this week’s rankings are six-time champion Serena Williams, two-time champ Venus Williams, defending champ Sloane Stephens, Maria Sharapova and Samantha Stosur.