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Top-ranked Halep beats Mertens at Madrid Open

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MADRID (AP) Top-ranked Simona Halep reached the third round of the Madrid Open by beating Elise Mertens 6-0, 6-3 on Tuesday.

Halep converted her fifth match point to win her 14th straight match in Madrid and stay on track for a third consecutive title in the Spanish capital.

“I knew she was coming with a lot of confidence,” Halep said. “I had to start very strong and aggressive, which I did. After I played a few games I felt really good.”

The 16th-ranked Mertens has played well this year but struggled from the start at the Magic Box and ended up with 31 unforced errors and five double faults.

She was coming off an impressive 13-match winning streak, with titles in Morocco, Switzerland and Tasmania. She also reached the Australian Open semifinals, losing to eventual champion Caroline Wozniacki.

Halep next faces Kristyna Pliskova, who defeated Sara Sorribes Tormo 7-5, 6-2.

“She’s serving pretty strong,” said Halep, who beat Pliskova in Madrid in 2017. “I have to just watch a little bit how I played last year and to do it again. I believe I can win the match but I always expect a tough one.”

Petra Kvitova defeated Monica Puig 6-3, 7-6 (8) to record her seventh straight win.

In the first round of the men’s event, Robin Haase ended a four-match losing streak by beating Hyeon Chung 6-2, 6-0.

Denis Shapovalov hit 38 winners to defeat Benoit Paire 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 in the second round while 11th seed Roberto Bautista Agut beat Jared Donaldson 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4 in the first round.

Borna Coric upset ninth seed Pablo Carreno Busta 6-4, 6-2 in another first-round match.

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Kasatkina beats Jabeur to win Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW — Daria Kasatkina won the Kremlin Cup as qualifier Ons Jabeur narrowly failed to become the first WTA winner from Tunisia on Saturday.

Jabeur was a set and a break up at 4-1 when she seemed to tire in her eighth match in as many days, allowing Kasatkina to win 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 with vocal support from the home crowd.

The exhausted Jabeur served the last game with severe cramp and tears in her eyes.

“I saw you gave everything today and this is what sport is about,” Kasatkina told Jabeur.

“When I was a little girl 10 years ago, I was coming to this tournament and dreaming of being champion one day,” the 21-year-old Russian said. “Thank you to everyone who believed in me.”

Sixth-seeded Kasatkina ended a run of three losses in finals, including last year’s Kremlin Cup, and has a career 2-3 record. Her previous win was in Charleston in April 2017.

Jabeur played high-risk tennis, with 45 winners and 65 unforced errors, against 12 winners and 26 unforced errors for the defense-first Kasatkina.

Russian competitors have won the women’s Kremlin Cup four times in the last five years, with Germany’s Julia Goerges beating Kasatkina in last year’s final.

Jabeur, the junior French Open champion in 2011, was the first Tunisian to reach a women’s tour final and the first African finalist since South Africa’s Chanelle Scheepers in 2014.

“I wanted to win today but it’s not meant to be. Maybe it’s a little bit lack of experience, but this is my first final so hopefully I can have many more,” Jabeur said. “Not a chance for me in the third set, cramping.”

Qualifiers have played four WTA finals this year and lost them all.

Jabeur’s run to the final included upsets of Ekaterina Makarova, former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, Anett Kontaveit, and Anastasija Sevastova.

Kasatkina came back from the brink of defeat in the second round when she broke Alize Cornet’s serve to stay in the match.

In the men’s draw, Adrian Mannarino of France reached the final by beatingr former Moscow champion Andreas Seppi 7-5, 7-5.

Mannarino was 5-3 down in the second set before winning four straight games to close out the match.

The Frenchman has lost all five of his career finals and will play Daniil Medvedev or Karen Khachanov for the title on Sunday.

Goerges wins Luxembourg final for second WTA title of year

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LUXEMBOURG — Julia Goerges lived up to her top seeding at the Luxembourg Open by winning her second title of the year on Saturday.

Goerges beat unseeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland 6-4, 7-5 in the final.

The German won her first tournament of the year in Auckland, reached another final at Charleston in April, and the Wimbledon semifinals. This is her sixth career title. She lost the 2010 final here.

She’s at a career-high ranking of No. 9.

Bencic, who has been ranked as high as No. 7, was eyeing her first title in more than three years.