AP Images

Muguruza, Halep move into French Open semifinals

Leave a comment

PARIS – After Angelique Kerber’s final backhand bounced out of bounds on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Simona Halep turned to her box and pointed to her head.

Coming from a player whose mental strength has often been questioned, the gesture spoke volume.

The top-ranked player indeed showed solid nerves to turn things up after a really bad start in her French Open quarterfinal on Wednesday. After 2 hours and 14 minutes, Halep rallied past the 12th-seeded Kerber 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-2 and reached the French Open semifinals for the third time.

Halep got off a sluggish start and trailed 4-0 in the opening set. She fought back to force a tiebreaker but briefly lost her focus to drop the set after losing five consecutive points.

“After the first set I just stayed strong, I did not give up at all,” Halep said. “I missed a lot at the beginning of the match. I tried to do too much. Then I changed a little bit of tactics and it worked.”

Halep broke at the start of the second set and then Kerber dropped her serve again in the ninth game. In the decider, Halep came to the net more often to finish points and opened up a 4-1 lead. She broke again in the eighth game to seal the match.

Halep is still chasing her first Grand Slam title after several near-misses. She led Jelena Ostapenko by a set and 3-0 in last year’s final at Roland Garros, but then fell apart and eventually lost to the unseeded Latvian in her second French Open final.

Halep next faces third-seeded Garbine Muguruza, who thrashed Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-1 in a matchup of past French Open champions.

“I don’t feel I’m favorite for this match, because she’s played better than I have this year,” Muguruza said. “She loves clay. She loves Roland Garros. She’s shown it.”

The No. 3-seeded Muguruza had lost all three previous meetings against Sharapova, who won two of her five Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros.

Muguruza has not dropped a set so far in this year’s tournament as she seeks a second championship in Paris and third major trophy overall. The Spaniard won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon last year.

“I think she did a lot of things better than I did. I think she was the aggressive one,” Sharapova said. “She had a lot more depth in the ball. I think my shots were a lot more forced. She served a lot better than I did.”

Sharapova looked far from her best right from the start, double-faulting three times to get broken in the opening game. She ended up with six double-faults and 27 total unforced errors, 12 more than Muguruza.

In men’s play, Rafael Nadal was playing Diego Schwartzman bidding to reach his 11th semifinal at Roland Garros. Two past U.S. Open champions met in the other men’s quarterfinal: No. 3 Marin Cilic against No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro.

More AP tennis coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Opelka edges top-seeded Isner to reach New York Open final

Getty Images
Leave a comment

UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) Reilly Opelka edged top-seeded John Isner the same way he knocked his fellow American out of the Australian Open, winning a match full of tiebreakers Saturday night in a New York Open semifinal that set a record for combined aces in a three-set match.

Opelka fought off six match points in a marathon second set and went on to win 6-7 (8), 7-6 (14), 7-6 (4) to move within a victory of his first ATP title.

The 6-foot-11 Opelka and 6-10 Isner combined for 81 aces and there were no breaks of serve. Opelka hit 43 aces, Isner had 38, and each had only one double fault.

It was similar to their meeting in Melbourne, when Opelka beat the ninth-ranked Isner in a first-round match that went four tiebreakers.

Opelka will play Canadian Brayden Schnur, a qualifier who had never won a tour-level match before this week.

Schnur recovered after blowing a 3-0 lead and eventually the second set to beat American Sam Querrey 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-3.

Schnur was the final alternate accepted into the tournament’s qualifying draw and was nearly gone from Long Island quickly, eventually overcoming two match points to beat No. 3 seed Steve Johnson in the second round.

There was nothing quick about the second semifinal, which lasted 2 hours, 31 minutes and went well past the previous record of 71 aces, set earlier this year in a match between Nick Kyrgios and Ryan Harrison.

Isner was in good position to win in straight sets, taking a 3-1 lead in the tiebreaker when Opelka pushed a forehand long. But he wasted a chance to win the match on his serve, and Opelka then kept erasing the rest of the match points when he served.

Isner had dropped both matches this season, part of a six-match skid dating to the end of last year, before winning his first two matches here in straight sets.

But he was stopped again by Opelka, who fell two aces shy of Ivo Karlovic’s record for most aces in a three-set match.

More AP Tennis: https://www.apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Mertens upsets Halep in Qatar Open final

Getty Images
Leave a comment

DOHA, Qatar – Unseeded Elise Mertens came from a set and a break down to beat recent No. 1 Simona Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the Qatar Open final and capture the biggest title of her career on Saturday.

Halep led 6-3, 2-0, then lost a service game for a third time to see the second set back on serve. Mertens continued to pressure, missing two more break chances in the seventh game but finally breaking – to love – in the ninth. The set was the first Mertens took from Halep in three matchups.

Mertens broke again to start the third set, Halep leveled at 2-2, but Mertens finished stronger and won her fifth career title.

The Belgian beat two other top-10 players this week, Kiki Bertens and Angelique Kerber.

Halep’s first final appearance since August guaranteed she will rise one spot to No. 2 in the rankings on Monday.