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Muguruza, Halep move into French Open semifinals

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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

Rafael Nadal will play in new Davis Cup format

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MADRID — Gerard Pique is not worried about the possible absence of some top players in the revamped Davis Cup, especially since Rafael Nadal has said he will play in the new-look competition when it debuts next year.

The Barcelona defender, who spearheads the company behind the new format of the Davis Cup, said Wednesday that Nadal has told him he will play as long as he is not injured.

“If the No. 1 in the world is playing, that’s more than enough,” Pique said in the official presentation of Madrid as host of the Davis Cup finals for the next two years. “Rafa is very positive about this event, especially because it is taking place in Madrid.”

The new event was developed in a partnership between the International Tennis Federation and the investment group Kosmos, which was founded by the Barcelona and Spain player.

Pique said he knows it will not be easy to have all top-ranked players participating.

“This is a team event, so it’s impossible to have all the top players involved. Some teams won’t qualify, not everybody will be able to play anyway,” Pique said. “Of course we would like to have the top players, but we want to focus on the teams.”

Stars such as Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have already hinted they don’t intend to play. Djokovic said the tournament could be competing with the ATP’s World Team Cup, while Federer said the revamped Davis Cup didn’t seem to be designed for him.

Pique said he already didn’t expect Federer to be playing, noting the Swiss veteran has limited his tournament schedule in recent years and might not “have the legs” to play in the Davis Cup again. He said he still hoped to convince Djokovic, though.

“I have a lot of confidence that we can negotiate and the top players will play,” Pique said.

The new format of tennis’ top team event will be a season-ending, 18-team tournament, but teams will still play matches in February to advance to the championship in November. The Davis Cup has previously been played over four weekends throughout the year.

The first championship will be held next year from Nov. 18-24 on an indoor hardcourt at the Magic Box arena, which already hosts the Madrid Masters. The ITF said players will compete for prize money that will rival what is offered in Grand Slams.

Pique said there is no “perfect date” for the tournament as the tennis calendar is very tight, but he was happy with the week they picked.

“We’ve spoken with everybody,” he said. “We think this is a week that won’t affect any of the other tournaments. We want to be well seen in the tennis world. We are here to help. We think this will be a magical week for the world of tennis.”

The 2018 Davis Cup semifinalists – Croatia, France, Spain and the United States – have already secured their spot in next year’s tournament, along with Argentina and Britain.

Defending champion France will host Croatia in the last Davis Cup final in the current format from Nov. 23-25 in Lille.

Stephens, Pliskova both lose at Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW — Sloane Stephens and Karolina Pliskova were both eliminated from the Kremlin Cup on Wednesday, with the latter result ensuring that Elina Svitolina has qualified for the WTA Finals.

The fifth-ranked Pliskova lost to Russian veteran Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 6-2, holding serve only once in the match.

Because of the loss, Svitolina will play in the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore. Pliskova can still qualify, but she could also be overtaken by Kiki Bertens.

The 34-year-old Zvonareva, a former Wimbledon and U.S. Open finalist, will next face Anastasija Sevastova in the quarterfinals. The Latvian beat Yulia Putintseva 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.

Stephens lost to Tunisian qualifier Ons Jabeur 6-3, 6-2. The third-seeded American, who had a first-round bye, lost her opening service games in each set.

Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, secured qualification for the WTA Finals last week after a strong season which included reaching the French Open final.

Jabeur will next face Anett Kontaveit in the quarterfinals. The eighth-seeded Estonian beat Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 7-6 (3).

In the men’s draw, Ricardas Berankis beat Aljaz Bedene 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) to reach the quarterfinals.