Stephens, Keys to reprise US Open final in French Open semis

Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) Shortly after easily winning her French Open quarterfinal, Sloane Stephens wanted to track down her good friend Madison Keys, who advanced in straight sets earlier Tuesday.

“I just have to go find her, because I need to tell her some juicy stuff,” Stephens said, declining to reveal the topic. “I just went and searched for her in the training room.”

They’ll see each other again soon. The two young Americans, who are both based in Florida, will face each other in the semifinals at Roland Garros on Thursday, nine months after Stephens beat Keys for the U.S. Open championship. It is the first French Open semifinal between a pair of women from the United States since Serena Williams beat Jennifer Capriati on the way to the 2002 title.

“That means one American will be in the final of a French Open, which is another amazing thing,” Stephens said. “All in all, I don’t think anyone can complain.”

Both were appearing in the quarterfinals on the red clay of Paris for the first time, and both handled the occasion well. First, at Court Suzanne Lenglen, the 13th-seeded Keys remained focused during a 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over 98th-ranked Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, never wavering when she fell behind in the opening set or when her volatile opponent could have become a distraction.

Keys built a whopping 30-12 edge in winners and won 84 percent of her first-serve points.

“Keep on playing like that,” Putintseva said, “she can go all the way here.”

Later, at Court Philippe Chatrier, Stephens was hardly troubled while beating No. 14 Daria Kasatkina of Russia 6-3, 6-1 in a mere 70 minutes.

“She was better than me today,” Kasatkina said. “She was moving unbelievable.”

The quarterfinals on the other side of the draw are Wednesday, involving four women who have spent time at No. 1: Simona Halep, who currently leads the WTA rankings, against No. 12 seed Angelique Kerber, and No. 3 Garbine Muguruza against No. 28 Maria Sharapova.

Halep is a three-time Grand Slam runner-up, including in Paris in 2014 and last year; Kerber is a two-time major champ elsewhere; Muguruza won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017; and Sharapova owns five Grand Slam titles, including at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014.

Quite a quartet.

Stephens, 23, and Keys, 25, will quickly approach that sort of status if they maintain the form they’ve shown lately.

Their matchup provides a contrast in styles: Keys is a big hitter whose serves and forehands are the keys to her success; Stephens covers every inch of the court as well as anyone.

Stephens has won both head-to-head encounters, including the Grand Slam final debut for each at New York in September.

“Honestly,” Keys said, “the (U.S.) Open feels like it was 12 years ago, at this point. I obviously rely on what I learned there and how to manage my emotions and manage the moment.”

Now one will get to play in her second major title match.

Until the moment they step into the main stadium at Roland Garros for Thursday’s semifinal, both promised, there will be no awkwardness between them.

“Everything will be normal,” Stephens said. “And then when we get on the court, it’s time to compete. It’s `go time.’ Until then, we’re the same girls, as always.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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

Rafael Nadal will play in new Davis Cup format

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.