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Magdalena shows form on grass in Birmingham

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BIRMINGHAM, England — Magdalena Rybarikova, who climbed almost 90 places last year to reach a career-high No. 17 in March, showed she might rise even further after rallying against Kristina Mladenovic 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 Wednesday to advance to the quarterfinals in Birmingham.

The Slovak accelerated toward victory against the former top 10 player from France with an array of slice ground strokes, clever approaches and sharp volleys. The range of shots worked excellently on the lush surface at the grass-court Nature Valley Classic and helped her take control midway through the second set.

Rybarikova last year reached the Wimbledon semifinals. She is a former champion here, winning the title in 2009.

In the first round she beat third-seeded Karolina Pliskova for the loss of only five games but found it tougher against Mladenovic.

“I started to play very well,” Rybarikova said of her improvement from the fourth game of the second set against Mladenovic. “She served great to begin with and I struggled with my returns, but I kept fighting and my game improved a lot.

“I think I’d been a bit passive. The key was when I played more cross-court slices and drops and made an early break in the second set.

“That’s the way I am trying to play on grass. I am thankful that I have the game to do that. This court here really suits my game.”

At the changeover in the fifth game of the second set, Mladenovic’s morale appeared to plunge, and afterward her error ratio rose sharply with her standard dropping significantly.

The third set of a match which lasted nearly two hours took only 22 minutes, and long before the end the outcome had ceased to be in doubt.

Rybarikova next faces Slovenian qualifier Dalila Jakupovic, who on Tuesday overcame a difference in rankings of almost 100 places and saved four match points while beating seventh-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium.

Jakupovic followed up Wednesday by getting past 18th-ranked Naomi Osaka of Japan, who recently beat four former top-ranked opponents. Osaka was forced to retired injured after losing the first set 6-3.

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.