Murray tests hip, comes back to edge McDonald in Washington

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WASHINGTON (AP) Andy Murray tested his surgically repaired hip by putting aside a deficit and some real rust to win his first hard-court match in nearly 1 1/2 years, coming back for a 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory at the Citi Open against 80th-ranked Mackenzie McDonald of the U.S.

The match began after 10 p.m. Monday because of a rain delay and ended at about 12:45 a.m. Tuesday.

There were stretches when Murray looked very much like exactly what he is at the moment: a guy working his back from an operation in January. Particularly when he was failing to convert any of the five match points he held while serving for the win at 5-4 in the final set. He won on his seventh, though, then let out a lengthy yell.

Murray is a former No. 1 who owns two Wimbledon trophies plus another from the U.S. Open. But he’s ranked just 832nd now, on account of so much time away. He sat out the second half of last season because of the bad hip, and then didn’t compete this year until June.

This match was only Murray’s fourth of 2018. No. 5 will come in the second round of the Citi Open against Kyle Edmund, the man who overtook him as Britain’s top-ranked man during Murray’s injury absence.

Finally getting on court at 10 p.m. after a rain delay that forced other matches to be suspended or postponed entirely until Tuesday, Murray played just fine for the opening 10 minutes under the lights, breaking for a 2-0 lead. And then his game devolved for quite a lengthy spell into a ragged display, filled with six double-faults – two in a row to get broken to 2-1 – and shots that missed the mark.

Eventually, Murray righted himself to close things after 12:30 a.m. There was still another match left to go in the main stadium, and it involved another three-time major champ: Stan Wawrinka, who faced American qualifier Donald Young.

In other matches, Noah Rubin got past Mikhail Youzhny 6-4, 6-4; Tim Smyczek beat Ricardas Berankis 7-6 (4), 6-2, and Malek Jaziri defeated Evgeny Donskoy 6-4, 6-1. Rubin now faces No. 2 seed John Isner, Jaziri plays No. 1 seed and defending champion Alexander Zverev, while Smyczek meets Zverev’s older brother, No. 15 seed Mischa.

In women’s results, two-time major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Kristie Ahn 6-2, 6-1; Katie Boulter eliminated No. 5 seed Aleksandra Krunic 6-2, 6-0; and Andrea Petkovic defeated Jamie Loeb 6-1, 6-1.

Murray dropped six of seven games to close the opening set. That was part of a stretch in which he was broken in four of five service games. When he pushed a forehand wide to lose one game, he screamed and pulled a ball from a pocket of his black shorts and spiked it.

He also did manage to show flashes of the form that carried him to three Grand Slam titles and a pair of Olympic gold medals. There was a cross-court passing winner at just the right angle. There was a full-sprint backhand flick of a lob winner. Plenty of muttering to himself between points, too.

If Murray was hoping for a chance to test his hip, well, he got that. McDonald repeatedly deployed drop shots or forced Murray to give chase from one corner to another in the nearly empty stadium. And then there was the length of the encounter: They played for more than 2 1/2 hours.

That probably mattered more than the result to Murray, a 31-year-old from Britain who pulled out of Wimbledon on July 1 because, he said at the time, it “might be a bit too soon in the recovery process” for his hip to try to compete in best-of-five-set matches.

The 23-year-old McDonald, a Californian who won singles and doubles NCAA titles for UCLA, made it to the fourth round at the All England Club this month, the first time he had made it that far at a major tournament.

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

Rybakina, Sabalenka to meet in Australian Open women’s final

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Mike Frey/USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia — What all seemed so different, so daunting, even, about trying to win a Grand Slam title to Elena Rybakina a little more than six months ago is now coming rather naturally.

And if she can win one more match, she will add a championship at the Australian Open to the one she collected at Wimbledon.

Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan, reached her second final in a span of three major tournaments by beating Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (4), 6-3 at Melbourne Park on Thursday, signaling a rapid rise toward the top of tennis.

“Everything was new at Wimbledon,” Rybakina said after hitting nine aces in the semifinals to raise her tournament-leading total to 44. “Now I more or less understand what to expect.”

That could come in handy Saturday, when she will face No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Sabalenka reached her first Grand Slam title match at age 24 by beating unseeded Magda Linette 7-6 (1), 6-2 in Thursday’s second semifinal.

Sabalenka improved to 10-0 in 2023, winning all 20 sets she has contested this season.

More importantly, the victory over Linette gave Sabalenka her first taste of success in a Slam semi after going 0-3 at that stage until now, losing each previous attempt by a 6-4 score in the third set.

Rybakina and Sabalenka employ a somewhat similar brand of tennis, relying on big serves and big hitting at the baseline. Sabalenka is far less cautious, though, and her penchant for high-risk, high-reward play was evident against Linette, who had never before been past the third round in 29 appearances at majors.

Sabalenka finished with a whopping 33-9 edge in winners, but also compiled more unforced errors – including a trio that led to a break at love by Linette in the opening game.

The key to both semifinals turned out to be a first-set tiebreaker. Azarenka lost the mark on her strokes, for the most part, making things smoother for Rybakina, while Sabalenka raced to a 6-0 lead in hers. It wasn’t the case that each and every shot Sabalenka hit landed right on a line, but it must have seemed that way to Linette.

“In the tiebreaker, I really found my rhythm,” Sabalenka said. “Started trusting myself. Started going for my shots.”

Rybakina’s win over Azarenka, the champion at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, added to what already was an impressive run through a string of top opponents. She also beat No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 17 Jelena Ostapenko – both owners of major titles – and 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.

“For sure, they’re very experienced players,” said Rybakina, whose parents and sister have been in town throughout the Australian Open. “I knew that I have to focus on every point.”

She delivered serves at up to 117 mph (189 kph) and stinging groundstrokes that she used to close points seemingly at will on Thursday. Her performance was particularly noteworthy against a returner and defender as established on hard courts as Azarenka, a former No. 1 and a three-time runner-up at the U.S. Open.

“Kind of hard to digest,” Azarenka said. “Obviously, I had quite a few chances that I gave myself.”

Rybakina is just 23, 10 years younger than Azarenka, and the future sure looks bright at the moment.

Rybakina might be seeded just 22nd in Melbourne, and ranked just 25th, but those numbers are rather misleading and not indicative at all of her talent and form. She did not get the usual bump from her title last July at Wimbledon, where zero rankings points were awarded after the All England Club banned players from Russia and Belarus because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Rybakina was born in Moscow; she switched to Kazakhstan in 2018, when that country offered to fund her tennis career.

It was breezy and chilly at Rod Laver Arena from the start of Rybakina vs. Azarenka, with the temperature dipping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).

That had a role in the way the first set was as much of a seesaw as can be, with each player seeming to gain the upper hand – and then ceding it just as quickly. Both found the conditions slowed down the tennis balls.

“Kind of misjudged a lot of balls,” Azarenka said.

Rybakina encountered similar issues and her occasional inconsistency was encapsulated by the very first game. She began, inauspiciously enough, with a double-fault, before holding with the help of three aces.

Azarenka nosed ahead by breaking for a 3-2 lead on a leaping, full-extension volley winner with both women at the net. Rybakina, though, broke right back, and then once more to go up 5-3.

Azarenka saved a set point at 5-3 with a terrific down-the-line forehand passing shot, wound up taking the game with a backhand she accented with a shout of “Let’s go!”

A mistake-filled tiebreaker ended with Azarenka pushing a forehand wide to cap an 11-shot exchange, and the set belonged to Rybakina. She broke at love for a 2-1 lead in the second, and while they competed for another 25 minutes, the outcome was never really much in doubt.

Sure, Rybakina again faltered for a bit while trying to serve out the victory at 5-2. No one expected Azarenka to go quietly. But one last break, aided by a double-fault from Azarenka, allowed Rybakina to take another step toward another trophy.

“Ready,” she said, “to give everything I have left.”

Paul, McDonald on US Davis Cup team; Nainkin interim captain

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Mike Frey/USA TODAY Sports
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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul and the player who eliminated Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park, Mackenzie McDonald, are among the players picked by interim captain David Nainkin for the U.S. Davis Cup team’s matches at Uzbekistan next week.

Nainkin’s appointment was announced Friday, three weeks after Mardy Fish’s tenure as captain ended.

Nainkin has been with the U.S. Tennis Association since 2004. He will be assisted against Uzbekistan by Dean Goldfine, who coached 20-year-old Ben Shelton during his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open.

Paul beat Shelton in that round before losing to Novak Djokovic on Friday night.

The other members of the U.S. roster are Denis Kudla, Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek. Kudla replaces Jenson Brooksby on the team.

The matches will be played on indoor hard courts on Feb. 3-4.