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Stephens returns to quarters with win over Mertens

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NEW YORK — It was quite a point, one that showed off the best of Sloane Stephens’ versatile game, and so a reporter began recounting what happened to the defending U.S. Open champion after she won Sunday night to get back to the quarterfinals.

Stephens interrupted. She did not think the retelling did it justice. At all.

“You are not describing that point good. But I know what you’re talking about,” Stephens said, then proceeded to give her own play-by-play.

“She hit a drop shot. I hit a drop shot back. Then she lobs me to my forehand. I ran back and hit a forehand cross-court — and the crowd went crazy,” she said. “You didn’t describe it like that. You were getting lost in there. I think that was a great point.”

Certainly was. And that chase-down, tunaround, hook-shot of a passing winner just showed a glimpse of how the No. 3 Stephens can go from defense to offense with flair, as she did repeatedly during her 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 15 Elise Mertens of Belgium in the fourth round.

There were other, similar efforts of that sort by the 25-year-old American. Not that she works on those kinds of improvisational moves while training.

“Never, never, never. I’m the type of person, if the ball goes over my head, I’m like, ‘Whatever,’ in practice. I don’t practice that. I think it makes it unnatural. It makes you try to do too much if you’re practicing trick shots. I don’t know how (Nick) Kyrgios and guys like that do it,” Stephens said.

“Just like I always say: Get your racket on it. Make a play on the ball. Make your opponent play an extra ball. That’s the most important thing to me,” she continued. “Sometimes it doesn’t have to be the best shot, but making them play another shot, you might get another opportunity. I worked really hard on that instead of trying to hit a trick shot or do fancy stuff. Just simple: Make them play an extra ball and see what happens.”

Sure worked against Mertens.

Next match, Stephens can employ that strategy against No. 19 Anastasia Sevastova of Latvia. It’ll be a rematch of last year’s U.S. Open quarterfinal, won by Stephens in a third-set tiebreaker.

It’s the third time in a row Sevastova made it to the final eight at Flushing Meadows.

“There’s a pattern maybe, because,” she said, “because some tournaments I play always good.”

Federer, Zverev lead Team Europe to Laver Cup win

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CHICAGO — Alexander Zverev beat Kevin Anderson on Sunday night to give Team Europe a victory in the second Laver Cup.

Zverev won the final five points to defeat Anderson 6-7, 7-5, (10-7). His victory helped Team Europe beat Team World 13-8.

Roger Federer earlier put Team Europe ahead by saving three match points for a 6-7, 7-6, (10-7) victory over John Isner.

Isner staggered Federer with a body serve that caused the 20-time Grand Slam winner to stumble early in the match. But Federer regrouped and fought off two match points in the second-set tiebreaker before capturing the deciding 10-point tiebreaker used in the Laver Cup.

In the opening doubles match, Jack Sock and Isner saved two match points in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Federer and Zverev 4-6, 7-6, (11-9).

Team Europe won the first Laver Cup last year in Prague.

Muguruza wins in first round of Wuhan Open; Ostapenko loses

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WUHAN, China — Gabrine Muguruza got off to winning start at the Wuhan Open. Jelena Ostapenko didn’t.

Muguruza defeated Alison Van Uytvanck 6-4, 6-0 on Monday in the first round of the tournament, avenging a second-round loss to the Belgian at Wimbledon.

“I’m happy that I won this time. I remember the match from Wimbledon, like a very tough match for me,” said Muguruza, who had been the defending champion at the All England Club. “It’s always good to play again the same person that beat you, feeling good you did something much better than the previous match.”

Muguruza will next face Swiss qualifier Viktorija Golubic, who defeated Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

Ostapenko, who followed Muguruza as French Open champion in 2017, was beaten by Daria Gavrilova 6-2, 6-4.

Gavrilova, who won for only the second time in four appearances at the Wuhan Open, broke Ostapneko’s serve five times. She will next play Barbora Strycova, who defeated Alize Cornet 6-3, 6-2.

Ashleigh Barty, a finalist last year in Wuhan, defeated Johanna Konta 7-5, 6-4 to advance.

Other winners included Aryna Sabalenka, Donna Vekic, Aleksandra Krunic, Dominika Cibulkova, Madison Keys and Wang Xiyu.