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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.”

Benedetti wins 12th stage; Polanc takes Giro lead

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PINEROLO, Italy (AP) Cesare Benedetti won the 12th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Thursday for his first victory as a professional while Jan Polanc took the overall leader’s pink jersey from UAE Emirates teammate Valerio Conti.

Benedetti, an Italian with the Bora team who has been a support rider for his entire career, was part of an early breakaway then accelerated from a select group of riders in a sprint finish.

“I’ve worked a lot for the others in the past but today I got my opportunity,” Benedetti said. “I’m not (usually) a winner.”

Benedetti required 3 hours, 41 minutes to complete the 158-kilometer (98-mile) leg from Cuneo to Pinerolo, which featured one major climb and another shorter but steeper ascent just before the finish.

Damiano Caruso crossed second and Eddie Dunbar came third, each with the same time as Benedetti. Polanc, a Slovenian who was also in the breakaway, finished 25 seconds behind.

In the overall standings, Polanc leads Primoz Roglic by 4 minutes, 7 seconds. Vincenzo Nibali, one of the pre-race favorites, is fifth overall, 5:51 behind.

“It was a team tactic that I would go in the breakaway so we could have a better control over the race,” Polanc said. “It was also a way to keep the pink jersey in the team.”

Mikel Landa and Miguel Angel Lopez attacked on the first-category climb to Montoso and gained about 30 seconds on the other overall favorites.

Before the stage began, sprinters Caleb Ewan and Elia Viviani withdrew from the race. Ewan won two stages, including the 11th leg a day earlier, while Viviani posted three second-place finishes.

Stage 13 on Friday is one of the race’s toughest, with two category one climbs and one category ascent, along with an uphill finish at the end of the 196-kilometer leg from Pinerolo to Ceresole Reale.

The Giro ends June 2 in Verona.

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Tsonga rallies past qualifier to reach quarterfinals in Lyon

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LYON, France (AP) Former champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga rallied past Canadian qualifier Steven Diez on Wednesday to reach the quarterfinals and extend his perfect record at the Lyon Open.

Tsonga, the 2017 champion, came within two points of losing but finally prevailed 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3 on his sixth match point after 2 hours, 42 minutes.

The clay-court event serves as a warmup for the French Open, which starts Sunday in Paris.

“It was good for me to play a long match like this,” Tsonga said. “I haven’t played a match this long for a while. I am not playing my best level, but I am giving everything mentally and that gives me confidence.”

Tsonga will next take on top-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili, who beat lucky loser Tristan Lamasine 7-5, 7-5.

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