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Simona Halep earns second straight year-end No. 1 ranking

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LONDON — Simona Halep is back as the year-end No. 1 for the second year in a row, despite a back injury that doctors say could lead to a long-term problem.

Halep, who won her first major title at this year’s French Open, clinched the year-end top tennis ranking on Monday but may be forced to pull out of the upcoming Kremlin Cup and the season-ending WTA Finals because of a herniated disk.

“I haven’t practiced 100 percent yet but today, tomorrow, I will do close to 100,” Halep said in a conference call, “and I will be able to know better the next day.

“The doctor told me it’s nothing about the surgery, but if I will keep playing there is a risk of long-term injury. I don’t need that and I don’t want that, so I have to make good decisions in the next days.”

The 27-year-old Halep had her best year on tour in 2018, reaching the Australian Open final and then winning her first Grand Slam title a few months later at Roland Garros. But she announced at the start of this month that she had an MRI exam after retiring from her first-round match at the China Open and the herniated disk problem was found.

The Kremlin Cup runs this week and the WTA Finals, which is for the top eight players in the world, begin in Singapore on Oct. 21.

“I hope first to be able to play here (in Moscow) because … I have already 3-4 days getting ready for this tournament,” Halep said. “But if I will not be able to play here, I’m very doubtful that I will be able to play in Singapore because it’s very fast.

“So I don’t know now, but for sure I will take a decision for my health first.”

Despite the injury, Halep is still relishing in her season. She has been at the top of the rankings for nearly the entire year even though her results suffered as the season wore on.

Halep has played in 15 tournaments so far in 2018, but she followed up her first major title by losing in the third round at Wimbledon. She then lost in the first round at the U.S. Open.

Keeping her best level throughout the long season is something Halep has struggled with, even though she has qualified for the WTA Finals in each of the five years since its move to Singapore.

“It’s really difficult and I feel it every year, and I feel it more and more, to be honest. I give everything I have the first part of the year and then it’s difficult for me to play,” said Halep, who also reached French Open finals in 2014 and 2017 but lost both times. “My goal for the next years is to be better in this position, if I would be able to qualify again for the Finals. I want just to be better and ready to play the tournament.”

But before she takes the court in Singapore, or in Moscow, there’s that back injury that is still bothering her.

“It’s been very stressful, and I was worried every day because I was waiting to see how I feel every morning I wake up,” Halep said. “So it’s pretty stressful but somehow it’s normal because injuries are pretty normal when you play at the highest level. So I try just to keep myself calm and to be positive. I know it’s not an easy injury. The back is always difficult, but I have to accept it and to look forward.”

Zverev beats Djokovic to win ATP Finals title

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LONDON — Alexander Zverev upset Novak Djokovic to claim the biggest title of his career with a 6-4, 6-3 victory at the ATP Finals on Sunday.

The 21-year-old Zverev became the youngest champion of the season-ending event since Djokovic claimed the first of his five titles a decade ago, and the first from Germany since 1995.

Top-ranked Djokovic was attempting to tie Roger Federer’s record of six titles but followed the same path as the Swiss great, who lost to Zverev in the semifinals at the O2 Arena.

Djokovic’s serve hadn’t been broken all tournament until the final. Zverev did it once in the first set and three times in the second, completing the victory with a spectacular backhand winner up the line.

Both players began the match in the same form that had seen them earn straight-sets semifinal victories a day earlier, with few points going against the server.

It was Djokovic, who had lost just two of his previous 37 matches, who began to feel the pressure as consecutive forehand errors gave Zverev a chance to serve out the opening set at 5-4.

Fans gave Zverev a huge ovation as he stepped up to serve, and it appeared to inspire him. Three straight aces brought up three set points, the second of which he took when Djokovic sent another forehand long.

Zverev even began to outlast Djokovic in longer rallies, an area of the game the 14-time Grand Slam champion usually dominates. A 26-shot duel brought up another break point in the opening game of the second set and, although Djokovic saved it, Zverev won another lengthy exchange moments later with a forehand winner to go 1-0 up.

With the biggest win of his career in sight, Zverev began to show some nerves. Although he is the only active player outside of the Big Four of Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray to possess three or more Masters titles, the young German has only reached one Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Two double faults and two backhand errors gifted Djokovic an immediate break back, but Zverev quickly refocused to win a 28-shot rally on his way to breaking in the following game.

From there he remained solid on serve, before ending with a flourish. Having been pushed wide, a backhand winner on the run drifted past the helpless Djokovic.

Zverev sunk to the ground in tears as Djokovic sportingly crossed the net to embrace the player who will now be considered among the favorites to end the Serb’s run of two consecutive Grand Slam victories in Australia in two months’ time.

Earlier, American pair Mike Bryan and Jack Sock saved a match point in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Pierre-Hughes Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 5-7, 6-1, 13-11 for their first ATP Finals doubles title together.

Having failed to take advantage of five championship points during the first-to-10 match tiebreaker, Bryan and Sock then had to save one against their French opponents before finally closing out victory.

“It was a hell of a match,” Bryan said.

The 40-year-old Bryan has now won the tournament five times. He won four times with his usual partner – and brother – Bob, who has been out with an injured hip since May.

Sock and Bryan have dominated since teaming up, winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before finishing their season in style in London.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Bryan said. “This could be our last hoorah because Bob’s training back in Florida.”

Bryan, Sock win ATP Finals doubles title

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LONDON — American pair Mike Bryan and Jack Sock saved a match point in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Pierre-Hughes Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 5-7, 6-1, 13-11 for their first ATP Finals doubles title together on Sunday.

Having failed to take advantage of five championship points during the first-to-10 match tiebreaker, Bryan and Sock then had to save one against their French opponents before finally closing out victory at the O2 Arena.

“It was a hell of a match,” Bryan said.

The 40-year-old Bryan has now won the season-ending tournament five times. He won four times with his usual partner – and brother – Bob, who has been out with an injured hip since May.

Sock and Bryan have dominated since teaming up, winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before finishing their season in style in London.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Bryan said. “This could be our last hoorah because Bob’s training back in Florida.”

After reaching the singles semifinals last year, Sock has endured a torrid season in that format, falling outside the top-100 ranked players. However, he became the first American since John McEnroe to add a doubles final appearance at the tournament to his last-four singles showing.

“This is special because it was a pretty bad year in singles,” Sock said. “This makes up for some of the low moments I’ve had.”

The French duo’s season is not over yet. Herbert and Mahut are part of their nation’s squad for the Davis Cup final against Croatia, which starts in Lille on Friday.