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Svitolina, Pliskova win opening matches at WTA Finals

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SINGAPORE — Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina secured opening round-robin match wins at the WTA Finals on Sunday.

Pliskova, who now leads the tour with 48 wins this season, defeated defending champion Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark 6-2, 6-4 in the second match.

Pliskova saved all 10 break points she faced in the match, including two when serving for the match in the final game. The Czech closed out the match on a third match point with an ace.

Earlier, Elina Svitolina of Ukraine ended a seven-match losing streak against Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic for a 6-3, 6-3 win.

The seventh-ranked Svitolina, making her second consecutive appearance in Singapore, only earned qualification to this year’s tournament last week when Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens failed to reach the Moscow semifinals. Later, Bertens made the final eight when No. 1-ranked Simona Halep withdrew with a herniated disk in her back.

“It’s very nice to be back in Singapore and I’m very, very happy with the match tonight,” Svitolina told the crowd. “I had to stay focused and be strong mentally. I had to play quickly and keep moving my feet so I need a massage now.

“You have to play your best level because everybody is very strong playing here.”

Svitolina, who now holds a 1-0 record in the White Group, had only beaten Kvitova once before in their first match at the 2014 Cincinnati tournament. Sunday’s victory was Svitolina’s first win against a top-10 opponent since May.

The Ukrainian player briefly left the post-match news conference but later returned.

“I’m just not feeling good,” said Svitolina after returning. A WTA spokesperson said Svitolina indicated she was feeling light-headed with slight nausea.

The fifth-ranked Kvitova, who won the year-end title in 2011, never looked settled and struggled with her serve throughout the 1 hour, 29 minutes match. Her first serve percentage was only 55, which made the task of beating Svitolina near impossible.

She double-faulted seven times in the match, including on set point in the first for Svitolina. Six of Kvitova’s seven double faults came in the first set.

“I think she really played very consistent,” Kvitova said. “Overall, yeah, it wasn’t the best start, but the good thing is that there is still a chance to play better and to improve, and maybe go somewhere forward.”

The Czech surrendered her serve in the opening game of the match but managed to recoup the break in the next game. But she was broken twice more in the first set to fall behind.

Svitolina set up the second set win by breaking Kvitova’s serve to go ahead 4-2.

Svitolina said her win was an answer to any suggestions she didn’t deserve to play here, having qualified so late for the draw.

“Winning this match definitely gives me lots of confidence,” Svitolina said. “This win … I want to take as one to go forward, and for all those people and haters that were saying that I don’t deserve to be here and I’m not good.”

Kvitova, who came into Singapore with a tour-leading five titles this season, and Wozniacki now stand at 0-1 in the White Group standings.

Wozniacki came into the late match with a 6-3 career record over Pliskova, including their last meeting in the round-robin portion of last year’s WTA Finals.

Wozniacki’s best effort in the match was saving two match points on her serve in the ninth game of the second set.

Opelka edges top-seeded Isner to reach New York Open final

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) Reilly Opelka edged top-seeded John Isner the same way he knocked his fellow American out of the Australian Open, winning a match full of tiebreakers Saturday night in a New York Open semifinal that set a record for combined aces in a three-set match.

Opelka fought off six match points in a marathon second set and went on to win 6-7 (8), 7-6 (14), 7-6 (4) to move within a victory of his first ATP title.

The 6-foot-11 Opelka and 6-10 Isner combined for 81 aces and there were no breaks of serve. Opelka hit 43 aces, Isner had 38, and each had only one double fault.

It was similar to their meeting in Melbourne, when Opelka beat the ninth-ranked Isner in a first-round match that went four tiebreakers.

Opelka will play Canadian Brayden Schnur, a qualifier who had never won a tour-level match before this week.

Schnur recovered after blowing a 3-0 lead and eventually the second set to beat American Sam Querrey 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-3.

Schnur was the final alternate accepted into the tournament’s qualifying draw and was nearly gone from Long Island quickly, eventually overcoming two match points to beat No. 3 seed Steve Johnson in the second round.

There was nothing quick about the second semifinal, which lasted 2 hours, 31 minutes and went well past the previous record of 71 aces, set earlier this year in a match between Nick Kyrgios and Ryan Harrison.

Isner was in good position to win in straight sets, taking a 3-1 lead in the tiebreaker when Opelka pushed a forehand long. But he wasted a chance to win the match on his serve, and Opelka then kept erasing the rest of the match points when he served.

Isner had dropped both matches this season, part of a six-match skid dating to the end of last year, before winning his first two matches here in straight sets.

But he was stopped again by Opelka, who fell two aces shy of Ivo Karlovic’s record for most aces in a three-set match.

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Mertens upsets Halep in Qatar Open final

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DOHA, Qatar – Unseeded Elise Mertens came from a set and a break down to beat recent No. 1 Simona Halep 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the Qatar Open final and capture the biggest title of her career on Saturday.

Halep led 6-3, 2-0, then lost a service game for a third time to see the second set back on serve. Mertens continued to pressure, missing two more break chances in the seventh game but finally breaking – to love – in the ninth. The set was the first Mertens took from Halep in three matchups.

Mertens broke again to start the third set, Halep leveled at 2-2, but Mertens finished stronger and won her fifth career title.

The Belgian beat two other top-10 players this week, Kiki Bertens and Angelique Kerber.

Halep’s first final appearance since August guaranteed she will rise one spot to No. 2 in the rankings on Monday.