Pliskova reaches WTA Finals semifinals with win over Kvitova

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SINGAPORE — Karolina Pliskova won the first set to eliminate Petra Kvitova, and then won the second set to advance to the semifinals at the WTA Finals.

Pliskova, who advanced from her group for the second straight year, beat Kvitova 6-3, 6-4 on Thursday to improve her record to 2-1 at the season-ending tournament.

It was Pliskova’s first victory over Kvitova in their fourth meeting.

“I knew I lost my other matches to her. I knew this time I had a chance because I was playing pretty well in my other two matches here,” Pliskova said on court after the match. “Everything is working well for me this week so I’m just happy.”

In the other group match, Elina Svitolina stayed unbeaten and advanced to the semifinals by beating defending champion Caroline Wozniacki 5-7, 7-5, 6-3.

Kvitova jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second set, but Pliskova then won six of the next seven games. Kvitova finished the group with three straight losses.

“I still had a lot of positive thoughts in the match to fight and turn it around, even (if it) didn’t happen,” Kvitova said. “I still need to be fine because I still have the Fed Cup final (against the United States) coming up.”

Kvitova, who is from the Czech Republic, rarely loses to players from her country. Since the 2012 Madrid tournament, the two-time Wimbledon champion has won 27 of 29 matches against Czech opponents.

Her only other loss to a Czech player in that time period was to Pliskova’s twin sister, Kristyna, at this year’s tournament in Charleston, South Carolina.

Svitolina only needed to win one set in the late match to advance, but she had to wait for it.

Wozniacki nearly pulled off the straight-set victory, which would have given her a place in the semifinals instead. But she squandered two game points in the final game of the second set and then sent a backhand long on a fifth-set point for Svitolina.

“It was an amazing match and a tough fight because Caroline always brings the best out of you,” Svitolina said on court. “You have to push your limits against her.”

Shapovalov beats Johnson in straight sets at Japan Open

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TOKYO — Denis Shapovalov put up a near-perfect serving performance to beat Steve Johnson 6-3, 7-6 (3) at the Japan Open.

The seventh-seeded Canadian conceded only one point on his first serve and had 11 aces. Shapovalov, who lost in the semifinals four years ago, will next take on Japanese qualifier Rio Noguchi for a place in the quarterfinals.

“(This was) definitely one of my best serving matches,” Shapovalov said. “I kind of felt like I needed to against Steve . I’m very happy with my serving performance today and hopefully I can keep it up throughout the week.”

Also, Miomir Kecmanovic came back to beat Yoshihito Nishioka 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-2, and Kwon Soon-woo defeated Mackenzie McDonald 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-2.

Alcaraz loses to Goffin in 1st match as No. 1

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Carlos Alcaraz’s first match as the No. 1-ranked player ended with a straight-set loss to David Goffin at the Astana Open.

The 19-year-old Spaniard lost 7-5, 6-3 in his first tour match since winning the U.S. Open and capturing the No. 1 ranking.

“David was playing really, really well. To come back to competition is never easy,” Alcaraz said. “It’s really tough for me, for my confidence.”

Alcaraz came from 5-2 down to level the first set at 5-5, only to be broken again by his Belgian opponent.

“When you play against the World No. 1 on a big stage, big crowd, the fire inside gives you so much power to play your best tennis because you don’t have any choice,” Goffin said. “You have to fight and give your best and that was the case today.”

Second-seeded Daniil Medvedev and No. 3-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas both avoided similar upsets. Medvedev beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain 6-3, 6-1 and Tsitsipas ousted Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3. 6-4.