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WTA Finals: Stephens rallies to reach final vs Svitolina

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SINGAPORE (AP) Sloane Stephens overcame a terrible start against Karolina Pliskova to win 0-6, 6-4, 6-1 at the WTA Finals on Saturday, setting up a championship match against Elina Svitolina.

“I came out here a little bit nervous and I wasn’t quite feeling the ball,” said the fifth-seeded Stephens, who is making her debut at the tournament this year. “I just tried to stay in it. I was very proud of my effort today.”

Both Svitolina and Stephens posted 3-0 round-robin records before winning their semifinals.

Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, let out a huge yell on breaking her Czech opponent’s serve in the third game of the second set after trailing 6-0, 2-0.

From there Stephens found her footing and seventh-seeded Pliskova began to derail.

After Stephens had lost the first eight games, the American said she was thinking “I made it all the way to the semifinal, and I’m going to lose? … I was, like, I’m going to lose 0-0. It’s like I’m trying so hard. Nothing’s working. But then I won one game. Then you know the rest.”

Stephens reached her second Grand Slam final at the French Open in June. She has won one title at Miami this season.

Pliskova was only a point away from a 3-0 lead in the second set.

“I think set and a half I was playing very well,” said Pliskova.

Last year Svitolina became the first Ukrainian woman to play singles at the WTA Finals. This year Svitolina became the first woman from her country to reach the season-ending final after beating Kiki Bertens 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-4.

“It feels amazing and it was such a tough battle today,” said Svitolina, who pumped her fists and then blew kisses to the crowd after winning.

“I think physically in the end it was just about running and chasing every ball.”

Bertens played too risky a brand of tennis, posting 41 winners to 12 for Svitolina, but also making 63 to 36 unforced errors.

“There’s still lots of work ahead,” said sixth-seeded Svitolina. “It’s the last match of the season, definitely now, and I’m going to give my best and leave everything on court.”

Svitolina is chasing her fourth title this season, having already won at Brisbane, Dubai and Rome.

Svitolina qualified for a second consecutive WTA Finals this year only because her Dutch opponent on Saturday failed to reach the Moscow semifinals. The eighth-seeded Bertens eventually qualified for the eight-player field when No. 1 Simona Halep withdrew from the tournament with a back injury.

Bertens saved one set point on her serve in the 10th game of the first set, but couldn’t repeat that trick in the 12th game, double-faulting at 15-40 to surrender the set.

Bertens failed to capitalize on four set points ahead of the second set tiebreaker, but pushed the match into a decisive third set with a return winner on her next set point.

Serving for her place in the final, Svitolina saved two break points before shutting Bertens down.

This year is the first time since the round-robin format was reintroduced in 2003 that none of the top four seeded players – No. 1 Angelique Kerber, No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki, No. 3 Osaka and No. 4 Petra Kvitova – reached the semifinals.

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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.