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Czechs beat defending champion U.S. in Fed Cup final

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PRAGUE — Six finals, six victories.

The Czech Republic kept its perfect record in the Fed Cup finals by capturing the trophy for the sixth time in eight years by defeating the defending champion United States.

Katerina Siniakova saved two match points before defeating Sofia Kenin 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 in the first reverse singles on Sunday to give the Czechs an insurmountable 3-0 lead over defending champion United States in the best-of-five final.

It was the first victory for the Czechs over the United States – since the country was created after the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993 – after four defeats in the Fed Cup.

The Czechoslovakia team that won five Fed Cup titles was 2-6 against the U.S.

“It was an unbelievable match for me,” Siniakova said. “It was up and down, with nerves. I’m extremely happy that I won. I thank all who came for their support. It was felt.”

U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said she was proud of her team despite the loss.

“We didn’t get the result that we wanted but nobody can say we didn’t give all out there,” Rinaldi said after her first loss as the captain.

“That match today, both girls, both players were incredible,” she said. “I’m so honored to have been part of that match, they really fought hard, the points were incredible, it’s just something I never forget.”

In a hard-fought match at the O2 Arena, the 22-year-old Czech saved two match points when Kenin was serving at 5-4, and went on to convert her second match point on the indoor hardcourt in front of 14,500 fans.

“It was a long match, a lot of points, a lot of effort, long points,” Kenin said. “We fought hard till the end. It’s disappointing for me `cause I had like two match points but couldn’t turn things around. But I fought my hardest and I did everything I could.”

Siniakova wasted a 3-0 lead in the final set and the 19-year-old Kenin, who was playing her second match in her debut Fed Cup tie, fought back.

Kenin, who wasted three break points at 5-5, hit 43 winners but also made 76 unforced errors. Siniakova hit 24 winners.

“It was horrible, the worst (moment),” Siniakova said about the match points she faced. “But it’s not the end until the final match point is converted.”

At 3-0 down in the third set, Kenin needed treatment for what seemed to be a thigh muscle problem. The treatment was then repeated several times.

“It was obviously painful for me and I felt like it was just hard for me to move,” Kenin said.

Trailing 3-1, the American wasted five break points in a game that took 19 minutes.

On Saturday, Barbora Strycova rallied for a 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4 victory over Kenin to put the Czechs 1-0 ahead and Siniakova doubled the advantage with a 6-3, 7-6 (2) win over Alison Riske.

The U.S. is the most successful country in the international team competition and won its 18th Fed Cup title last year with Rinaldi in her first season as the captain. The U.S. had not previously won the Fed Cup since 2000.

On the way to the final, the Czechs beat Switzerland 3-1 in the first round and Germany 4-1 in the semifinals.

The final was marred by the absence of top players.

Siniakova was the highest ranked at No. 31.

After four of the top five U.S. women in the WTA singles rankings – the Williams sisters, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys – decided to skip it, three players on the team made their Fed Cup debuts.

The Czechs are weakened, too, missing their two top-10 players. Karolina Pliskova was ruled out due to injuries and Petra Kvitova due to illness.

International Tennis Federation President David Haggerty said in Prague the ITF would like to have more top players in the competition in general.

“One of the concepts is to do something similar to what we’ve done with the Davis Cup. Nothing is determined (yet),” he said.

Haggerty said the ITF would like to expand the Fed Cup World Group to 16 teams from the current eight because “some of the top players are on the teams that are maybe nine through 16.”

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.