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Marin Cilic seals Davis Cup title for Croatia against France

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LILLE, France — Marin Cilic sealed Croatia’s victory over defending champion France in the Davis Cup final with a 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-3 win over Lucas Pouille on Sunday.

Cilic, a former U.S. Open champion, gave Croatia a 3-1 unassailable lead in the best-of-five series on indoor clay in northern France with a ruthless display.

Cilic lived up to his status of team leader this weekend, winning his two matches without dropping a set. He was surrounded by the whole Croatian team on the court and covered his shoulders with the Croatian flag after the country’s president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, warmly hugged him.

“It’s not every day that you become a world champion,” Cilic said. “For us, it’s a dream come true, for this nation, we are so passionate, you can see the fans. And I feel that in Croatia it’s going to be incredible too.”

Croatia claimed a second title in the team event following its first win in 2005.

The Davis Cup final was played for the last time in its traditional format. Beginning next year, the top team event in men’s tennis will be decided with a season-ending, 18-team tournament at a neutral site.

After Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert won Saturday’s doubles, the hosts trailed 2-1 and needed to win both reverse singles on the final day to become the first team since 1939 to overturn a 2-0 deficit in a final.

But their hopes of a comeback were quickly dashed.

The seventh-ranked Cilic struggled with his first serve in the opening set yet did not face a single break point.

Pouille, who replaced Jeremy Chardy after France captain Yannick Noah changed his lineup in a bid to force a decisive fifth match, made repeated mistakes on his backhand. Pouille hit a total of 44 unforced errors, compared to Cilic’s 29.

The Frenchman, who wrapped up France’s 10th Davis Cup title last year by winning the decisive point against Belgium, managed to stay in contention on the back of his strong serve and some clever drop shots that surprised Cilic, but his Croat rival raised his level in the tiebreaker. Cilic won four straight points to seal the set, including a thunderous forehand pass that left Pouille stranded.

Pouille’s level of play then dropped drastically while Cilic kept up the intensity and broke for a 4-2 lead in the second set. Pouille managed to save four set points in the eight game with a series of good serves before Cilic held his next service game to seal the set with a crosscourt forehand.

Despite the support of the vociferous French fans at the Pierre Mauroy stadium, Pouille appeared powerless in the third set and dropped his serve again in the fifth game after yet another backhand error that sealed his fate. The Frenchman saved two match points at 5-3 but was forced to watch when Cilic unleashed a superb lob that secured another break and the title.

The French tennis federation said teams will not play the final reverse singles match.

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.

More AP Tennis: https://www.apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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.