Sloane Stephens wins battle of ‘Frenemies’ at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Sloane Stephens advanced at the Australian Open at the expense of her former doubles partner Timea Babos in a second-round match the women’s tour billed as a battle of the so-called “frenemies.”

Fifth-seeded Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, dominated the Rod Laver Arena opener 6-3, 6-1 on Wednesday but Babos kept her working by saving 18 of the 23 break points she faced.

This is the first time since 2014 that Stephens has put back-to-back wins together at Melbourne Park. She reached the fourth round in 2014, a year after making a run to the semifinals.

She puts the improvement down to feeling more relaxed.

“Yeah, considering I haven’t won a match here in I don’t know how long,” she said. “I’m kind of conquering all the places where I’ve been terrible. So Asia, I’ve won a few matches there, and here.

“I know haven’t done well here the last few years …. (so) putting the emphasis on trying to start the year on a good foot.”

Stephens and Babos combined to win three junior Grand Slam doubles titles – the French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open – in 2010.

Stephens couldn’t remember exactly how the combination was formed in the juniors, but said she knew what to expect from Babos.

“She obviously is an incredible doubles player, last year No. 1 in the world,” she said. “I see her every week. We’re good.”

Stephens will next play No. 31-seeded Petra Martic, who beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-4, 7-5.

In other early women’s matches Wednesday, Ash Barty had seven aces and dropped serve only once in a 6-2, 6-3 win over Wang Yafan to continue her bid to end a title drought for Australian women at the championship that dates to 1978.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova eliminated ninth-seeded Kiki Bertens 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 to reach the third round of a major for the first time since her quarterfinal run here in 2017, and Aliaksandra Sasnovich beat 20th-seeded Anett Kontaveit 6-3, 6-3.

No. 19-seeded Caroline Garcia advanced 6-3, 6-3 over Zoe Hives.

Advancing on the men’s side were 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych, No. 14-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 19 Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Defending champions Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki were in action later Wednesday, as well the No. 2-ranked players Rafael Nadal and Angelique Kerber.

Unseeded Parks beats top-seeded Garcia for her 1st title

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LYON, France — Unseeded American Alycia Parks secured a stunning 7-6 (7), 7-5 upset win over WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in the Open Metropole de Lyon final to clinch her first career title.

“I think France has a special part in my heart right now,” Parks said. “I’ll be back next year.”

The 22-year-old Parks, who is ranked 79th, had 15 aces and saved all four break points against the top-seeded Garcia.

Parks secured the only break of a tight contest to win the match.

The fifth-ranked Garcia, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, was seeking a 12th career title.

“Congrats on a great tournament,” Garcia told Parks in English. “If you keep playing like this for sure you’re going to keep going up (the rankings).”

Parks has a career-best ranking of 75th.

The 29-year-old Garcia, who grew up in Lyon, took time to thank her home crowd – this time in French.

“It means a lot to play here, thanks for being here,” Garcia said. “You supported me from the first point to the last. Thanks for all your encouragement.”

Zhu beats Tsurenko to win Thailand Open

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Zhu Lin of China won her maiden career title after beating Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the Thailand Open.

In a match lasting one hour and 45 minutes, both players exchanged nail-biting baseline rallies before Zhu finally found a way past her determined opponent.

The 29-year-old Chinese player managed a break to go up 5-3 in the first set. Although she was broken to love in the following game, Zhu returned the favor straight back, also to love, to take the opening set in 46 minutes.

The second saw players trade breaks with Zhu eventually securing her first match point at 5-3. She sprayed a shot wide to miss the chance but capitalized on her third in the 10th game with a backhand winner.

“I’m so happy to finally win my first tour title. All the hard work finally paid off,” said the No. 54-ranked Zhu, who will crack the top 50 when the new WTA rankings are updated.

Zhu has started the season strongly, reaching the quarter-finals in Auckland and the last 16 at the Australian Open.

The victory also allowed Zhu to avenge her loss to the Ukrainian at the WTA Dubai Championships back in 2019.

Despite the loss, the No. 136-ranked Tsurenko, 33, will return to the top 100.