AP Photo

U.S. Open champ Osaka into quarters at Australian Open

Leave a comment

MELBOURNE, Australia — U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka was a set down again at the Australian Open and looking for a bit of inspiration.

She thought of how 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas had stunned 20-time major winner Roger Federer and how Frances Tiafoe has advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time. This helped her pull herself together Monday to reach the last eight, too.

No. 4-seeded Osaka had a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 fourth-round win over No. 13-seeded Anastasija Sevastova to reach the last eight at a major for the second time. She’ll next play sixth-seeded Elina Svitolina, who fended off five break points in a game in the third set that went to deuce 11 times, contained 28 points, and was pivotal in a momentum-swinging 6-2, 1-6, 6-1 win over 2017 U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys.

“I wasn’t really sure what to do at a point. I just try to stick in there,” Osaka said. “And also I was watching all these kids winning, like, last night Tsitsipas beat Federer and I was like, `Woah’ – so I decided I wanted to do well, too.

“I think that’s everyone’s dream,” she added.

In her third-round win over Hsieh Su-wei, the 21-year-old Osaka got a warning from the umpire for spiking her racket after losing the first set. She was down a break in the second set, too

Against Sevastova, “I was thinking I’ve been in this position before and actually last time it was a little bit worse,” Osaka said.

Another win now and there’s potential for Osaka to have a rematch of the U.S. Open final against Serena Williams. The eight-time Australian Open champion Williams was playing top-ranked Simona Halep later Monday in the fourth round.

But Osaka knows there’ll be no easy ride against Svitolina.

Coming off a win at the WTA Finals, Svitolina is aiming to do what Caroline Wozniacki did last year and follow up a title at the season-ending championship with a breakthrough major in Australia.

For a quarter of an hour on Day 8, Svitolina served and served, and served, tossing the ball into the sun, in a desperate bid to hold a game in the third set against Keys.

After that huge hold, she broke the 17th-seeded Keys’s serve in at her first opportunity in the next game, and it was all one-way from then on.

“I was happy I could handle the pressure at 1-1 in the third set,” Svitolina said. “It was very hard because the sun was just burning my eyes when I was tossing the ball. Very happy I could win that game.”

“The Singapore week showed that I can be out there and winning tough matches … big matches,” she said. “I know that I can challenge good players and I can win.

She’s taking an 0-3 record in Grand Slam quarterfinals into her next match against Osaka, but is taking a different mindset into the match.

Winning in Singapore “gave me huge boost of confidence, so I don’t think about the past anymore,” she said. “I only look forward.”

Apart from the second set, Keys didn’t quite find her range with her ground strokes and 34 unforced errors.

She dropped her first two service games in the match, and she missed very narrowly on some crucial points.

“I think that in the third set we obviously had a really long game at 1-All, and that was where all the momentum swung,” Keys said. “For me to get broken easily right after, I think I lost all the momentum that I had in the second set. It feels like it went really fast.”

Opelka edges top-seeded Isner to reach New York Open final

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.