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Two years after stabbing, Kvitova into Australian Open final

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Two years ago, Petra Kvitova missed the Australian Open, just weeks after her racket-holding left hand was stabbed by an intruder at her home in the Czech Republic.

Two days from now, back at her best during what she calls her “second career,” Kvitova will play for the championship at Melbourne Park.

Taking control after the court’s retractable roof was closed as the temperature soared toward 100 degrees (38 Celsius) Thursday, the No. 7-seeded Kvitova surged to a 7-6 (2), 6-0 semifinal victory over 35th-ranked American Danielle Collins.

“It means everything,” Kvitova said of reaching her first major final since the December 2016 knife attack that led to hours of surgery on her hand.

Kvitova stretched her winning streak to 11 matches and has a chance to rise to No. 1 in the WTA rankings if she can collect her first Australian Open title to go alongside the two she earned at Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014.

In Saturday’s final, Kvitova will face reigning U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka or 2016 U.S. Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova.

It was Pliskova who saved four match points and came back from 5-1 down in the third set to stun Serena Williams in the quarterfinals.

Against Collins, a two-time NCAA champion at the University of Virginia who was 0-5 at major tournaments until last week, Kvitova was more aggressive throughout, mixing big lefty forehands and well-timed pushes forward to the tune of a 30-9 edge in total winners.

But the key to the outcome might very well have been what happened at 4-all after 35 minutes of action: That’s when the decision finally was made to close the 15,000-seat stadium’s cover, drawing cheers of approval from broiling spectators.

Kvitova probably wanted to applaud, too.

“I was happier than the fans that the roof closed,” she said afterward. “I like to play indoors. It helped me a little bit.”

She’s made clear over the years she is not a huge fan of playing in stifling heat. Not too many people truly are, of course, but someone like Collins, a 25-year-old from Florida, might be more used to that sort of thing.

The match was suspended for about five minutes and when play resumed, it went from being completely even to tilted in Kvitova’s favor. She dominated the tiebreaker and the second set.

The chair umpire was Carlos Ramos, the official who penalized Williams a game in last year’s chaotic U.S. Open final, and Collins got into a couple of testy exchanges with him.

First in the tiebreaker, then in the opening game of the second set, Collins protested that Ramos was applying rules differently than umpires had in her earlier matches. Whether or not there was merit to what she was saying, it seemed clear that the back-and-forths with Ramos didn’t help Collins.

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.