AP Photo

Australian Open champ Osaka is Asia’s first No. 1 in tennis

Leave a comment

MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka is the first player from Asia to top the men’s or women’s tennis rankings — and the youngest woman to make her debut at No. 1 in nine years.

“I feel like I’m literally just still learning,” the 21-year-old Osaka said. “Everyone kind of adjusts to being No. 1 in a different way.”

Simona Halep’s 48-week stay atop the WTA rankings ended Monday as she slid to No. 3 after a fourth-round loss to Serena Williams, one year after getting to the final at Melbourne Park.

“The main goal is just to play as good as I can every match, to win every match I play, so the ranking doesn’t really matter,” Halep said.

Halep said the year-end ranking is what is “more important” than where things stand now, “so I will not stress myself about this.”

Osaka’s second consecutive major title, following her success at the U.S. Open last year, helped her rise three spots.

She was born in Japan — her mother is Japanese, her father is Haitian — and moved to the United States when she was 3. She has dual citizenship and now is based in Florida.

Osaka is the youngest woman to reach the top since 2010, when Caroline Wozniacki did it at 20.

“People were talking about (me) being No. 1 if I win this tournament. I was able to accomplish that,” Osaka said. “But the ranking was never my real goal. It was just to win this tournament.”

The runner-up at Melbourne Park, Petra Kvitova, jumped from No. 6 to No. 2.

Sloane Stephens is No. 4, and Karolina Pliskova went from No. 8 to No. 5.

Williams missed the 2018 tournament after having a baby; her quarterfinal run this time pushed her up five places to No. 11.

Surprise semifinalist Danielle Collins, a 25-year-old from Florida, climbed from No. 35 to No. 23. The woman she upset in the fourth round, three-time major champion Angelique Kerber, dropped from No. 2 to No. 6.

Novak Djokovic’s record seventh Australian Open title allowed him to stay at No. 1 in the ATP rankings, and Rafael Nadal’s runner-up showing kept him at No. 2.

But 2017-18 champion Roger Federer’s fourth-round exit took him from No. 3 down to No. 6.

The player who beat Federer, 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, turned his first run to a Grand Slam semifinal into a career-best ranking of No. 12.

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.