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Bertens beats Sabalenka, faces Vekic in St. Petersburg final

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Kiki Bertens reached her first final since September with a 7-6 (5), 6-2 win over Aryna Sabalenka at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy on Saturday, and will face Donna Vekic in the final.

The eighth-ranked Bertens broke Sabalenka’s serve four times and fired in nine aces as she moved to a career 3-0 record over 10th-ranked Sabalenka.

Eighth-seeded Vekic needed just 1 hour, 11 minutes to beat Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 6-2 in the second semifinal, denying the Russian veteran a first WTA final appearance since 2011.

Zvonareva defeated the top-ranked Russian Daria Kasatkina in the quarterfinals but barely made a scratch on Vekic’s serve, earning one break point which was saved.

Bertens is 7-2 in career finals and will be aiming Sunday to win her fourth title in the space of 12 months after victory at the Charleston, Cincinnati and Seoul tournaments last season.

It will be a third straight final on hard courts for Bertens, who until August had never reached any WTA final on a surface other than clay. She won both her previous hard-court finals, defeating Simona Halep in Cincinnati and Alja Tomljanovic in Seoul.

Bertens’ current ranking of eighth is the best for a Dutch woman since Betty Stove, who reached No. 5 in 1977.

Vekic reached her first final since losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova in Washington in August. The Croatian player is 2-4 in finals and 1-3 on hard courts, with her sole win on that surface coming at the 2014 Malaysian Open.

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.