Serena, Osaka win opening matches in Miami

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Facing the setting sun, Serena Williams tried to shield her eyes with her left hand as she hit a shot, lost the point and then waved in frustration at the bothersome glare.

Later, after a seesaw victory in her first match at the Miami Open’s new site, she was able to joke about the unwanted spotlight.

“A lot of photographers came,” Williams said. “I thought, `This must be good light.’ I thought about taking a selfie, but you’ve got to stay in the moment.”

Williams played poorly for a stretch and was broken three times but steadied her game in the final set to beat Rebecca Peterson 6-3, 1-6, 6-1. She avoided a repeat of last year, when she was eliminated in the first round by Naomi Osaka.

That was Williams’ farewell to Key Biscayne, where she won eight titles. Only Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf have won any women’s tournament more times.

With the Miami Open’s move to the Dolphins’ stadium complex, players are adjusting to the unfamiliar setting. The No. 1-ranked Osaka beat qualifier Yanina Wickmayer 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-1, but she and Williams both found the mix of sun and shadows in the cavernous stadium a challenge.

“It was interesting,” Williams said. “First it was dark out there, which was really odd. The shadows were so intense it was dark, and then … there was light.”

She chuckled and said, “Whatever. I need to focus on playing better or not being in the tournament much longer.”

Osaka agreed that any issues with visibility weren’t worth complaining about. She hit 14 aces and overcame a ragged stretch in the second set, when she became so frustrated she threw her racket.

“I had a bit of a dip,” Osaka said. “It was really hard for me, I think, emotionally in the second set, because I just started thinking about winning, not exactly the things I could do in order to win.”

Williams’ match followed a similar pattern, but she regrouped after a flurry of errors in the second set.

“I said, `Serena, you can play a lot better than that,”‘ she said.

While the outer courts were crowded on a mild, cloudless afternoon, there were only a few thousand spectators for Williams’ match in the 13,800-seat stadium, with temporary stands on three sides and a net replacing the 50-yard line.

“It was a different court, but it was a beautiful court,” said Williams, who happens to own a small share of the Dolphins. “It’s so different from anything I’ve played on in my entire career, so I was super excited.”

The mood was mostly subdued, although when Williams whacked a backhand winner with a grunt that echoed in the upper deck, the fans added their own roar to hers.

The match victory was the 76th for Williams in the tournament, but she hasn’t won a Miami Open title since 2015. She hasn’t won any tournament since the 2017 Australian Open, before she took a break of more than a year to become a mom.

The match was her first since she retired at Indian Wells two weeks ago because of a viral illness.

On the men’s side, defending champion John Isner hit 20 aces, lost only 11 points on his serve and beat qualifier Lorenzo Sonego 7-6 (2), 7-6 (7).

No. 5-seeded Kei Nishikori was upset by Dusan Lajovic 2-6, 6-2, 6-3. Lajovic improved to 3-14 against top-10 players.

In other women’s play, Canadian 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu, who overcame a match point to win her opening match, reached the third round by beating No. 32 Sofia Kenin 6-3, 6-3. Andreescu won her first career title last week at Indian Wells.

Defending Miami Open champion Sloane Stephens beat Ons Jabeur 6-2, 6-3. Three-time champion Venus Williams overcame a wobbly start to beat No. 24 Carla Suarez Navarro 7-6 (4), 6-1.

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.