Osaka wins but takes tough road at French Open

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PARIS (AP) Naomi Osaka is grinding her way through the French Open the hard way.

To cling onto her quest for a third consecutive Grand Slam title, the top-ranked Osaka has twice had to rally from first-set woes.

The latest opponent was former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, beaten 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the second round Thursday in a match with superb shot-making.

The U.S Open and Australian Open champion from Japan, who surprisingly lost a set 6-0 in the first round, again started poorly.

Azarenka, now ranked No. 43 and without a major title since winning the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013, raced to a 4-0 lead on Court Suzanne Lenglen and kept Osaka under constant pressure.

Osaka considered herself unfortunate to be drawn against Azarenka and the powerful, accurate tennis produced by the 29-year-old Belarusian playing in her 12th French Open showed why.

Broken by a backhand volley at the net from Azarenka in the fifth game of the second set, Osaka seemed to be in deep trouble. But, as she did in beating first-round opponent Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Osaka again proved her resilience.

The eighth game of the second set was pivotal. After saving two break points, Azarenka doubled-faulted. Osaka leveled at 4-4 and the momentum started to shift. It was the seventh break point Azarenka had faced in the set, and the first she had failed to save.

But Azarenka still saved three set points before Osaka finally leveled the match with a backhand cross-court winner.

The third set was packed with drama, too, with Osaka finally taming Azarenka with her third match point, when her combative opponent hit long.

Osaka will next play Katerina Siniakova, ranked No. 42, in the third round.

Also Thursday, Serena Williams will be back on Court Philippe Chatrier against Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara.

In men’s action, top-ranked Novak Djokovic faces 104th-ranked Henri Laaksonen, a “lucky loser” who only entered the draw when another player pulled out.

Earlier, Dominic Thiem overcame some trickery from Kazakh opponent Alexander Bublik to advance to the third round with a 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 7-5 victory.

Bublik surprised Thiem with an underhand serve in the first set and frustrated the Austrian with a series of drop shots, spins and volleys. But last year’s finalist at Roland Garros recovered from a break of serve in the fourth set and then gave Bublik a taste of his own medicine on his first match point, producing a well-disguised – and successful – drop shot.

Thiem will next face Pablo Cuevas, another master of trick shots. Cuevas was leading 7-6 (3), 6-3, 2-1 when Kyle Edmund retired from their match because of a left knee injury.

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U.S. sweeps Uzbekistan, advances to group stage in Davis Cup

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The United States swept its way into the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals, getting the winning point in a 4-0 victory over Uzbekistan from the doubles team of Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek.

They beat Sergey Fomin and Sanjar Fayziev 6-2, 6-4, after Tommy Paul and Mackenzie McDonald had won singles matches in Tashkent.

Ram is No. 3 in the ATP Tour doubles rankings and partnered with Joe Salisbury to win the last two U.S. Open men’s doubles titles. But the Americans opted not to use Ram last year in the final round, when they dropped the doubles match in a 2-1 defeat against Italy in the quarterfinals.

Krajicek was making his Davis Cup debut, having reached No. 9 in the doubles rankings late last year.

“They had five great days of preparation, and as anticipated they came out really sharp and got the early break in the first set. And after that it was like two freight trains, there was no stopping them,” interim captain David Nainkin said.

Denis Kudla then beat Amir Milushev 6-4, 6-4.

The winners of the 12 qualifiers being held this weekend advance to the Davis Cup Finals group stage in September, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

In other matches:

France 3, Hungary 2: On indoor hard courts in Tatabanya, Hungary, Ugo Humbert won it for the French with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Fabian Marozsan. Adrian Mannarino had forced the deciding match by beating Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (6), 6-2.

Serbia 4, Norway 0: On indoor hard courts in Oslo, the visitors, playing without top-ranked Novak Djokovic, put away the match when Filip Krajinovic and Nikola Cacic edged Viktor Durasovic and Herman Hoeyeraal 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Hamad Medjedovic then outlasted Durasovic 6-4, 6-7, 10-4.

Sweden 3, Bosnia 1: On indoor hard courts in Stockholm, Mikael Ymer sent the hosts through by beating Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.

Lesia Tsurenko to face Zhu Lin in Thailand Open final

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine reached her first final in four years after the top-seeded Bianca Andreescu retired with a shoulder injury during their semifinal match at the Thailand Open.

Tsurenko, in search of her fifth WTA title, was leading the 2019 U.S. Open champion 7-5, 4-0 when the Canadian stopped playing.

The former world No. 23 fought from 3-5 down to take the first set and reeled off eight straight games before Andreescu retired with a right shoulder problem.

“Bianca is such an amazing player. She is capable of hitting all kinds of shots and gave so much trouble today,” said the 33-year-old Tsurenko, now ranked 136th. “But I was just fighting and I told myself positive things that I can do it. Unfortunately, she had to retire.”

The Ukrainian last lifted a WTA trophy in Acapulco in 2018 and hasn’t been to a final since Brisbane in 2019.

She will face Zhu Lin of China in the final.

“She had some good wins in the Australian Open,” Tsurenko said. “She is one of the dangerous players in this tournament. She is going to give a good fight.”

In the all-Chinese semifinal earlier, Zhu benefited from a barrage of unforced errors from Wang Xinyu and prevailed 6-2, 6-4 for her first WTA final.

The world No. 54 player, who reached the last 16 at the Australian Open in January, relied on her solid baseline game to force errors.

“It was very windy, so I tried to be patient and keep my first serves in,” said the 29-year-old Zhu, who will team up with Wang in the doubles final against Hao-Ching Chan and Fang-Hsien Wu of Taiwan.