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Wimbledon champion Simona Halep fan of club’s traditions

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WIMBLEDON, England — The newest champion at Wimbledon is a big fan of the All England Club’s oldest traditions.

The tennis whites, the strict rules, even the green grass. And the flowers. Don’t forget the thousands of blooming petals dotted around the grounds in the very Wimbledon shades of purple, green and white.

“I love flowers. The colors,” gasped Halep, speaking a short time after winning her second major title on Saturday by denying Serena Williams her 24th. “The people, they are very well dressed. The elegance of everywhere you go.”

Halep wasn’t exactly dressed for Sunday night’s Champions Dinner while speaking to a small group of reporters following her 6-2, 6-2 victory, but she was wearing something that was even more special to her.

Her brand new Wimbledon member’s badge.

“Looks good,” said the 27-year-old Romanian, brushing her hand over the round, purple button newly pinned to her gray sweat jacket.

“Everything makes this tournament very special,” Halep added. “I never thought I’d be able to win on grass so when I did it, makes it huge.”

Halep grew up playing mainly on clay, a slower surface that usually results in longer rallies on each point. She never used to feel comfortable on grass, she said, partly because she hardly ever got to play on it.

But things have changed in recent years, and the former No. 1 on the women’s tour made a conscious effort to improve her grass-court game. She made the semifinals at Wimbledon back in 2014, but lost in the first round a year later.

To succeed now, she knew she had to change her mindset. To be more aggressive.

“I like to be defensive, but here you have no chance if you are defensive,” said Halep, who also won last year’s French Open title. “And then the serve, which was very important the whole tournament.”

Another important aspect in Saturday’s final was handling her nerves against a player who had won the Wimbledon title on seven previous occasions and was looking to equal the all-time record of 24 majors overall.

Halep managed to do that, too, but said there was still more to be done, more issues to overcome.

“I had to play perfect to be able to win against her,” said Halep, who did just that, playing about as perfect as one can on that giant stage, with the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex looking on from the Royal Box.

Williams has a big serve and hits the ball hard from anywhere on court. Halep got to almost all of them, and returned them cleanly, too.

She finished with only three unforced errors in the entire match, the fewest in a final since records started being kept at Wimbledon in 1998. Williams, on the other hand, committed 26 unforced errors – double digits in each set.

Watching it all unfold from the players’ box was Halep’s mother, who had years ago goaded her daughter into wanting to get to the Wimbledon final. But for Mrs. Halep, it wasn’t really about the game itself.

“She has no idea about tennis,” Halep said, hazarding a guess as to what made her mother mention Wimbledon to her all those years ago. “Maybe the fact that you’re playing in front of the Royal Box, royal family, made her feel special. That’s why she told me back then that it’s going to be awesome and the most beautiful thing to play a final. She didn’t say to win it.

“Now I made it more special.”

Djokovic loses in Cincinnati

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MASON, Ohio (AP) Ashleigh Barty’s chance to move back to No. 1 was only one victory away. At the end of an up-and-down week, she didn’t have another comeback left.

Neither did Novak Djokovic, who went away with yet another disappointment in Cincinnati.

Barty lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open on Saturday. Djokovic ended the day with another stunner, getting overwhelmed by Daniil Medvedev’s serve as the Russian pulled out a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory.

It’s been that kind of week in Cincinnati, with top players in both brackets either struggling or hurt heading into the U.S. Open.

The women’s bracket has a lot questions with New York just around the corner. No. 1 isn’t one of them.

Barty’s seven-week run atop the field ended when Naomi Osaka edged ahead of her in the latest ranking. A victory Saturday would have moved Barty back ahead for the U.S. Open. Instead, she dropped the opening set for the third straight match and this time, there was no digging out.

“A week that we battled through,” Barty said. “I think at times I played some good stuff. At times, I played some pretty awful stuff.”

Which will it be for Barty at the Open? And will Osaka be in good enough shape to defend her title?

Osaka dropped out of her semifinal match Friday with discomfort in her left knee that caused her worry. She still plans to play in New York, but it’s unclear whether the knee will be a problem.

And then there’s Serena Williams, who retired in the finals at Toronto last Sunday because of back spasms. She also withdrew from Cincinnati before her first match, but stuck around to cheer sister Venus until her loss in the quarterfinals.

A resurgent Kuznetsova gave Barty no openings, knocking off a top-five player for the second time this week to reach her first final of the season. The 153rd-ranked player is recovering from seven-month layoff because of a knee injury.

In her ninth tournament of the season, she got her game together, winning her first Premier-level semifinal since 2017 at Madrid.

“Well, sometimes in life it’s like this,” Kuznetsova said. “It’s like really small things change everything. Definitely it’s different momentum I have now.”

She’ll face Madison Keys , who beat Sofia Kenin 7-5, 6-4 with the help of 14 aces. Keys ended her streak of failing to make it past the second round of her last three tournaments, playing through heat and humidity all week without problem.

“I feel really good” she said. “Every day I’m kind of waking up, hoping that everything still feels like it’s in one piece and it feels really good.”

In the men’s bracket, Djokovic overcame concerns about his right elbow but couldn’t prevail over Medvedev’s 14 aces. Djokovic got the muscles around his right elbow rubbed during his quarterfinal win on Friday night and showed no sign of a problem a day later.

Djokovic won the tournament for the first time last year, getting the only Masters 1000 title that had eluded him. This one slipped away in the second set.

Medvedev reached the final at Montreal last week and lost to Rafael Nadal. He’s back to a title match again after fighting off a break point midway through the second set and closing with a flurry, winning 12 of the last 14 points to even the match and take the momentum.

He’ll face David Goffin, who reached his first Masters 1000 final by beating Richard Gasquet 6-3, 6-4 . Goffin also is on an upswing after falling to No. 33 in the ATP rankings on June 10, his lowest since September 2014.

“Of course, it was a tough period there,” Goffin said. “I was coming back from injuries. I had some trouble with my confidence. I couldn’t find my rhythm, my game. So it’s great now. I’m feeling great. I’m back at my best tennis.”

The men’s bracket also took several notable hits throughout the week.

Originally billed as a reunion of the Big Four – Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray together for the first time since January – it quickly lost its luster. Nadal dropped out after winning the Rogers Cup, citing fatigue. Murray played singles for the first time since hip surgery in January and lost his opening match.

And Federer, the seven-time champion, failed to reach the weekend, losing in the quarterfinals.

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Barty upset in Cincy semifinals, misses top spot for U.S. Open

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MASON, Ohio — Ashleigh Barty was upset by Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2, 6-4 in the Western & Southern Open semifinals, missing her chance to return to the No. 1 ranking ahead of the U.S. Open.

Barty dropped an opening set Saturday for the third straight match, but couldn’t overcome the slow start this time. A resurgent Kuznetsova earned her third win over a Top 10 player this week and reached the final for the first time this season.

Barty had slipped behind Naomi Osaka in the latest rankings. She would have jumped back ahead by winning Saturday. Osaka, the defending U.S. Open champion, withdrew in the quarterfinals with a sore knee.

Serena Williams dropped out during her first match of the tournament because of back spasms.