AP Photo

Zheng Saisai captures first singles title at San Jose

Leave a comment

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Zheng Saisai kept sending back those big, looping groundstrokes and digging balls from every corner to keep points alive as Aryna Sabalenka became more and more frustrated not to be thriving in her typical power game.

Zheng of China stayed steady and patient to capture her first career singles title, beating Belarusian Sabalenka 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic on Sunday.

“It brings out so much confidence,” Zheng said. “I wasn’t winning and this week I beat many seeds. This gives me confidence but still I’m just going to play my tennis.”

Zheng, who is ranked 55th and played one more match than Sabalenka to reach Sunday’s championship, topped three seeded players on the way to her second career final and then another for her first victory at age 25. She was runner-up at Nanchang last year.

With her big topspin shots landing deep and the defensive ability to chase down balls all over the court, Zheng flustered opponents all week with her consistency and level-headed play – and the emotional Sabalenka was no different.

Not that Zheng was paying attention to her opponent’s outbursts, saying she stayed focused on her own game plan.

“The tactic is put the ball deep and whenever I see a space let her run and change if I can flies or high balls because if I give her the same pace, the same ball, she will hit winners on any corner, so I was just trying to mix it up,” Zheng said.

Sabalenka threw her racket after double-faulting on the first match point, slammed her racket to the court following another mistake and also hit it on the net in frustration in an afternoon of unforced errors after the 21-year-old missed on a fourth career title. The second-seeded Sabalenka, who lost in the first round of qualifying here in 2018, rode her powerful first serve to reach to her seventh final and is projected to match her career-high ranking of ninth.

Her power was neutralized by Zheng’s regular topspin on both sides, timely lobs and array of shot-making to keep Sabalenka guessing.

“I couldn’t do anything today with myself. I couldn’t control my emotions. I was screaming some (stuff), I was throwing the rackets,” she said. “… Her game destroyed me because I couldn’t use my power. I wasn’t ready for that.”

Zheng’s victory could propel her to No. 38 – matching her career best – when Monday’s new singles rankings are released.

The two met once previously, with Zheng winning in straight sets on the ITF circuit in 2017. Each woman had played one three-set match this week.

They even wore matching Nike outfits for the final of dark skirts and a gold tank.

For Sabalenka, the loss will provide lessons in how to be more mentally tough. She noted, “I want to be like Serena on the court.”

“I expect better tennis than I played today,” she said. “I just need to be calm on the court and just play my tennis and don’t care about anything else.”

Venus Williams lost her opening match Tuesday night after reaching last year’s quarterfinals here. The 39-year-old, seven-time Grand Slam champion was in the field for the 15th time, this year as a wild-card entry.

In the doubles final, Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic and American Nicole Melichar defeated Japanese tandem Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara 6-4, 6-4 earlier Sunday.

This marked the second year the event has been played at San Jose State University after moving from Stanford.

Djokovic loses in Cincinnati

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

More AP tennis: http://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.