Zheng Saisai captures first singles title at San Jose

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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.

Gilbert Klier Junior hit with 12-month doping ban

Landon Bost/Naples Daily News/USA TODAY Network-Florida /USA TODAY NETWORK
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LONDON — Brazilian Gilbert Klier Junior, a bronze medalist at the 2018 Youth Olympics, has been banned for 12 months in a doping case, the International Tennis Integrity Agency said.

The ITIA said it had accepted that Klier Junior had not deliberately doped and that the banned substance SARM S-22 had entered his body through a contaminated supplement. However, it said he bore some responsibility, especially “following other high profile cases involving Brazilian tennis players and other sports people.”

The 22-year-old Klier Junior has a career high ranking of 354th and won bronze in the singles event at the 2018 Youth Olympics.

The ban was backdated to start from last June, when Klier Junior was first suspended from competition while the case was resolved.

Croatia advances in Davis Cup as Coric beats Thiem

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Borna Coric beat 2020 U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem 7-6 (3), 6-2 to send Croatia into the group stage of the Davis Cup.

Coric helped the Croatians win their second Davis Cup title in 2018, but he was sidelined when they lost in the 2021 final while missing a year of action with a right shoulder injury.

He returned to the tour last March, winning a Masters 1000 title in August in Cincinnati, Ohio, and rejoined the Croatians when they reached the Davis Cup semifinals last year.

His victory over Thiem, who has also dealt with injuries in recent years, gave Croatia a 3-1 victory in Rijeka. The Austrians had taken the tie against the No. 1 team in the Davis Cup rankings to a fourth match when Alexander Erler and Lucas Miedler beat Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic 6-3, 7-6 (11) in the doubles match earlier Sunday.

Chile, Finland, the Netherlands, South Korea and the Czech Republic also completed victories Sunday to secure their places in the next round, which will be played in September.

On Saturday, the U.S. completed a sweep of Uzbekistan, while Serbia, France, Britain, Switzerland and Sweden also finished off victories. Those 12 countries will play in the group stage, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

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

In Sunday’s other matches:

– Finland 3, Argentina 1: On indoor hard courts in Espoo, Finland, Harri Heliovaara and Emil Ruusuvuori edged Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, before Ruusuvuori secured the winning point and a personal 3-0 weekend by beating Facundo Bagnis 7-5, 6-1.

– Netherlands 4, Slovakia 0: On indoor hard courts in Groningen, Matwe Middelkoop and Wesley Koolhof sent the hosts through with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Alex Molcan and Lukas Klein. Middelkoop then beat Jozef Kovalik 6-4, 6-4.

– South Korea 3, Belgium 2: On indoor hard courts in Seoul, the hosts rallied from a 2-0 deficit after the first day. Min-Kyu Song and Ji Sung Nam kept them alive with a 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) victory over Joran Vliegen and Sander Gille. Soonwoo Kwon then beat David Goffin 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 before Seong Chan Hong completed the comeback with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Zizou Bergs.

– Czech Republic 3, Portugal 1: On an indoor clay court in Maia, Portugal, Jiri Lehecka wrapped up the victory by beating Joao Sousa 6-4, 6-1.

– Chile 3, Kazakhstan 1: On an outdoor clay court in La Serena, Chile, Cristian Garin beat Alexander Bublik 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 after the hosts had taken the lead with a victory by the doubles team of Alejandro Tabilo and Tomas Barrios Vera.