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Venus Williams upsets Kiki Bertens in Ohio; Serena withdraws

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MASON, Ohio — Going small paid off big for Venus Williams.

Tuesday didn’t go as well for sister Serena.

On a day when back problems forced the younger Williams to withdraw before her second-round match, Venus Williams reached the third round of the Western & Southern Open with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (4) upset of defending champion Kiki Bertens. Her key? Not going for it.

“I just tried not to go too big, because I can go so big and I have a lot of power and it’s not always easy to control it,” the 39-year-old Williams said. “So I’m trying to play smart instead of going hog wild, which is extremely easy to do.”

Hours before her match was scheduled to begin, Serena Williams withdrew, citing the same back injury that forced her to retire from the Rogers Cup final on Sunday in Toronto. The injury raises questions about Serena’s fitness ahead of the U.S. Open, which starts Aug. 26.

“I came to Mason on Sunday and have tried everything to be ready to play tonight, and was still hopeful after my practice this morning, but unfortunately, my back is still not right, and I know I should not take to the court,” Serena, winner of 23 Grand Slam titles and a two-time champion at Cincinnati, said in a statement.

Venus, a seven-time Grand Slam champion, is the oldest woman in the draw. She has made her deepest Cincinnati run since reaching the 2012 semifinals.

“It was just a second round, though,” Venus said. “For me, it’s just round-by-round. I have a third round to play. I’m ready for the next round.”

Bertens, seeded fifth, rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 5-2 in the third set to force a tiebreaker. The 2-hour, 17-minute match ended when she sailed a forehand wide.

“I didn’t do the things I was doing well coming back – playing aggressive, going for my shots,” Bertens said about the tiebreaker. “I didn’t do that anymore in the tiebreak, so there she could play her game again, which she did pretty good, I would say.”

On a star-studded day that was scheduled to include Serena and Roger Federer in the evening session, top-seeded and defending champion Novak Djokovic cruised into the third round with a 7-5, 6-1 win over wild card Sam Querrey.

Federer, the third seed who was playing for the first time since Wimbledon, needed 61 minutes – not including a 61-minute rain delay – to defeat Juan Ignacio Londerom 6-3, 6-4.

Djokovic felt a little rusty in his first match since his epic Wimbledon final triumph over Federer on July 14.

“It was kind of a nervous start,” he said. “I hadn’t played in weeks. It took time to adjust. It was a tricky match against a qualify opponent. He’s a big hitter. I was happy to be tested.”

Two-time Grand Slam-champion Petra Kvitova didn’t weather the rain delay as well as Federer. The sixth seed lost to Maria Sakkari 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

Counting Serena Williams, Kvitova was one of six seeded women to withdraw or be eliminated on Tuesday in this U.S. Open tuneup. Thirteenth-seeded Angelique Kerber was knocked out by unseeded Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (7), 6-2, and 15th-seeded Qiang Wang lost to Su-Wei Hsieh 6-3, 6-4.

Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, who won Cincinnati in 2013, reached the second round after 12th-seeded Belinda Bencic retired because of an injured left foot while trailing 6-4, 1-0.

Madison Keys, the 16th seed, pulled out a 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over two-time Grand Slam winner and 2017 Cincinnati champion Garbine Muguruza.

On the men’s side, Stan Wawrinka advanced with a 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over Grigor Dimitrov, and fourth-seeded Dominic Thiem withdrew because of illness.

In a match that lasted 2 hours, 34 minutes, Dimitrov fought off two match points in the eighth game of the third set and forced a tiebreaker. Wawrinka closed out the match with an ace.

Wawrinka next faces qualifier Andrey Rublev, who advanced with a 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-2 victory over 15th-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Daniil Medvedev, the ninth seed and runner-up to Rafael Nadal at last week’s Rogers Cup in Montreal, beat Kyle Edmund 6-2, 7-5.

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.