Osaka, Barty open WTA Finals campaigns with victories

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SHENZHEN, China — Top-ranked Ashleigh Barty of Australia rebounded from a set down to win her debut match 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 over Belinda Bencic of Switzerland at the WTA Finals on Sunday.

Barty’s victory is her 53rd of the season, second most this season after Kiki Bertens with 54.

The 5-foot-5 Barty is a surprisingly potent server and ended her first career encounter against Bencic, also playing in her first year-end final, with her 10th ace of the match.

Earlier, Naomi Osaka extended her winning streak to 11 matches after defeating Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-4 in the first of three round-robin matches on the day.

Osaka, the Australian Open champion, arrived in Shenzen having won the last two tournaments she played – in Osaka, Japan, and Beijing.

“Given that I do feel I’m a big-match player, there are some times when I play higher-ranked people and I don’t do that great,” said Osaka. “So I feel like this tournament is a big challenge for me.

“I think I’m not even really thinking of this tournament as the Finals, I’m just trying to continue on from where Beijing left off.”

The two-time Grand Slam champion failed to take advantage of two match points when serving at 5-2 in the third, but nailed down the victory on a third match point when serving in the 10th game.

Kvitova surrendered the encounter when she sailed a backhand crosscourt wide on the final point.

“I know how Naomi is playing, how confident she is from the past weeks when she played well in Asia,” Kvitova said. “So I did expect really tough match.

“She was just better in the break points, in those important points.”

The only other time Osaka played Kvitova took place when the Japanese player captured this year’s Australian Open final bu a score of 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-4.

“It definitely feels good to win,” Osaka said. “I think more just because I played against her, and I haven’t played her since (the) Australian Open.

“I didn’t really have the best memories. Like I didn’t want it to be that close again, but I think it was close again today.”

Osaka’s debut at the year-end final last year in Singapore ended in disappointment when she lost all three of her round-robin encounters.

The 29-year-old Kvitova, the oldest player in this year’s eight-player field, is competing in her seventh WTA Finals. She won the year-end title in her first appearance in 2011, and was also a finalist in 2015.

The standings in the Red Group have Barty and Osaka at 1-0, and Bencic and Kvitova at 0-1 after the first day of action.

Purple Group games will be played on Monday with Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic playing defending champion Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, and reigning U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Canada playing reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep of Romania.

Jabeur bounces back at French Open, Ruud and Andreeva advance

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PARIS — Ons Jabeur got a do-over on Court Philippe Chatrier at the French Open and won this time.

A year after her first-round exit, the No. 7 seed Jabeur beat Lucia Bronzetti 6-4, 6-1 to help erase some bad memories and answer questions about a recent calf injury.

The Tunisian, a crowd favorite in Paris, smiled and expressed relief in not repeating last year’s mistake, when she lost to Magda Linette of Poland.

“I’m very happy to win my first match on Philippe Chatrier – because I’ve never won here,” Jabeur said on court about the clay-court tournament’s main stadium.

Now she can focus on trying to win her first major. She was runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year.

The 28-year-old Jabeur has also battled injuries this season. She had knee surgery after the Australian Open, and was then sidelined with a calf injury. She had stopped playing against top-ranked Iga Swiatek at the clay-court tournament in Stuttgart, Germany, in late April and then pulled out of the Madrid Open.

“It was a very difficult period for me after Stuttgart,” said Jabeur, adding that she’s beginning to find her rhythm.

Jabeur struck 27 winner’s to Bronzetti’s seven, though with 24 unforced errors she’ll have room to improve.

Mirra Andreeva had a memorable Grand Slam debut by dominating Alison Riske-Amritraj 6-2, 6-1. Andreeva’s older sister – 18-year-old Erika – was facing Emma Navarro later in the day.

Later, Swiatek gets her French Open title defense started against Cristina Bucsa, who is ranked 70th.

On the men’s side, No. 4 seed Casper Ruud beat qualifier Elias Ymer 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, to remind the higher-profile tournament favorites that he was runner-up to Rafael Nadal last year at Roland Garros.

New mom Elina Svitolina beats seeded player at French Open in 1st Slam match in 16 months

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PARIS — So much has changed for Elina Svitolina, who played – and won – her first Grand Slam match in nearly 1 1/2 years at the French Open, eliminating 2022 semifinalist Martina Trevisan 6-2, 6-2.

For one thing, she’s now a mother: Svitolina and her husband, French tennis player Gael Monfils, welcomed their daughter, Skaï, in October. For another, Svitolina is now ranked 192nd, nowhere near the career high of No. 3 she first reached in 2017, back in the days when she was regularly reaching the second weeks of major tournaments – including a pair of semifinal runs. Away from the courts, her home country of Ukraine was invaded by Russia last year, and the war continues.

“Everything,” she said, “is kind of old and new for me right now.”

In sum, Svitolina is juggling a lot nowadays.

She hadn’t played at a Slam since a third-round exit at the Australian Open in January 2022. She hadn’t played a match anywhere since March 2022, when she was still ranked 20th.

“It was always in my head … to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” the 28-year-old Svitolina said.

The work to return to the tour after giving birth began this January; her initial WTA match came at Charleston, South Carolina, in April. She won her first title since returning to action, at a smaller event on red clay in Strasbourg, France.

At Roland Garros, she used her big forehand to compile a 20-12 edge in winners and never faced a single break point against Trevisan, who was seeded 26th.

Trevisan cried as she spoke after the match about a problem with her right foot that made it difficult to even walk and prompted her to stop playing during her quarterfinal last week at the Morocco Open, where she was the defending champion.

Still, she gave Svitolina credit.

“Even though she’s just coming back from having a daughter, she’s a champion,” Trevisan said. “And she’s coming off a title, so she’s confident.”

Svitolina talked about feeling “awful when you’re pregnant, especially the last months,” but getting into a position now where she thinks she’s stronger than before – in more ways than one.

“I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court and, match by match, I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental (state) can influence your physicality, as well,” she said. “I tried to find the balance, and I feel like I’m seeing (things) a little bit again differently as well after the break. Everything is getting there. The puzzles are getting slowly into place.”