Serena wins ASB Classic, donates to Australian wildfire victims

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Serena Williams broke a three-year title drought when she beat fellow American Jessica Pegula 6-3, 6-4 on Sunday to win the singles final at the ASB Classic.

Williams hadn’t won a title since the Australian Open singles in January, 2017, and not since she became a mother to her daughter Olympia, who was court-side to see the victory.

The 23-time major winner donated her $43,000 winner’s check to the fundraising appeal for victims of Australian wildfires, joining many other tennis stars, such as Ash Barty, Nick Kygrios, Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova, who have pledged money to the already months-long fire emergency there.

Williams was under pressure at first against the 25-year-old Pegula, playing in her third WTA final, but asserted herself more as the match went on to claim her 73rd win in 98 finals and to add her name to a trophy won by her sister, Venus, in 2015.

“It feels good. It’s been a long time,” Williams said. “I think you can see the relief on my face.

“I played an incredible opponent today in Jessica and, honestly, it was a great match and I couldn’t have played anyone better in the final.”

The last three years have been challenging for Williams as she juggled to competing demands of tennis and motherhood. But she seemed to turn a corner during a demanding week in which she played both doubles and singles, turning out on all seven days of the tournament.

She was frequently behind in her matches but showed typical determination to fight her way to the final and overcome Pegula, who ousted former World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals.

Pegula has been on a steady climb up the rankings since overcoming a serious knee injury two years ago. The daughter of Buffalo Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula, she won her maiden WTA title in 2019 and appeared to be a star on the rise in all her matches in Auckland.

Pegula broke Williams in the opening game and was dominant for the first half of the first set, moving Williams around to open up the court for her punishing passing shots. She also chased down everything, making returns that Williams thought out of her reach.

But Williams visibly called on herself to lift near the middle of the set, breaking to level at 3-3. She then held serve to love and broke Pegula for 5-3, serving out the first set in 51 minutes.

Williams broke Pegula to love in the third game of the second set as she steadily began to dominate. She had three match points on Pegula’s serve before clinching the match on serve in just over 90 minutes.

“It definitely feels good,” Williams said. “It feels that I was definitely improving as the week went on.”

Williams might have had two titles on the same day but she and long-time friend, first-time doubles partner Caroline Wozniacki were beaten 6-4, 6-4 by Americans Taylor Townsend and Asia Muhammad in the doubles final.

Wozniacki was playing her second-to-last tournament before retirement – the Australian Open will be her last – and she fulfilled a long-held ambition in Auckland to team with Williams in doubles.

The pair progressed easily to the final but were overwhelmed on Sunday by Townsend and Muhammad who were a more practiced and efficient combination. The young Americans broke the two former singles No. 1s in the third and seventh games of the first set and claimed the only break of the second set in the third game.

U.S. sweeps Uzbekistan, advances to group stage in Davis Cup

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The United States swept its way into the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals, getting the winning point in a 4-0 victory over Uzbekistan from the doubles team of Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek.

They beat Sergey Fomin and Sanjar Fayziev 6-2, 6-4, after Tommy Paul and Mackenzie McDonald had won singles matches in Tashkent.

Ram is No. 3 in the ATP Tour doubles rankings and partnered with Joe Salisbury to win the last two U.S. Open men’s doubles titles. But the Americans opted not to use Ram last year in the final round, when they dropped the doubles match in a 2-1 defeat against Italy in the quarterfinals.

Krajicek was making his Davis Cup debut, having reached No. 9 in the doubles rankings late last year.

“They had five great days of preparation, and as anticipated they came out really sharp and got the early break in the first set. And after that it was like two freight trains, there was no stopping them,” interim captain David Nainkin said.

Denis Kudla then beat Amir Milushev 6-4, 6-4.

The winners of the 12 qualifiers being held this weekend advance to the Davis Cup Finals group stage in September, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

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

In other matches:

France 3, Hungary 2: On indoor hard courts in Tatabanya, Hungary, Ugo Humbert won it for the French with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Fabian Marozsan. Adrian Mannarino had forced the deciding match by beating Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (6), 6-2.

Serbia 4, Norway 0: On indoor hard courts in Oslo, the visitors, playing without top-ranked Novak Djokovic, put away the match when Filip Krajinovic and Nikola Cacic edged Viktor Durasovic and Herman Hoeyeraal 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Hamad Medjedovic then outlasted Durasovic 6-4, 6-7, 10-4.

Sweden 3, Bosnia 1: On indoor hard courts in Stockholm, Mikael Ymer sent the hosts through by beating Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.

Lesia Tsurenko to face Zhu Lin in Thailand Open final

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine reached her first final in four years after the top-seeded Bianca Andreescu retired with a shoulder injury during their semifinal match at the Thailand Open.

Tsurenko, in search of her fifth WTA title, was leading the 2019 U.S. Open champion 7-5, 4-0 when the Canadian stopped playing.

The former world No. 23 fought from 3-5 down to take the first set and reeled off eight straight games before Andreescu retired with a right shoulder problem.

“Bianca is such an amazing player. She is capable of hitting all kinds of shots and gave so much trouble today,” said the 33-year-old Tsurenko, now ranked 136th. “But I was just fighting and I told myself positive things that I can do it. Unfortunately, she had to retire.”

The Ukrainian last lifted a WTA trophy in Acapulco in 2018 and hasn’t been to a final since Brisbane in 2019.

She will face Zhu Lin of China in the final.

“She had some good wins in the Australian Open,” Tsurenko said. “She is one of the dangerous players in this tournament. She is going to give a good fight.”

In the all-Chinese semifinal earlier, Zhu benefited from a barrage of unforced errors from Wang Xinyu and prevailed 6-2, 6-4 for her first WTA final.

The world No. 54 player, who reached the last 16 at the Australian Open in January, relied on her solid baseline game to force errors.

“It was very windy, so I tried to be patient and keep my first serves in,” said the 29-year-old Zhu, who will team up with Wang in the doubles final against Hao-Ching Chan and Fang-Hsien Wu of Taiwan.