Barty to play Andreescu in Miami Open final

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MIAMI — In her first match at this year’s Miami Open, Ash Barty was one point from elimination. Now she’s one win from becoming a repeat champion.

The top-ranked Barty returned to the final by beating No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-3 on Thursday.

Barty has gained momentum after starting the tournament by saving a match point against qualifier Kristina Kucova. That was Barty’s first match outside her native Australia since February 2020.

“Whenever you come back from a match point, it’s a little bit of a strange feeling,” she said. “You have to be more open with what the possibilities the rest of the tournament could be, and keep going out there and keep fighting, knowing you could have just as easily been out of the tournament.”

Barty will play for the title Saturday against No. 8 Bianca Andreescu, who swept the final four games to beat No. 23 Maria Sakkari 7-6 (7), 3-6, 7-6 (4) in a match that ended at 1:35 a.m.

The 20-year-old Andreescu improved to 7-1 this year in three-set matches. She advanced to her first final since winning the 2019 U.S. Open, and seeks her fourth career title after sitting out all of 2020 because of injury and the coronavirus pandemic.

On the men’s side, unseeded 20-year-old Sebastian Korda’s breakthrough run ended with a quarterfinal loss to No. 4 Andrey Rublev, 7-5, 7-6 (7). Korda, slowed in the second set by a left thigh injury, was the youngest American to make the men’s quarterfinals in Miami since Robbie Ginepri in 2003.

“This week showed me I can keep up and play with the biggest names in tennis,” Korda said. “It was a really positive week.”

Korda said he didn’t think his injury was serious. While he departed, his sisters, Jessica and Nelly, were in contention at the LPGA’s ANA Inspiration in California after breaking par in the first round Thursday.

Rublev and Hubert Hurkacz of Poland will play in their first semifinal at a top-level ATP event when they meet Friday night. Hurkacz advanced by rallying past second-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Hurkacz, seeded 26th, has won three in a row when facing a top-five opponent, but he beat Tsitsipas for only the second time in their eight meetings.

“I just try to like keep building my game and improving,” Hurkacz said. “Not all the time are you going to have the results that you want, but if you stay positive and improve your game, the results will eventually come.”

They’re coming for Barty after she was locked down for a year in Australia because of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced the cancellation of the 2020 Miami Open. Barty won the event in 2019, and said her run to that title was different from this year’s matches in Miami.

“Chalk and cheese,” the Aussie said. “The conditions have been different here this week. It has been a lot warmer and physically very demanding.”

She’ll play Andreescu for the first time.

Barty had been 1-5 previously against Svitolina, but took charge with two early breaks and used her strong serve and deep slices to keep the Ukrainian on the defensive.

Midway through the second set, Svitolina made a rare trip to the net, and Barty responded with a perfect lob winner that drew an appreciative pat of the racket strings from her opponent. On match point, Barty closed out the victory with a forehand winner and a fist pump.

She’s assured of retaining her No. 1 ranking next week.

Hurkacz’s upset win further scrambled the men’s draw. Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer skipped the tournament, and No. 1 seed Daniil Medvedev lost in the quarterfinals Wednesday night to No. 7 Robert Bautista Agut.

Bautista Agut will face No. 21 Jannik Sinner in the first semifinal Friday, and a first-time ATP Masters 1000 champion will be crowned Sunday.

“Maybe I feel extra pressure, because I’m the one left who’s in the top 10,” Rublev said. “But everyone can win now. All of them are playing good tennis.”

Hurkacz was serving at 0-2, 15-40 in the second set when he began his comeback. He steadied his baseline game, while Tsitsipas became increasingly erratic and frustrated as the match progressed.

“I was very stressed these two weeks,” Tsitsipas said. “I felt like it was my opportunity. It’s a very disappointing loss. Everything was under control. And suddenly, I don’t know, self-explosion.”

Hurkacz hit 15 aces and saved 10 of the 13 break points he faced. He’ll climb in next week’s rankings to at least 27th, a career high.

Paul, McDonald give U.S. 2-0 lead over Uzbekistan in Davis Cup

Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports
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LONDON – Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul and Mackenzie McDonald, who beat Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park, gave the United States a 2-0 lead over host Uzbekistan in Davis Cup qualifying.

Paul beat Khumoyun Sultanov 6-1, 7-6 (6) after McDonald’s Davis Cup debut produced a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Sergey Fomin on an indoor hard court in Tashkent.

The best-of-five-match series finishes with one match in doubles followed by two in singles. The Americans can clinch a spot in the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals if Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek defeat Fomin and Sanjar Fayziev in doubles.

“A sweep would be nice,” Paul said. “Bring out the broomsticks.”

Paul moved into the top 20 in the ATP rankings for the first time this week by reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal in Australia, where he lost to eventual champion Novak Djokovic. McDonald eliminated 22-time Grand Slam champion Nadal in the second round at the year’s first Grand Slam tournament.

David Nainkin is serving as interim captain for the United States, replacing Mardy Fish.

There are 12 qualifiers being held this weekend with the winners of each advancing 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 then advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

Nick Kyrgios pleads guilty to assault, has no conviction recorded

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios apologized for shoving a former girlfriend to the ground two years ago after he escaped conviction on a charge of common assault.

The 2022 Wimbledon runner-up pleaded guilty in the Australian Capital Territory Magistrates Court to assaulting Chiara Passari during an argument in his hometown of Canberra in January 2021.

Magistrate Beth Campbell did not record a conviction against Kyrgios for reasons including that the offense was at the low end of seriousness for a common assault, was not premeditated and he had no criminal record.

Kyrgios, who was using crutches following recent surgery on his left knee, ignored reporters’ questions as he left court but issued a statement through a management company.

“I respect today’s ruling and am grateful to the court for dismissing the charges without conviction,” Kyrgios said. “I was not in a good place when this took place and I reacted to a difficult situation in a way I deeply regret. I know it wasn’t OK and I’m sincerely sorry for the hurt I caused.

“Mental health is tough. Life can seem overwhelming. But I’ve found that getting help and working on myself has helped me to feel better and to be better,” he added.

The only media question he responded to as he was about to be driven away from the court was: “what’s next for Nick Kyrgios?”

“Just recovery and get back on court,” Kyrgios replied.

Campbell described the shove as an act of “stupidity” and “frustration.”

She assured him his celebrity was not a factor in him avoiding a criminal record.

“You’re a young man who happens to hit the tennis ball particularly well and your name is widely recognised outside this court room,” Campbell told Kyrgrios.

“I deal with you exactly the same way as any young man in this court.”

Kyrgios’ psychologist, Sam Borenstein, said in a written report and testimony by phone that Kyrgios had suffered major depressive episodes around the time of the assault and had used alcohol and drugs to cope. Kyrgios’ mental health led to impulsive and reckless behavior.

His recent knee injury had resulted in mild to moderate symptoms of depression, but his mental health was improving, Borenstein said.

“He’s doing very well,” Borenstein said. “His mental health has improved significantly.”

“Given the history, he is still vulnerable to recurrent episodes of depression depending on life circumstances,” Borenstein added.

Lawyers for Kyrgios had sought to have charge dismissed on mental health grounds but the application was unsuccessful.

In arguing against a conviction being recorded, defense lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith cited the opinion of Kyrgios’s manager of a “strong likelihood of sanctions and impact upon sponsorship” from a conviction. Kyrgios had faced a potential maximum 2-year prison sentence if convicted.

The assault occurred when Kyrgios had been attempting to leave Passari during an argument late Jan. 10, 2021, outside her apartment in the inner-Canberra suburb of Kingston.

He called an Uber but Passari stood in the way of him closing the front passenger door. The driver wouldn’t leave with the door open.

Kyrgios eventually pushed Passari’s shoulders backward with open palms, causing her to fall to the pavement and graze her knee, according to agreed facts read to the court.

Passari signed a police statement alleging the assault 11 months later, after her relationship with Kyrgios had ended.

His current partner, Costeen Hatzi, wrote in a character reference that she had no concerns of such violence in her relationship. Hatzi was among Kyrgios’ supporters who sat behind him in court.

Kyrgios, wearing a dark suit and using the crutches for support, first spoke in court when the magistrate asked him if he could stand to enter a plea.

Kyrgios replied: “Yep, no worries, Your Honor,” as he rose to plead guilty.

In February last year, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs last year to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense last September to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

The 27-year-old Kyrgios had a career setback last month when he withdrew from the Australian Open because the knee injury which later required arthroscopic surgery.