Veronika Kudermetova wins her first WTA title on clay in Charleston

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CHARLESTON, S.C. – Veronika Kudermetova of Russia won her first WTA title, coming up strong on the big points to beat Danka Kovinic 6-4, 6-2 at the Volvo Car Open on Sunday.

The 23-year-old Kudermetova did not drop a set in six matches on the way to the championship at the season’s first clay-court tournament – a feat last accomplished here by Serena Williams in 2012.

Kovinic, also seeking her first title, sailed a forehand long on match point, making the fifth first-time winner this season on the WTA.

“I really enjoyed the play here,” Kudermetova said to the few dozen people watching as she held the championship trophy up high.

The tournament was closed to the general public because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was canceled last year.

Matches were also shuffled to a secondary court with the main stadium undergoing a $50 million renovation.

None of that mattered to Kudermetova, who’ll cherish this win as if she played in a full house.

“Of course, it means a lot,” Kudermetova said. “I’m really happy and proud of myself at my first title.”

Kudermetova didn’t feel confident when the week began. Her only other appearance in Charleston was first-round loss in 2019 and she wasn’t sure how she’d perform on the slower surface.

On Saturday night, Kudermetova had trouble calming her nerves at the prospect of her first tournament crown.

When she stepped on the court, though, she channeled her performances of the past week to take control against Kovinic.

“It’s an amazing week for me,” she said. “I played really well. I think I deserved this trophy.”

Kudermetova, the 15th seed, relied on her serve and forehand to push past Kovinic, of Montenegro, who had defeated three seeded players to advance to the final.

Trailing 3-2 in the opening set, Kudermetova fought off three break points to hold serve, then took three of the final four games.

Kudermetova trailed again in the final set, 2-1, but rallied again. She let out a scream when she won a point at deuce in the fifth game, which she subsequently won to go ahead 3-2.

Kudermetova had an ace clocked at 123 mph to win the next game. She closed things out a few minutes later. Along with the trophy, she won her choice of a new Volvo SUV. After the award ceremony, Kudermetova walked over to where four Volvo models were parked, looking like a car buyer trying to make a smart decision.

Kudermetova had heard about the winner receiving a vehicle, “but it’s means more to take the title than to get a car.”

The tournament held a groundbreaking at the old stadium court – now just a skeleton with a green clay surface – a few hours before the final. The stadium had been unchanged since the event moved from Hilton Head Island to Daniel Island in Charleston starting in 2001. Ben Navarro, owner of Charleston Tennis LLC, which runs the tournament, is planning on having a packed stadium next year.

Navarro’s daughter, Emma, is a WTA pro who lost to Kudermetova in the second round this week.

“I know that I will be coming back,” said Kovinic, a 26-year-old who played in her first final since 2016.

Elena Rybakina hits 10 aces in Miami for 12th straight win

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina extended her winning streak to 12 matches by delivering 10 aces – her fourth consecutive outing with at least that many – in a 6-3, 6-0 victory over 25th-seeded Martina Trevisan in the Miami Open quarterfinals.

Rybakina has 46 aces through four matches at the hard-court tournament in Florida and a WTA-leading 201 this season.

The 23-year-old, who represents Kazakhstan, improved to 20-4 in 2023, including a run to the Australian Open final in January and a title at Indian Wells, California, last week.

She is trying to become only the fifth player to win the women’s trophies at Indian Wells and Miami in the same season. Top-ranked Iga Swiatek did it a year ago; she withdrew from Miami this time because of a rib injury.

“Of course it would be amazing to achieve something like that,” the 10th-seeded Rybakina said about the prospect of completing what’s known as the Sunshine Double, “but it’s still far away.”

So far in Rybakina’s career, 13 of her 18 semifinal appearances have come on hard courts. She will face No. 3 Jessica Pegula for a berth in the final after the American fought off two match points and outlasted No. 27 Anastasia Potapova 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2) in a match that ended just before 1:30 a.m. after play had been delayed by rain.

“I haven’t been that physically tired in just a really long time,” Pegula said. “Just the humidity was taking so much out of me, and I haven’t been able to play in humidity like that in a while. It was just really tough, so really, it was just pure will.”

Trevisan reached the French Open semifinals in 2022.

In fourth-round men’s action Tuesday, No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was beaten 7-6 (4), 6-4 by No. 14 Karen Khachanov, while defending champion Carlos Alcaraz, Taylor Fritz and Jannik Sinner all beat seeded opponents in straight sets.

Alcaraz, who returned to No. 1 in the ATP rankings last week, got past Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul 6-4, 6-4 to set up a meeting against Fritz, the top-ranked American man and seeded ninth in Miami.

Fritz compiled twice as many winners, 22, as unforced errors, 11, and only dropped serve once during a 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 7 Holger Rune. That put Fritz into his first quarterfinal in seven appearances in Miami – and his first matchup against Alcaraz, a 19-year-old from Spain who won the U.S. Open in September for his first Grand Slam title.

“I’m really excited for it,” Fritz said. “I think that a lot of people are really excited for that, too.”

No. 10 Sinner eliminated No. 6 Andrey Rublev 6-2, 6-4 and has yet to drop a set in the tournament.

Sinner’s next opponent will be unseeded Emil Ruusuvuori, a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 winner against No. 26 Botic van de Zandschulp.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedev, forced to start late and off his scheduled court after the rain, beat Quentin Halys 6-4, 6-2. He will face American Christopher Eubanks, who edged Adrian Mannarino in a pair of tiebreakers.

Khachanov will play Francisco Cerundolo, a semifinalist in Miami last year, in the other men’s quarterfinal.

Fritz, Sinner reach Miami Open quarterfinals with 2-set wins

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Taylor Fritz and Jannik Sinner beat seeded opponents in straight sets at the Miami Open to move into the quarterfinals.

No. 9 Fritz compiled twice as many winners, 22, as unforced errors, 11, and only dropped serve once during a 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 7 Holger Rune.

That put Fritz, the highest-ranked American man, into his first quarterfinal in seven appearances at the hard-court tournament.

He will face either No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz or Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul next. Alcaraz is the defending champion in Miami.

No. 10 Sinner eliminated No. 6 Andrey Rublev 6-2, 6-4 and has yet to drop a set in the tournament.

Sinner’s next opponent will be No. 26 Botic van de Zandschulp or unseeded Emil Ruusuvuori.