Sakkari beats Swiatek in their opening match at WTA Finals

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GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Maria Sakkari used her strong first serve to extend her dominance over former French Open champion Iga Swiatek with a 6-2, 6-4 win in their opening match at the WTA Finals.

The 26-year-old Sakkari, who is having a breakout year, also beat Swiatek in straight sets in the French Open quarterfinals and Ostrava semifinals this year. Sakkari started the year ranked 21st and although she did not win a title this season, she reached the final in Ostrava and the semifinals at the U.S. Open, Roland Garros and Miami to become the first Greek woman to qualify for the WTA Finals.

Swiatek, who won titles in Adelaide and Rome in 2021, is also making her debut at the season-ending tournament.

“Yeah, I think it was a very solid match from my side. Obviously my serve really helped my game. I felt quite good with the altitude. I could control my shots pretty well. I think every day I’ll feel even better,” said Sakkari

Sakkari won 26 of the first 27 points on her first serve and broke her opponent in the third and seventh games of the first set. She then broke again for a 4-3 lead in the second.

“I think finding the right way of serving here, it’s probably the key. You set up a point the way you want to. Definitely, I mean, having a percentage like that helps your game so much,” added Sakkari.

Top-seeded Aryna Sabalenka was scheduled to play No. 7 Paula Badosa later Thursday.

All of the players are having to adjust their game to the nearly 5,000-feet (1,500-meter) altitude of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city.

The tournament, which was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, features a round-robin group stage before the semifinals. World No. 1 Ash Barty of Australia is not taking part due to travel and quarantine restrictions.

The WTA Finals are being played in Guadalajara for this year only, with the event scheduled to return to Shenzhen, China in 2022.

Alcaraz loses to Goffin in 1st match as No. 1

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Carlos Alcaraz’s first match as the No. 1-ranked player ended with a straight-set loss to David Goffin at the Astana Open.

The 19-year-old Spaniard lost 7-5, 6-3 in his first tour match since winning the U.S. Open and capturing the No. 1 ranking.

“David was playing really, really well. To come back to competition is never easy,” Alcaraz said. “It’s really tough for me, for my confidence.”

Alcaraz came from 5-2 down to level the first set at 5-5, only to be broken again by his Belgian opponent.

“When you play against the World No. 1 on a big stage, big crowd, the fire inside gives you so much power to play your best tennis because you don’t have any choice,” Goffin said. “You have to fight and give your best and that was the case today.”

Second-seeded Daniil Medvedev and No. 3-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas both avoided similar upsets. Medvedev beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain 6-3, 6-1 and Tsitsipas ousted Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3. 6-4.

Kasatkina knocks out Raducanu at Agel Open

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — Fifth-seeded Daria Kasatkina defeated 2021 U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu 7-5, 6-4 to advance to the second round of the Agel Open.

Kasatkina was playing her first match since losing in the first round of the U.S. Open and will next face Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Sixth-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland rallied to eliminate former top-five player Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 6-7 (7), 6-1, while Aliaksandra Sasnovich upset eighth-seeded Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-2.

American qualifiers Alycia Parks and Catherine McNally both advanced. Parks upset Czech Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 7-6 (3) and McNally eased past Anna Blinkova 6-1, 6-2 at the indoor hardcourt event in the Czech eastern city of Ostrava.