Muguruza, Kontaveit to play for title at WTA Finals

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GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Garbine Muguruza dominated Paula Badosa in a 6-3, 6-3 victory and will play Anett Kontaveit for the title at the WTA Finals.

Eighth-seeded Kontaveit beat Maria Sakkari 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to advance, ensuring two first-time finalists at the women’s season-ending championship.

Kontaveit lost to Muguruza in the last match of the round-robin stage, and has a 2-3 career record against the two-time major winner.

The sixth-seeded Muguruza, a losing semifinalist in 2015, is the first Spanish woman to reach the singles final since 1993, when Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario was runner-up to Steffi Graff.

“I’m very happy with my performance. It was the best match I played here in Guadalajara,” Muguruza said. “It’s the first time we encountered each other. I’m very proud of Paula, she started the year back in the rankings and made all the way to the top 10.”

The 28-year-old Muguruza now has a 13-2 record in Mexico, where she won back-to-back titles in Monterrey in 2018 and ’19.

She opened this year’s WTA Finals with a loss to third-seeded Karolina Pliskova but bounced back with victories over second-seeded Barbora Krejcikova, Kontaveit and Badosa.

“I don’t feel like a favorite, maybe on paper or for the TV, but I don’t feel like it,” Muguruza said. “I started here losing and I thought that I could be eliminated, so for me to say that I feel like a favorite for the final is complicated.”

The former No. 1-ranked Muguruza broke seventh-seeded Badosa’s serve in the third game and took the first set in 35 minutes.

In the second, Muguruza had a service break in the second game, saved a couple of break points in the third and never looked back.

Badosa finished a breakthrough season that saw her crack the top 10 for the first time.

“It was a tough day, I did not feel myself and she played good, all the credits go to her,” said Badosa, who earlier in the tournament said that Muguruza had been her tennis inspiration. “I don’t really know what happened today. I’m sad that I could not compete.”

On the way to the final, Kontaveit beat Krejcikova and Pliskova before her group-stage loss to Muguruza.

She now boasts a 29-3 record at her last eight tournaments and could rise to No. 6 in the rankings if she wins the title here.

Her win on Tuesday gave Kontaveit her 48th win of 2021, equaling Ons Jabeur for the most this season.

“I’m very excited to reach the finals. I was already so proud to make it to this tournament,” Konteveit said. “The last few months have really showed me that I can play really well and beat great players consistently and to have self-belief.

“When I came here, I had nothing to lose but then I started to win and felt like I can win.”

Sakkari now has a 3-14 record in semifinal matches, winning one of eight this season.

“It’s just very tough for me to talk about all this. Today, I have to say, was a missed opportunity,” Sakkari said. “Today I was just very close on taking that chance. I just wasted it. That’s why it hurts so much. It’s not that it was just bad luck, it’s that I threw away another chance. It hurts”.

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

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”