Osaka rallies, tops Bencic to make Miami Open women’s final

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Naomi Osaka’s eyes welled with tears when her match ended, an all-too-familiar scene for her in recent years.

These were of the happy variety.

For the former world No. 1, that’s major progress.

The unseeded Osaka defeated No. 22 Belinda Bencic 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the Miami Open semifinals. She’s in a championship match for the first time since the 2021 Australian Open, and will meet either No. 16 Jessica Pegula or No. 2 Iga Swiatek on Saturday.

“Damn, I’m almost crying,” Osaka said.

Maybe not even almost. She hid her face in an orange towel a few times right after the match ended, at least one tear clearly making its way down her right cheek. Osaka entered this tournament ranked No. 77 in the world, will leave Miami no worse than 36th and would be back in the top 30 if she wins the title.

It has been a long, trying and often emotional ride for Osaka since her win in the 2018 U.S. Open final over Serena Williams. She was rattled during a loss at Indian Wells on March 12 following a derogatory shout from a spectator, withdrew from last year’s French Open to address her mental state and left last year’s U.S. Open in tears.

But in South Florida, one of the places she considers home, it’s been all support from the fans.

“From the bottom of my heart, thank you,” Osaka told them in her on-court interview.

Pegula and Swiatek – who will replace the now-retired Ashleigh Barty as the No. 1-ranked women’s player in the world next week – were meeting in the other women’s semifinal on Thursday night.

Meanwhile, Daniil Medvedev came into the tournament as the No. 2-ranked men’s player in the world. Hubert Hurkacz ensured he will stay there.

Hurkacz – the No. 8 seed and defending Miami champion – wore down the top-seeded and cramp-riddled Medvedev 7-6 (7), 6-3 on Thursday in a men’s quarterfinal.

“Every muscle just went `cramp, cramp, cramp, cramp,”‘ Medvedev said.

Had Medvedev prevailed, he would have overtaken Novak Djokovic on Monday and returned to No. 1 in the world rankings. Instead, the Russian will stay No. 2 in the world and find out who wins the Miami title on Sunday like everyone else.

“For me, it was more important in a way just to win the match itself than to become No. 1,” Medvedev said. “Winning the match, I saw it more as a bonus.”

Hurkacz, who is from Poland, will next meet either No. 14 Carlos Alcaraz of Spain or unseeded Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia in the semifinals. Kecmanovic and Alcaraz play in the last quarterfinal later Thursday.

“I was returning pretty well, I was putting some pressure on his serves and that was helping my game,” Hurkacz said. “I was able to get some free points on my serve and that was pretty big.”

The other semifinal pits sixth-seeded Casper Ruud of Norway against unseeded Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina.

Hurkacz has played Medvedev four times, and Medvedev has been ranked No. 2 in the world in each of those meetings – which they’ve now split. Hurkacz improved to 14-5 this year, and his record in Miami is 12-1 all-time.

“Coming here is so much fun,” Hurkacz said.

Unseeded Parks beats top-seeded Garcia for her 1st title

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LYON, France — Unseeded American Alycia Parks secured a stunning 7-6 (7), 7-5 upset win over WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in the Open Metropole de Lyon final to clinch her first career title.

“I think France has a special part in my heart right now,” Parks said. “I’ll be back next year.”

The 22-year-old Parks, who is ranked 79th, had 15 aces and saved all four break points against the top-seeded Garcia.

Parks secured the only break of a tight contest to win the match.

The fifth-ranked Garcia, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, was seeking a 12th career title.

“Congrats on a great tournament,” Garcia told Parks in English. “If you keep playing like this for sure you’re going to keep going up (the rankings).”

Parks has a career-best ranking of 75th.

The 29-year-old Garcia, who grew up in Lyon, took time to thank her home crowd – this time in French.

“It means a lot to play here, thanks for being here,” Garcia said. “You supported me from the first point to the last. Thanks for all your encouragement.”

Zhu beats Tsurenko to win Thailand Open

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Zhu Lin of China won her maiden career title after beating Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the Thailand Open.

In a match lasting one hour and 45 minutes, both players exchanged nail-biting baseline rallies before Zhu finally found a way past her determined opponent.

The 29-year-old Chinese player managed a break to go up 5-3 in the first set. Although she was broken to love in the following game, Zhu returned the favor straight back, also to love, to take the opening set in 46 minutes.

The second saw players trade breaks with Zhu eventually securing her first match point at 5-3. She sprayed a shot wide to miss the chance but capitalized on her third in the 10th game with a backhand winner.

“I’m so happy to finally win my first tour title. All the hard work finally paid off,” said the No. 54-ranked Zhu, who will crack the top 50 when the new WTA rankings are updated.

Zhu has started the season strongly, reaching the quarter-finals in Auckland and the last 16 at the Australian Open.

The victory also allowed Zhu to avenge her loss to the Ukrainian at the WTA Dubai Championships back in 2019.

Despite the loss, the No. 136-ranked Tsurenko, 33, will return to the top 100.