Osaka-Swiatek in Miami women’s final; Ruud, Alcaraz advance

2022 Miami Open - Day 11
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Naomi Osaka is playing her first final in more than a year, which certainly sounds like a comeback story.

She doesn’t see it that way.

The unseeded Osaka will meet second-seeded Iga Swiatek in the Miami Open women’s final. It’s a matchup pitting the world’s former No. 1-ranked player against the woman who will replace the now-retired Ash Barty atop the women’s rankings.

“A lot of people have been telling me, `You’re back’ and stuff like that,” Osaka told reporters after qualifying for the final. “But to be honest, I don’t feel like I left, if that makes sense. I have always been this player. I just didn’t play the matches.”

Osaka was No. 1 in the world before Barty took over in 2019; Osaka started this tournament ranked No. 77 in the world in large part because she simply hasn’t played as much while working on her mental health.

Barty held that No. 1 spot since, then decided to retire last week and asked to be removed from the rankings in a move that opened the door for Swiatek to ascend to the top spot.

The last time Swiatek lost a match was in February, when she was ranked No. 9 in the world. She is 16-0 since and on the brink of completing the Sunshine Double – championships at both Indian Wells and Miami.

“I am excited for sure,” Swiatek said. “But on the other hand, for me, the most important job is this is a match like any other. I don’t want to change my routines, I don’t want to change my attitude, because it’s been working out pretty well. I’m going to treat it like any other match.”

The men’s final is Sunday. No. 6 seed Casper Ruud earned the first spot in the title match by defeating Francisco Cerundolo 6-4, 6-1 in Friday’s semifinals.

“It was a tough match, even though the scoreline said two straight sets,” said Ruud, who will be playing in a Masters 1000-level final for the first time. “It was tough.”

Ruud will face No. 14 Carlos Alcaraz in the men’s title match. Alcaraz defeated No. 8 seed Hubert Hurkacz – the defending Miami champion – 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2) on Friday night in the last semifinal.

Alcaraz, who is a month away from turning 19, is the second-youngest Miami Open finalist ever. Rafael Nadal was about a month younger than Alcaraz is now when he made the Miami final; the tournament was called the NASDAQ-100 Open then and was played at Key Biscayne. Nadal lost a five-setter in the final that year to Roger Federer.

Alycia Parks reaches 1st WTA quarterfinal in Ostrava

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — American qualifier Alycia Parks is having quite the breakthrough tournament in Ostrava.

The 21-year-old Parks earned her first win against a top-10 ranked opponent by beating fourth-seeded Maria Sakkari 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 at the Agel Open on Thursday to reach her first WTA Tour quarterfinal.

The 144th-ranked Parks ousted former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova in the opening round – her first win against a top-20 opponent – and showed off her power by hitting 59 winners against Sakkari, compared to just nine for her opponent.

“I came out here not expecting anything, just playing my game, and it got me through the match,” Parks said.

Parks will next face former French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who advanced via walkover when Belinda Bencic withdrew with a left foot injury.

Caty McNally, another American qualifier who is playing doubles with Parks in Ostrava, also reached the last eight by beating wild-card entry Karolina Muchova 6-1, 3-6, 6-1. McNally is also into her first WTA quarterfinal and will face top-ranked Iga Swiatek, who advanced Wednesday.

Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Add Botic van de Zandschulp to the long list of players to have been schooled by Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic eased past Van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-1 on Thursday in his first career meeting with the 27-year-old Dutchman to reach the quarterfinals of the Astana Open.

Van de Zandschulp earned one break point in each set but couldn’t seriously threaten Djokovic, who is looking for a second straight indoor hardcourt title after winning in Tel Aviv last week.

“(In the) second set I think I started to read his serve better and just started swinging through the court more,” Djokovic said. “Botic is a quality tennis player. When he has time, he can hurt you, so I tried to take away that time from him and I’m very pleased with the way I played, particularly in the second.”

Djokovic will next face Karen Khachanov, who rallied to beat Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. If the 21-time Grand Slam champion gets past that one, he could come up against fellow former No. 1 Daniil Medvedev. The second-seeded Russian beat Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland 6-3, 6-2 to move one match away from a potential rematch of last year’s U.S. Open final, when Medvedev beat Djokovic to deny his attempt at a calendar-year Grand Slam.

Medvedev will first have to beat Roberto Bautista Agut, who advanced Wednesday.