Top-seed Sabalenka, past champ Keys advance in Charleston

TENNIS: MAR 25 Miami Open
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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Top-seeded Aryna Sabalenka won for the first time since late February, outlasting American Alison Riske 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the weather-delayed Charleston Open.

Second-seeded Paula Badosa of Spain and third-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic also advanced to the third round at the season’s first clay-court event.

No. 5 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan wasn’t so fortunate, falling to Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

The weather continued to be a problem as the match between fourth-seeded Ons Jabeur and American Emma Navarro was suspended with Jabeur, of Tunisia, leading 6-3, 5-2 before lightning and heavy rain hit the facility.

Sabalenka, of Belarus, had lost her opening matches at Indian Wells and Miami after falling to new No. 1 Iga Swiatek in quarterfinals at Qatar six weeks ago.

Still, Sabalenka needed nearly two hours to make it past Riske. Sabalenka led 5-3 in the opening set before Riske forced a tiebreaker. Sabalenka eventually pulled away and won five of the final six points in the tiebreak.

Badosa, of Spain, defeated Anna Bondar of Hungary 6-1, 6-4 and Pliskova of the Czech Republic topped Katarina Zavatska of Ukraine 5-7, 7-5, 6-4.

Other seeded winners included No. 6 Jessica Pegula, No. 9 Madison Keys, No. 10 Belinda Bencic and No. 12 Alize Cornet.

American Pegula ousted Italian Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-1, and Keys of the United States beat Norway’s Ulrikke Eikeri 6-3, 6-1.

Keys was supposed to start Tuesday night until bad weather postponed things. She said it was important to get going quickly against Eikeri.

“I didn’t want things to kind of get off track after having that sort of delay,” said Keys, who won this event in 2019. “So I was just super focused in the first couple of games and felt like my level raised.”

Bencic, who won Olympic gold in Tokyo, defeated Linda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 7-6 (6). Cornet of France bested American Hailey Baptiste 6-3, 6-2.

Three other seeded players lost Wednesday: No. 14 Ajla Tomljanovic and No. 16 Shuai Zhang of China.

Tomljanovic fell to Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu 6-2, 6-3 while Zhang lost in three sets to American Claire Liu 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.

The season’s first clay-court event had a full schedule after several of Tuesday’s matches were wiped out due to rain and severe weather in the area. The tournament might have more trouble catching up Thursday as rain is forecast into the afternoon.

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.