Bencic tops Jabeur for Charleston Open title

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CHARLESTON, S.C. – Belinda Bencic won three of the last four games to outlast Ons Jabeur 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 and win the Charleston Open for her first clay-court championship.

Bencic won her sixth career WTA title and first since the Tokyo Olympic.

Bencic lost her opening match in Indian Wells last month and wasn’t sure what direction she was headed. Things began to turn in Miami where she reached the semifinals before losing and she built on that positive momentum in Charleston.

“I feel like is is the tournament that you breakthrough and then it goes the right way,” she said. “So I’m happy about it.”

Bencic, of Switzerland, reached the semifinals here in her first visit in 2014 and hadn’t advanced that far until this year. She earned $158,000 for winning the season’s opening clay-court tournament.

“It’s so cozy here,” Bencic told the crowd at the trophy presentation. “You always make this such a family event.”

Bencic, seeded 10th, looked like she’d have an easy time with Jabeur, from Tunisia, who she broke twice on the way to taking the opening set.

But Jabeur, the fourth seed ranked 10th in the world, cut down on the unforced errors and drew on the energy of the crowd, who applauded almost every move the dynamic 27-year-old made much of the week.

Jabeur held serve at 5-all in the second set before ripping a forehand to break Bencic and tie the match. Jabeur got down on one keep and pumped her fist in celebration heading to the deciding set.

But it was Bencic who regained her form to open a 3-1 lead. Jabeur had one last rally, squaring the set at three-all with her final break of Bencic’s serve.

That’s when Bencic’s smooth ground strokes and near-perfect placement wore down Jabeur. Bencic took control for good after Jabeur sent a shot long to go up 4-3.

Bencic won the final game at love, dropping to her knees and covering her face in celebration after Jabeur’s forehand sailed over the baseline.

The two shared a long hug at the net after the match. Bencic moved to 2-0 against Jabeur, both of the wins coming on clay.

Despite the loss, Jabeur had another successful run on the green clay at Charleston. She reached the semifinals of this event a year ago, then made the finals of a companion tournament here a week later.

Jabeur wasn’t thinking about the big picture. She broke out in tears at the trophy ceremony and in media interviews. This was her fifth WTA final with the only win coming in Birmingham, England last year.

“Too many emotions today,” Jabeur said. “But hopefully, I can get past this. It’s a very tough loss, I think one of the toughest of my career. But I’ll keep going, you know.”

The tournament, first played in 1973 on Hilton Head Island, celebrated its 50th year. It was the first women’s only pro tournament in the United States. It moved to its current location in 2001 and was rebranded the Credit One Charleston Open this year.

“Thank you for your support of women’s tennis,” Bencic said.

Bencic, at 25, feels more consistent and confident with her game. Where it takes her next, she’s excited to find out.

“To show that I can do it in Olympics and I can it here on the clay, it’s like a big challenge that I’ve overcome in myself and it helps me going forward,” Bencic said.

It was the first championship Sunday for the renovated Credit One Stadium after event owner Ben Navarro razed the old facility and rebuilt and expanded the venue from top to bottom. It was a renovation increased capacity from 7,000 to 11,000 seats, took two years to complete and cost approximately $50 million.

In the doubles final, Magda Linette of Poland and Andreja Klepac of Slovenia defeated Lucie Hradecka of Czech Republic and Sania Mirza of India 2-6, 6-4, 1-0 (7).

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.”

Sonego beats Bublik at Moselle Open to win 1st title of 2022

Winston-Salem Open - Day 5
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METZ, France – Lorenzo Sonego clinched his first title of the season by beating Alexander Bublik 7-6 (3), 6-2 in the Moselle Open final.

The 27-year-old Italian did not drop a set all tournament as he won the third title of his career and first on hard courts.

The unseeded Sonego recovered from 0-40 down in the fifth game of the match and secured victory when the seventh-seeded Bublik sent a backhand return long.

He then danced on court as he celebrated a perfect tournament where he also beat defending champion Hubert Hurkacz in the semifinals.

Sonego’s win will move him up 21 places in the ATP rankings and into 44th place.