Daria Kasatkina wins Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Daria Kasatkina fell to the ground in triumph and laid on her back for several moments after attacking a short ball off her serve and putting it away with a forehand winner on match point.

A dramatic comeback victory sealed at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, the Russian star then turned back to the big picture in her topsy-turvy world: “I want to thank every single person who is sharing now this moment with us on this beautiful court, thank you guys,” she told the crowd at San Jose State University while accepting her trophy. “I want to wish you, everyone, a lot of love, happiness and … peace in this world.”

The seventh-seeded Kasatkina rallied from one set down after dropping the opener in a tiebreaker and beat unseeded American Shelby Rogers for the championship, 6-7 (2), 6-1, 6-2.

The 25-year-old Kasatkina immediately found her rhythm again following a frustrating tiebreaker in a first set she had led 4-2 and 5-3 before some mistakes in crucial moments, such as double faults. Now, her first title this year and fifth overall will propel her back into this week’s top-10 rankings – and No. 10 is her previous career best.

“It’s a tough journey, which is still going on. I’m happy with the way things are going, especially this season, but I don’t want to stop, because I did this mistake already one time and I don’t want to repeat it,” she said. “I’m still hungry for the wins.”

Kasatkina, who recently came out as gay and has said she appreciates the positive support, lost here in last year’s championship. She became the first player to make consecutive finals in the event since Serena Williams in 2011-12 and earned her first title since St. Petersburg last year – snapping a two-match skid in finals, having lost last year here and at Birmingham. It also was her 200th career main draw win on tour.

“I feel great, every year better and better, I wonder what it’s going to be next year,” Kasatkina said.

Now, off to Toronto for the next tournament.

“We’re very happy because of the great job that she’s doing we have now the result here. We are super proud of Daria because she’s a great champion,” coach Carlos Martinez said, pleased with Kasatkina’s resilience after falling behind a set. “… She’s fighting `til the end, fighting for every single ball. She’s very consistent.”

Early on, Rogers scampered all over the court to keep long baseline rallies alive before closing out points or forcing Kasatkina into an error. By the third set, she was slapping her leg in frustration and growling aloud, though she said afterward how much she appreciated the support of the crowd cheering her name and holding signs reading “GO SHELBY!”

Rogers rallied in the first set, playing impressive comeback tennis for a second straight day. She trailed 4-2 and 5-3 before going up 6-5, then holding on to win the first set. Kasatkina double-faulted to make it 6-1 in the tiebreaker.

Kasatkina then gathered herself.

“I played really solid. I thought I picked my chances well and was aggressive when I needed to be, was patient when I needed to be,” Rogers said. “She made me hit a lot of balls, she hits a lot of balls back, she’s one of the best movers on the tour. The wind started to pick up. She started putting a little more pace on the ball and being a little more aggressive, too, and just reset after that first set.”

Rogers defeated No. 9 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia 6-3, 6-4 on Saturday in the semifinals – trailing Kudermetova 4-3 in the second set before breaking serve twice while winning three straight games to pull out the match.

In the earlier doubles final Sunday, fourth-seeded Chinese pair of Xu Yifan and Yang Zhaoxuan defeated the unseeded duo of Shuko Aoyama from Japan and Chan Hao-Ching of Taiwan 7-5, 6-0. They will face off in the first round this week in Toronto for an immediate rematch.

Rybakina, Sabalenka to meet in Australian Open women’s final

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Mike Frey/USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia — What all seemed so different, so daunting, even, about trying to win a Grand Slam title to Elena Rybakina a little more than six months ago is now coming rather naturally.

And if she can win one more match, she will add a championship at the Australian Open to the one she collected at Wimbledon.

Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan, reached her second final in a span of three major tournaments by beating Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (4), 6-3 at Melbourne Park on Thursday, signaling a rapid rise toward the top of tennis.

“Everything was new at Wimbledon,” Rybakina said after hitting nine aces in the semifinals to raise her tournament-leading total to 44. “Now I more or less understand what to expect.”

That could come in handy Saturday, when she will face No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Sabalenka reached her first Grand Slam title match at age 24 by beating unseeded Magda Linette 7-6 (1), 6-2 in Thursday’s second semifinal.

Sabalenka improved to 10-0 in 2023, winning all 20 sets she has contested this season.

More importantly, the victory over Linette gave Sabalenka her first taste of success in a Slam semi after going 0-3 at that stage until now, losing each previous attempt by a 6-4 score in the third set.

Rybakina and Sabalenka employ a somewhat similar brand of tennis, relying on big serves and big hitting at the baseline. Sabalenka is far less cautious, though, and her penchant for high-risk, high-reward play was evident against Linette, who had never before been past the third round in 29 appearances at majors.

Sabalenka finished with a whopping 33-9 edge in winners, but also compiled more unforced errors – including a trio that led to a break at love by Linette in the opening game.

The key to both semifinals turned out to be a first-set tiebreaker. Azarenka lost the mark on her strokes, for the most part, making things smoother for Rybakina, while Sabalenka raced to a 6-0 lead in hers. It wasn’t the case that each and every shot Sabalenka hit landed right on a line, but it must have seemed that way to Linette.

“In the tiebreaker, I really found my rhythm,” Sabalenka said. “Started trusting myself. Started going for my shots.”

Rybakina’s win over Azarenka, the champion at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, added to what already was an impressive run through a string of top opponents. She also beat No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 17 Jelena Ostapenko – both owners of major titles – and 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.

“For sure, they’re very experienced players,” said Rybakina, whose parents and sister have been in town throughout the Australian Open. “I knew that I have to focus on every point.”

She delivered serves at up to 117 mph (189 kph) and stinging groundstrokes that she used to close points seemingly at will on Thursday. Her performance was particularly noteworthy against a returner and defender as established on hard courts as Azarenka, a former No. 1 and a three-time runner-up at the U.S. Open.

“Kind of hard to digest,” Azarenka said. “Obviously, I had quite a few chances that I gave myself.”

Rybakina is just 23, 10 years younger than Azarenka, and the future sure looks bright at the moment.

Rybakina might be seeded just 22nd in Melbourne, and ranked just 25th, but those numbers are rather misleading and not indicative at all of her talent and form. She did not get the usual bump from her title last July at Wimbledon, where zero rankings points were awarded after the All England Club banned players from Russia and Belarus because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Rybakina was born in Moscow; she switched to Kazakhstan in 2018, when that country offered to fund her tennis career.

It was breezy and chilly at Rod Laver Arena from the start of Rybakina vs. Azarenka, with the temperature dipping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).

That had a role in the way the first set was as much of a seesaw as can be, with each player seeming to gain the upper hand – and then ceding it just as quickly. Both found the conditions slowed down the tennis balls.

“Kind of misjudged a lot of balls,” Azarenka said.

Rybakina encountered similar issues and her occasional inconsistency was encapsulated by the very first game. She began, inauspiciously enough, with a double-fault, before holding with the help of three aces.

Azarenka nosed ahead by breaking for a 3-2 lead on a leaping, full-extension volley winner with both women at the net. Rybakina, though, broke right back, and then once more to go up 5-3.

Azarenka saved a set point at 5-3 with a terrific down-the-line forehand passing shot, wound up taking the game with a backhand she accented with a shout of “Let’s go!”

A mistake-filled tiebreaker ended with Azarenka pushing a forehand wide to cap an 11-shot exchange, and the set belonged to Rybakina. She broke at love for a 2-1 lead in the second, and while they competed for another 25 minutes, the outcome was never really much in doubt.

Sure, Rybakina again faltered for a bit while trying to serve out the victory at 5-2. No one expected Azarenka to go quietly. But one last break, aided by a double-fault from Azarenka, allowed Rybakina to take another step toward another trophy.

“Ready,” she said, “to give everything I have left.”

Paul, McDonald on US Davis Cup team; Nainkin interim captain

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul and the player who eliminated Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park, Mackenzie McDonald, are among the players picked by interim captain David Nainkin for the U.S. Davis Cup team’s matches at Uzbekistan next week.

Nainkin’s appointment was announced Friday, three weeks after Mardy Fish’s tenure as captain ended.

Nainkin has been with the U.S. Tennis Association since 2004. He will be assisted against Uzbekistan by Dean Goldfine, who coached 20-year-old Ben Shelton during his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open.

Paul beat Shelton in that round before losing to Novak Djokovic on Friday night.

The other members of the U.S. roster are Denis Kudla, Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek. Kudla replaces Jenson Brooksby on the team.

The matches will be played on indoor hard courts on Feb. 3-4.