Swiatek, Jabeur will meet in 1st U.S. Open final for both

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NEW YORK — Getting to a Grand Slam final is no longer new to Ons Jabeur. She figures it’s time to add a major trophy to her list of groundbreaking accomplishments.

And she’s sure she is more ready to do it at the U.S. Open than she was at Wimbledon two months ago.

Jabeur reached a second consecutive Slam title match without needing to produce her best tennis, taking full advantage of a shaky showing by Caroline Garcia to win their semifinal at Flushing Meadows 6-1, 6-3.

“Feels more real, to be honest with you, just to be in the final again. At Wimbledon, I was kind of just living the dream, and I couldn’t believe it,” Jabeur said after ending No. 17 Garcia’s 13-match winning streak, which included a victory over Coco Gauff. “Now maybe I know what to do.”

With a championship on the line, Jabeur will go up against No. 1-ranked Iga Swiatek, who grabbed the last four games, and 16 of the last 20 points, to come back and beat No. 6 Aryna Sabalenka 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.

The first step for Swiatek to turn things around came when she headed to the locker room after the first set – to use the bathroom and think about what to adjust on court.

“I needed to get it together,” said Swiatek, a 21-year-old from Poland who already owns two trophies from the French Open’s red clay, including one this June, but never had been past the fourth round on New York’s hard courts.

Sabalenka, meanwhile, dropped to 0-3 in Slam semifinals for her career and 12-11 in three-setters this year. She broke for a 4-2 lead in the third set – and 17 minutes later, it was over, as Swiatek surged to the finish.

“She was just going for it,” said Sabalenka, who wore large blue mirrored sunglasses and a black cap pulled low to her news conference. “She was hitting every ball and putting me under pressure and playing really aggressively.”

Swiatek has emerged as a dominant figure in women’s tennis, with a 37-match winning streak that brought her six titles in one stretch. If she can defeat Jabeur, Swiatek will become the first woman since Angelique Kerber in 2016 to win two majors in one season.

The No. 5-seeded Jabeur, a 28-year-old from Tunisia, was the runner-up at the All England Club in July and now will be the first African woman to participate in a final at the U.S. Open in the professional era, which dates to 1968.

“After Wimbledon, (there was) a lot of pressure on me,” Jabeur said following a win that took barely more than an hour, “and I’m really relieved that I can back up my results.”

In the men’s semifinals: No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz of Spain vs. No. 22 Frances Tiafoe of the United States, and No. 5 Casper Ruud of Norway vs. No. 27 Karen Khachanov of Russia.

With four-time major champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in her guest box – they traded thumbs-up signals at match’s end – Jabeur improved to 6-0 in semifinals this season and earned her tour-leading 92nd victory in all since the start of 2021. No. 91 came when she defeated Ajla Tomljanovic, who eliminated Serena Williams in the third round.

To Jabeur’s surprise, and delight, she heard the victory over Tomljanovic was drawing viewers back home, even though it there also was a Champions League game between Juventus and Paris St. Germain on TV.

“In Tunisia, it’s all about soccer,” she said. “But people were not watching (that) game, they were watching my game, which is impressive to me.”

Just one example of how she is changing views about tennis in her country – and on a continent.

Since pro players were first admitted to major tennis tournaments, never had an African woman or Arab woman been to a Slam final until she did that at the All England Club before losing to Elena Rybakina.

At the 2020 Australian Open, she became the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals at a major. Last year, she was the first Arab player to break into the top 10 of the men’s or women’s rankings and first with a WTA title.

“Definitely saying out loud what I want to do is part of me achieving things,” said Jabeur, who dropped to her knees and let out a yell when the semifinal ended, then laid on her back.

“I’m sure it’s a lot of pressure on her shoulders,” said Garcia, a 28-year-old from France. “But she looks like to be managing it really well.”

On this 75-degree (24 Celsius) evening under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Jabeur finished with 21 winners – after one was aided by a fortuitous net cord, Jabeur put up a hand to apologize, then blew a kiss to the sky – and just 15 unforced errors.

She delivered eight aces. She went 4 for 4 on break chances and didn’t face any.

After a moment of silence to commemorate the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Garcia won the coin toss and chose to serve. She got broken right away, thanks to four mistakes. Most concerning and perhaps most reflective of nerves Garcia later acknowledged were there: She dumped what should have been an easy put-away volley into the bottom of the net.

It was a rather inauspicious start for Garcia, who hadn’t lost a set on the way to her debut in a Slam semifinal.

“Mentally,” said Jabeur, who travels with a sports psychologist, “I was so ready.”

She plans to be again. Swiatek will stand in the way.

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

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.”