Sakkari edges Pegula, Sabalenka beats Jabeur at WTA Finals

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Maria Sakkari couldn’t help but smile a wide smile after taking a pair of tiebreakers to edge Jessica Pegula across more than two hours of big-hitting baseline action in front of a sparse crowd as round-robin singles play began at the WTA Finals.

Sure, the No.5-ranked Sakkari was excited about the 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4) victory on a temporary indoor hard court at Dickies Arena against No. 3 Pegula in the season-ending tournament, just eight days after losing to the American in the final of another event.

For Sakkari, who will face Aryna Sabalenka next, this was of more importance: She got to hang out with her parents and grandmother – the first time in 4 1/2 years her mom’s mom had been in the stands to see the 27-year-old from Greece compete.

“She was like, ‘Wow. That was a very high-level match.’ She knows tennis really well, because my grandfather was a coach, then my mom was a player, so she traveled with her on the tour. It’s not like she’s watching her first tennis match ever,” a beaming Sakkari said. “It’s very nice just to have her around. To be with her. To spend my time a little bit with her and my parents. It’s nice, sometimes, to (be with) people that you love and people that are very close to you and were (there) since the beginning.”

Grandma hadn’t been on hand for one of Sakkari’s matches since she lost to Kiki Bertens in the first round of the Madrid Open in May 2018.

“Nice to have here, for sure – and see me winning,” Sakkari said.

Later on Day 1, Sabalenka came back to beat two-time Grand Slam runner-up Ons Jabeur 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-5 after being two points from defeat. The No. 2-ranked Jabeur led 5-3 in the tiebreaker, but Sabalenka grabbed the next four points in a row to force a third set.

“Don’t look at the score,” Sabalenka said she told herself. “Just keep trying.”

A resigned Jabeur, who meets Pegula on Wednesday in the round-robin format, said afterward: “I missed my chances.”

In the match that closed out Monday’s schedule, Pegula and Coco Gauff were beaten in doubles by Xu Yifan and Yang Zhaoxuan 6-4, 4-6, 10-7 in a champion’s tiebreaker that wrapped up a little past midnight. In the day’s other doubles match, defending champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova defeated Desirae Krawczyk and Demi Schuurs 6-4, 6-3.

On Oct. 23, in the final of the Guadalajara Open, Pegula beat Sakkari 6-2, 6-3 to claim the first WTA 1000 title of her career.

“It’s never easy against Jess,” said Sakkari, who was a two-time Grand Slam semifinalist last season but only once made it as far as the fourth round at a major in 2022.

That was part of why Sakkari has described going through what she termed a “dark phase,” one she snapped out of by reminding herself that she is still a top player.

This rematch against Pegula was filled with plenty of momentum swings.

Sakkari won the first two games. Pegula took the next three. Sakkari broke to lead 6-5 and serve for the first set. Pegula broke right back when Sakkari flubbed a drop shot, then chucked a ball and walked over to a towel holder and gave it a kick.

The second set followed a similar pattern. Sakkari led 3-0. Soon, it was 3-all.

Sakkari had an opportunity to close out her first win against a top-five opponent this year when she held two match points at 6-5 in second. But she dropped a backhand into the net on the first, and Pegula delivered a backhand winner on the second.

“Maybe I was a little bit too passive,” Sakkari said.

In the second tiebreaker, she said she realized she needed to be more aggressive, “because I felt like if you’re passive, then the ball does nothing” on the slow court.

Sakkari converted her third match point on a forehand into the net by Pegula, who had won 11 of her preceding 13 matches – with both losses to No. 1-ranked Iga Swiatek.

Davis Cup: Australia beats Croatia 2-1 to reach final

Day Four - Davis Cup Finals 2022
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MALAGA, Spain – Australia had to fight back twice to reach its first Davis Cup final in 19 years after beating Croatia 2-1 on Friday.

Lleyton Hewitt’s team recovered from losing the first singles. Then the Australian doubles pair battled back from a set down in the decider.

Australia won its 28th and last title in 2003. It has finally got back to the final.

“I am so proud. Australia has a really rich history in this competition,” said Hewitt, who played a record 43 Davis Cup ties for Australia from 1999-2018.

“We have been fortunate to win it all on a number of occasions a long time ago. And I know what it meant to me as a player to play a final, and I am glad these guys can play it.”

Borna Coric put Croatia ahead by beating Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-4, 6-3, but Alex de Minaur leveled after defeating Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-2 to send it to the doubles.

Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell then secured the semifinal win against Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic by 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-4.

“This is what this team is about, that never-say-die attitude,” De Minaur said.

Canada will face Italy on Saturday in the other semifinal.

In the opener, Kokkinakis struck 11 aces, but Coric was able to break him once in each set.

“On my serve, I felt like it was an ace or he put it back on my toes,” Kokkinakis said.

Cilic, who was on the Croatia team that won the title in 2018, committed 10 double faults. That erratic serve helped De Minaur break Cilic four times and level his head-to-head record with the former U.S Open winner at two wins each.

Thompson and Purcell bettered the more experienced pair of Mektic and Pavic, both ranked in the top 10 in doubles. Thompson and Purcell combined for 13 aces, broke the Croats twice, and never dropped a service game to come back after losing the first-set tiebreaker.

Two-time winner Croatia was the runner-up last year.

“It proved too difficult on the court today,” Cilic said. “(But) for us it has been a great year again after the finals last year to reach the semis.”

The final is on Sunday on the indoor court in Malaga.

Italy beats U.S. to reach Davis Cup semifinal with Canada

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MALAGA, Spain — Italy beat the United States in a doubles decider to advance to the Davis Cup semifinals for the first time in eight years.

Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini defeated Tommy Paul and Jack Sock 6-4, 6-4 to secure a 2-1 win for Italy after the teams split the singles matches.

Bolelli and Fognini broke once in each set to set up a semifinal against Canada, which beat Germany 2-1.

Earlier, Lorenzo Sonego used his big serve to defeat Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 7-6 (7) and give the Italians a 1-0 lead. Taylor Fritz pulled the U.S. level after beating Lorenzo Musetti 7-6 (8), 6-3.

The U.S. holds a record 32 Davis Cup trophies, but its last one came in 2007 under the previous format of best-of-five matches played in host countries instead of the revamped event where the final eight teams gather in one spot for a week of tennis. The American team led by captain Mardy Fish came to Spain with high hopes that it could break that dry spell.

“I have wanted to win this thing for a very long time as a player and captain,” Fish said. “It is not going to happen this year and it stinks. We are going home without the trophy, which is a bummer.”

Italy, whose only Davis Cup title came in 1976, won without its top two players as Jannik Sinner has an injured finger and Matteo Berrettini is recovering from a foot problem.

Sonego, ranked No. 45, struck 17 aces and never ceded a service game to Tiafoe. Sonego clinched the win after Tiafoe netted a forehand following a long rally to end the second-set tiebreaker.

No. 19-ranked Tiafoe, who reached the U.S. Open semifinals in September, won their only previous meeting at the Paris Masters just over three weeks ago.

This time Sonego took the initiative, Tiafoe said.

“A couple of weeks ago I was playing very aggressive, running him around, hitting much harder. Today, he was,” Tiafoe said.

Sonego saved two set points while serving at 6-5 in the second set to force the tiebreaker. He said he drew on the loud Italian fans who showed up to support him in Spain, which is home to more than 250,000 Italians.

“I am really proud of my team and of this unbelievable crowd, it looks like we are in Italy. They support us from the beginning,” said Italy captain Filippo Volandri.

Fritz hit 12 aces and had one break to beat the No. 23-ranked Musetti for a second time after defeating him at Wimbledon in June.

Canada’s Denis Shapovalov rebounded from losing his opening singles match to help clinch the winning point in doubles against Germany.

Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, ranked 152nd, beat the No. 18-ranked Shapovalov 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (2) in the opener. Felix Auger-Aliassime kept Canada’s hopes alive with his 7-6 (1), 6-4 victory over Oscar Otte, sending it to doubles.

Shapovalov then teamed up with Vasek Pospisil to beat Kevin Krawietz and Tim Puetz 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.

A Croatia team led by Marin Cilic advanced to the other semifinal after beating a Spain side that was missing Rafael Nadal and No. 1-ranked Carlos Alcaraz.

Croatia will face Australia in the other semifinal.