Garcia tops Kasatkina for final spot in semis of WTA Finals

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Caroline Garcia spiked a banana on her bench while a first-set lead was slipping away, and Daria Kasatkina later whacked a couple of balls hard into the court with her racket after losing on serve.

All that was before a tense third set filled with brilliant shot-making and all the accompanying shouts and fist pumps – with the fourth semifinal spot in the WTA Finals on the line.

Garcia claimed that last opening in the season-ending event with a thrilling 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(5) round-robin victory.

The sixth-ranked Frenchwoman became the first in 30 matches this season to beat Kasatkina after losing the first set to the No. 8 player.

A third set that included a nine-deuce game with Kasatkina finally holding serve for a 5-4 lead ended in the tiebreaker when a scrambling Kasatkina put a volley into the net on Garcia’s second match point in an 80-minute set.

“It was a crazy match,” Garcia said after 2 hours, 27 minutes of mostly battling from the baseline. “It was the best match of the group.”

Garcia and Kasatkina played the winner-take-all match after both lost to top-ranked Iga Swiatek and beat 18-year-old American Coco Gauff in group play.

Swiatek, the U.S. Open and French Open winner this year, had already clinched the top spot in the group before beating Gauff 6-3, 6-0. The 21-year-old from Poland dropped just 13 games in three straight-sets victories.

Swiatek will face No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka and fifth-ranked Maria Sakkari will meet Garcia in the semifinals on the indoor hard court at Dickies Arena.

The final is an event that was moved to Texas from China over concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai, a Grand Slam doubles champion who accused a former government official there of sexual assault. Coronavirus restrictions also played a part in the decision.

Gauff and doubles partner Jessica Pegula each went 0-6 in singles and doubles. They were the first Americans to make their WTA Finals debut in singles and doubles since Lindsay Davenport in 1994.

Pegula said she would take a few days to decide about going ahead with another quick turnaround for the Billie Jean King Cup sin Glasgow, Scotland. Swiatek has already said she would skip it.

Gauff seemed ready to welcome the event as a way to forget about her week in Texas and move on to the International Tennis Federation’s 12-nation team competition named in honor of King.

“I’ve never lost so much so fast,” Gauff said. “Going to the BJK Cup will be better. I think right now my mindset is just on that and try not to dwell too much on this. I’m kind of grateful to have that tournament because it would be an awful way to end the year on this.”

Garcia, the only player among the WTA Finals qualifiers to beat Swiatek this year, has reached the semifinals in both WTA Finals appearances. The first was in 2017. She was ranked 45th when she beat Swiatek at the Poland Open in June.

“I was already very proud to be in the top eight,” Garcia said. “It proves that this year was definitely a good year. Started very far for being in the top 10 or top eight, and made my way to it and playing a lot of matches. A lot of wins.”

Garcia tossed one of her bananas in disgust while losing 15 of the last 17 points in the first set as a 4-2 lead evaporated. The 29-year-old responded early in the second, winning six consecutive games to take a 1-0 lead in the third set.

One of those victories was a break for a 3-1 lead in the second, with Kasatkina slamming the ball that had been in play into the court, then grabbing the one she didn’t use for the serve and doing the same.

Anger turned to celebration in the third with the shots being pulled off by both players.

Kasatkina broke for 3-3 by running down a drop shot and flicking a crosscourt forehand winner, then hitting a running backhand winner past Garcia in one of the few times either came to the net.

Even though Garcia couldn’t convert any of the six break points in the 13-minute game at 4-4, she had one of her best shots when she ran down a drop shot for a tight-angled forehand crosscourt winner.

“The third set was, I cannot see there was a big difference between us,” said Kasatkina, whose best Grand Slam showing was a semifinal run in Paris in June. “We were just, you know, going shoulder by shoulder, and then just one or two points decided everything.”

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.