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.”

At French Open, Francisco Cerundolo is mad at chair umpire over Holger Rune’s double-bounce

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PARIS – Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina was devastated about losing his French Open fourth-round match to Holger Rune of Denmark in a fifth-set tiebreaker Monday. He also was mad at chair umpire Kader Nouni for missing a double-bounce of the ball on a point that was awarded to Rune early in his 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7) victory.

They were tied at a set apiece and on serve at 2-1 for the No. 6-seeded Rune early in the third at Court Suzanne Lenglen when the point of contention happened. Cerundolo, who was serving at deuce, hit a forehand that skidded low at the baseline and quickly bounced a second time – which normally would have meant that the point was his.

But Rune went ahead and got his racket on the ball, sending it back over the net. At about the same time, No. 23 seed Cerundolo was saying “sorry” to apologize for the odd way his forehand made the ball skim across the clay. Nouni was not immediately aware of the double-bounce, thought the ball was still in play and called Cerundolo for hindrance for talking during a point. That meant Rune got the point, and when he won the next one, too, he had a service break.

“It was unbelievable, because it was a clear double-bounce. I was mad at the umpire because he has to see it,” Cerundolo said. “It’s his fault.”

In tennis, electronic line-calling is used at many tournaments to make line calls, but replays are not used to check things like double-bounces or whether a point should be lost because a player touches the net, which is not allowed.

And while Cerundolo put the onus on the official, he also thought Rune could have ceded the point because of the double-bounce.

“For sure, I wish he would have done that, because it was a big moment,” Cerundolo said.

Rune, who moved into a matchup against No. 4 Casper Ruud in the quarterfinals, said he saw a replay after the following point, and “saw it was a double bounce. But the point already happened, and he called the score. So I felt sorry.”

But, Rune added: “This is tennis. This is sports. Some umpires, they make mistakes. Some for me; some for him. That’s life.”

Gael Monfils withdraws from French Open with wrist injury

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PARIS — A thrilling five-set victory took a toll on Gael Monfils, whose withdrawal from the French Open handed No. 6 Holger Rune a walkover to the third round.

The 36-year-old Frenchman said he has a strained left wrist and can’t continue.

He battled Sebastian Baez for nearly four hours on Court Philippe Chatrier before beating the Argentine 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 1-6, 7-5 in a first-round match that ended at 12:18 a.m. local time.

The victory was Monfils’ first at tour level this year, as the veteran was coming back from heel surgery.

“Actually, physically, I’m quite fine. But I had the problem with my wrist that I cannot solve,” he said. “The doctor say was not good to play with that type of injury. Yesterday was actually very risky, and then today definitely say I should stop.”

Monfils reached the semifinals at the French Open in 2008 and made it to the quarterfinals on three other occasions.