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Halep’s hold on No. 1 gets boost with Keys’ withdrawal

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ROME — Simona Halep’s hold on the No. 1 ranking received a boost when American opponent Madison Keys withdrew from their third-round match at the Italian Open on Thursday due to a right rib injury.

Halep needed to reach the quarterfinals and progress further than No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki to hold onto the top spot, and she accomplished the first task.

Wozniacki was facing 15th-seeded Anastasija Sevastova in a late match on the red clay of the Foro Italico.

Keys also withdrew from the doubles competition, where she was partnered with Venus Williams.

Last year in Rome, Halep rolled her ankle in the final and lost a lead and the championship to Elina Svitolina.

Halep will next play either U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens or seventh-seeded Caroline Garcia.

Svitolina also reached the quarterfinals, overcoming a poor start to beat 14th-seeded Daria Kasatkina 0-6, 6-3, 6-2. She’ll next face either former No. 1 Angelique Kerber or Maria Sakkari of Greece.

This is the last major warmup for the French Open, which starts in 10 days.

Jelena Ostapenko, who is preparing to defend her title at Roland Garros, rallied past Johanna Konta 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 and will meet either three-time Rome champion Maria Sharapova or Daria Gavrilova.

In men’s action, Fabio Fognini beat Peter Gojowczyk 6-4, 6-4 to reach his first quarterfinal in 11 appearances at his home tournament.

The temperamental Fognini slammed his racket midway through the second set and received a warning from the chair umpire but otherwise held his composure to follow up an impressive win over Dominic Thiem a day earlier.

Fognini’s next opponent will be either seven-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal or Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov.

Williams, Wozniacki win at WTA Finals

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SINGAPORE — Venus Williams rallied at the WTA Finals to beat Caroline Garcia of France 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-3 Saturday and become the oldest women’s finalist at the year-end tournament.

In the other semifinal, Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark beat Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic 7-6 (9), 6-3 to set up a championship match against the American.

The 37-year-old Williams said “it’s hard to produce your best tennis at the end of the year because you’ve given so much.”

Williams holds a 7-0 winning career record over 27-year-old Wozniacki and has only lost one of 15 sets they’ve played.

Williams, who appeared in the Australian Open and Wimbledon finals this season, won the WTA Finals in 2008, and was also a finalist in 2009. Wozniacki was a year-end finalist in 2010.

Williams started the semifinal flat but kept improving against Garcia.

“One more match and I’m going to be playing against one of the best players in the tournament, another Caroline, and it’s going to be like deja vu,” Williams told the crowd.

“This tournament is one of the best, the top eight players in the world. Nothing is easy and to be standing in the winner’s circle, almost, is so amazing.”

Williams became more aggressive and Garcia, making her WTA Finals debut, started to make too many errors. In the end, Williams saved 12 of 13 break points in the match, and took advantage of four of nine break-point opportunities.

“I think in the second and third (sets) I was able to figure it out a little more,” Williams said.

Garcia called it a “very difficult” match.

“She’s hitting the ball very hard, very aggressive, huge serve, sometimes no rallies,” Garcia said.

Sixth-ranked Wozniacki leads the tour with most match wins on the season at 59-21 so far.

The third-ranked Pliskova’s loss is good news for Simona Halep, who will retain the No. 1 ranking through to next year.

Pliskova, playing in the year-end semifinals for the first time, needed to win the WTA Finals title to return to the No. 1 ranking for a second time this year.

Wozniacki improved her career record over Pliskova to 6-3, and is 3-2 in meetings this year.

Both players had six set points in the first set, but it was Wozniacki who capitalized on the sixth offering when Pliskova netted a backhand.

All six of Wozniacki’s set points were in the tiebreaker where she initially led 6-1. Pliskova held her first three set points on Wozniacki’s serve in the 10th game and three in the tiebreaker.

“All of a sudden it’s 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, and I said this isn’t fun anymore,” Wozniacki said. “I started thinking I should have lost this set already, so actually this is just a bonus. So I had a lot of talks with myself at that point.”

From 3-3 in the second set, Wozniacki won 12 of the last 15 points to take her place in the final.

Also Saturday, Martina Hingis played the final match of her career when she and partner Chan Yung-Jan lost their semifinal 6-4, 7-6 (5) to Timea Babos and Andrea Hlavackova.

Hingis and Chan won nine titles this season, including the U.S. Open trophy.

“I think it’s been an amazing journey and amazing career that I can be proud of,” the 37-year-old Hingis said. “It’s not really goodbye. I hope I’ll still be part of the game.”

Garcia advances to semifinals at WTA Finals

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SINGAPORE — Caroline Garcia advanced to the semifinals at the WTA Finals on Friday when top-ranked Simona Halep was beaten by Elina Svitolina.

Garcia defeated Caroline Wozniacki 0-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the early Red Group match, giving both 2-1 records. Wozniacki had already advanced, but Garcia had to wait. When Svitolina beat Halep 6-3, 6-4 later in the day, the top-ranked Romanian was eliminated and Garcia was through as the group winner.

In the semifinals, Garcia will play Venus Williams and Wozniacki will face Karolina Pliskova.

Garcia, playing at a career-high No. 8 ranking after winning back-to-back titles in Wuhan and Beijing, is the only one of the eight-players who didn’t have a chance to end the season with the top ranking.

“It was kind of weird, actually, to be here,” Garcia said. “I qualified last minute, two weeks before. I really wanted to keep improving, play every single match and get experience.

“That’s why I think I won these (last) two matches.”

Despite not reaching the semifinals, Halep will retain the No. 1 ranking unless Pliskova wins the title, which would make her the year-end No. 1.

“This system (round-robin) I don’t like,” Halep said. “You stay like stressed all week. If you lose, of course, you have another chance. I just want it to be if you lose you go home.”