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Top-ranked Osaka gets first-round win in Birmingham on grass

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BIRMINGHAM, England — A day after saying she was “not really that comfortable” playing on grass, top-ranked Naomi Osaka needed three sets to get past her first-round opponent at the Birmingham Classic on Tuesday.

Osaka lost the second set to Maria Sakkari of Greece before recovering to win 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, for only her 11th tour-level victory on grass.

“I was kind of screaming on the inside during that entire match,” Osaka said in her on-court interview. “I got lucky a little bit, I guess.”

Osaka has yet to make it past the third round at Wimbledon, which starts on July 1.

“I felt better than the two practice days,” Osaka said. “And I feel every day that I play on grass of course I’m going to learn how to play better, but for now I’m just really happy I was able to win that match.”

Osaka needs to reach the final in Birmingham to guarantee holding on to top spot in the rankings heading into Wimbledon.

“During my entire clay season, it kind of mattered and I think it showed because I was kind of stressed out the entire time,” she said. “So, now, I’m just having fun. I’m enjoying it. And I know that if I play well, then I’ll be No. 1.”

Osaka will next face Yulia Putintseva, who defeated Britain’s Harriet Dart 6-1, 6-4.

Rain washed out much of the schedule Tuesday, with second-seeded Ashleigh Barty – the newly crowned French Open champion – among those who will have to try again on Wednesday.

Julia Goerges recovered to defeat Dayana Yastremska 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 while former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko eased past Wimbledon junior champion Iga Swiatek 6-0, 6-2 and will now face Johanna Konta.

Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic set up a first tour-level meeting with her twin sister, Karolina, by defeating Viktoriya Tomova 6-3, 6-4.

Something new: A French Open final for Barty, Vondrousova

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PARIS (AP) Ash Barty won 17 of the initial 18 points in her French Open semifinal against 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova to lead 5-0 after 12 minutes – and yet somehow lost that set.

Barty then lost the initial 12 points of the second set to trail 3-0 – and yet somehow won it.

So it was fitting, perhaps, that Barty not only fell behind by a break in the deciding set before coming back to take control, but also that she required a half-dozen match points to finally close things out.

Barty, an Australian seeded No. 8, reached her first Grand Slam final by steadying herself and emerging to beat Anisimova, an American ranked 51st, by a score of 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3 in a topsy-turvy contest on a windy, rainy Friday.

“I played some really good tennis. I played some pretty awful tennis,” said Barty, a 23-year-old who took nearly two years away from the sport starting in 2014 to switch to cricket before returning to the tour.

“I’m just proud of myself the way I was able to fight and scrap and hang in there and find a way,” she said, “when I kind of threw away that first set.”

After ending Anisimova’s breakthrough run, Barty now takes on another unseeded teen for the championship Saturday: 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.

Vondrousova, ranked just 38th, reached her first major final by overcoming a shaky start in each set and eliminating No. 26 Johanna Konta of Britain 7-5, 7-6 (2).

Vondrousova has not dropped a set in the tournament and can become the first teenager to win the French Open since Iva Majoli in 1997.

“Best week of my life so far,” Vondrousova said. “I’m just very happy with everything.”

That was Barty’s mood at the outset of her semifinal, which then took quite a turn. Several, actually.

With Anisimova serving down 0-5, 15-40, Barty held two sets points. From there, Anisimova began playing the way she did in her quarterfinal upset of defending champion Simona Halep – and Barty suddenly lost her way. Anisimova took six consecutive games. In the tiebreaker, more of the same: Barty went up 4-2, but Anisimova collected the last five points.

“Pretty tough to come to terms with,” Barty said of her first-set collapse. “Probably never done that to myself before.”

When Anisimova claimed that set with a forehand winner, she raised both arms aloft, looking like someone who had just won the entire match. Not quite, kid.

Still, that momentum carried her to a lead in the second set, before Barty went on a seven-game run of her own to go ahead 1-0 in the third.

Not ready to quit, Anisimova broke to lead 2-1 and had just fended off three break points when, at deuce, her coach signaled from the stands that play should stop because the rain picked up. Anisimova paused while the chair umpire climbed down to check whether the lines were slippery, but determined play could continue.

The little pause might have been enough to break Anisimova’s concentration. Sure played as if it did.

Barty broke there and went on a four-game burst. As the match slipped away, Anisimova had distress written all over her face. After one lost point, she clutched her racket against her chest like a pillow. After another, she balled up her right hand into a fist and landed a punch on each thigh.

“She just outplayed me, basically,” Anisimova said.

Vondrousova did not start her major semifinal debut well, either. She double-faulted twice in the opening game while ceding the first 10 points, and faced three set points down 5-3.

On Konta’s first chance, she badly missed a swinging forehand volley.

“That’s what I would do nine times out of 10. And probably nine times out of 10, it probably would go in,” Konta said. “I definitely don’t regret anything.”

Perhaps, but she never recovered in that set. And in the second, Konta again blew a 5-3 edge.

Konta, the only member of the women’s final four with previous Grand Slam semifinal experience, is now 0-3 in that round at majors. This time, she was undone by Vondrousova, a left-hander who appears to possess every shot there is, with an enviable variety of speeds and angles.

“She’s a tricky player,” Konta said. “That’s what she does well.”

The semifinals were played in difficult conditions, in drizzle, wind that reached 12 mph (20 kph) and temperatures of about 60 degrees (15 Celsius). The matches also were played at unusual courts – scheduling that was criticized by women’s tennis tour CEO Steve Simon as “unfair and inappropriate.”

Normally, all French Open singles semifinals are held in Court Philippe Chatrier, with the women on Thursday and men on Friday. But after a full day of play was washed out by rain Wednesday, tournament officials shuffled the schedule. The women’s semifinals were held simultaneously at the second- and third-biggest courts at Roland Garros instead of the main stadium, starting just after 11 a.m.

Asked whether this felt like a major semifinal, Konta replied: “I mean, in terms of the surrounding and the occasion, probably not. … In terms of the match itself, probably.”

Andy Murray corrects reporter who casually ignores women’s tennis

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Andy Murray may have lost Wednesday at Wimbledon in the quarterfinals to Sam Querrey, but he definitely won the post-match press conference.

When a reporter started phrasing a question to Murray by claiming that Querrey was “the first U.S. player to reach a major semifinal since 2009,” Murray quickly interrupted with “male player.”

Several American women’s tennis players have reached the semifinals of major tournaments in recent years, most notably Serena Williams, who has won 12 major titles since 2009. Serena’s sister, Venus, will play in the semifinal at Wimbledon on Thursday, in addition to making it to the final at the Australian Open earlier this year. Coco Vandeweghe​ and Madison Keys have also made semis in the last three years.

Murray’s interruption drew widespread praise on social media, including from his mother.

The reporter was quick to correct himself and let out a chuckle. But Murray, for his part, remained unamused.