Dominant Kerber to face Barty in Sydney final

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Angelique Kerber of Germany hits a return against Camila Giorgi of Italy during their women's singles semifinal at the Sydney International tennis tournament in Sydney on Friday. — AFP

SYDNEY — Former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber registered her eighth win in as many matches in 2018 with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Italian qualifier Camila Giorgi as the German advanced to the Sydney International final on Friday.

Giorgi, belying her ranking of world No. 100, had defeated US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the first round, ousted twice Wimbledon and former Sydney champion Petra Kvitova and raced past Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-2 in the last eight.

But Kerber, currently ranked 22nd in the world after a disappointing 2017 campaign, proved too strong for Giorgi despite the Italian racing to a 3-0 lead in the second set. Awaiting the German in the final will be Ashleigh Barty, who overcame a slow start to win her all-Australian semi-final against Daria Gavrilova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

The 21-year-old Barty needed one hour, 58 minutes to see off the challenge of Russian-born Gavrilova as both players struggled to hold serve throughout the match.

Barty held just once in the first set but reversed the momentum in the second when she broke in the ninth game after Gavrilova double faulted twice, which prompted the 23-year-old to smash her racquet in frustration and earn a code violation. Barty then broke early in the decider and again in the seventh game to finally pull away for the win.

In the men's section, Australian teenager Alex de Minaur booked his spot in the final after rallying to beat Benoit Paire of France 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, in one hour and 50 minutes.

De Minaur, ranked 167 in the world, became the youngest ATP World Tour finalist since American Taylor Fritz at Memphis 2016 and the 18-year-old will now take on Russian qualifier Daniil Medvedev in the final. Medvedev defeated Italian fourth seed Fabio Fognini 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, in the day's first semifinal.

Del Potro to face

Bautista Agut in final

Juan Martin del Potro overcame a stubborn challenge from David Ferrer to clinch their semifinal 6-4, 6-4 and advance to a title showdown against Roberto Bautista Agut in the Auckland Classic on Friday.

Del Potro, who sealed the Auckland title in 2009, shone in the key moments and fought off six of the seven break points Ferrer forged in a tense clash, with two games in the second set lasting almost 10 minutes apiece.

The Argentine's massive forehand, however, was the major defining factor in the match as he worked himself into a position to drive winner after winner past the Spaniard and clinched the semi-final in one hour, 46 minutes.

Earlier, fifth seed Bautista Agut outlasted Dutchman Robin Haase in an epic clash that took almost three hours before the Spaniard produced an audacious backhand lob that kissed the baseline to clinch the 6-7(7-9) 7-6(7-3) 7-6(7-5) win.

The 29-year-old, who won the title in 2016 but missed his defense last year due to illness, sunk to one knee and let out a massive yell of jubilation after he saw the ball drop in.

Mertens reaches Hobart

final with Watson win

Defending champion Elise Mertens of Belgium reached the Hobart International final with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 win over British qualifier Heather Watson on Friday.

The 22-year-old world No. 36 will play Mihaela Buzarnescu in Saturday's final after the Romanian sailed past fifth-seeded Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko 6-2, 6-2 in the second semifinal.

Carreno Busta, Bencic

lift Kooyong title

Pablo Carreno Busta beat approaching wet weather to conclude his buildup to the Australian Open with a 6-7 (6-8), 6-4, 6-2 defeat of Matthew Ebden in the final of the Kooyong Classic in Melbourne on Friday.

Carreno Busta, the second Spaniard to win the event after two titles from Fernando Verdasco, staged a steady fightback to overhaul the 76th-ranked Ebden, who stands second on Australia's national list behind Nick Kyrgios.

Ebden, who sat out half of 2016 with a knee injury, spent much of last season on the lower-level Challenger series and starts the Australian Open against 16th seed John Isner. Tenth seed Carreno Busta faces another Australian at Melbourne Park, playing Jason Kubler.

The final at the long-time former home of the Australian Open was played under leaden skies in heavy humidity and rain coming in from the west. It ended just as light drops began to fall and the trophy presentation ceremony was held with the protagonists sheltered under umbrellas.

The finalists qualified for the title match after beating the highest-ranked players in the first round, with Richard Gasquet deciding that two matches were sufficient for his Open preparation.

Ebden said he was disappointed after failing to hold his lead, but was still pleased with his week on court.

Belinda Bencic of Switzerland lifted the women's title 3-6, 6-4, 10-4 (tiebreak set) to beat Andrea Petkovic in a rain-interrupted final lasting just under 90 minutes.

Petkovic, long the tennis entertainer, kept things lively during a weather pause on court, dancing to music piped over the stadium PA system and even getting a match official involved.

"It wasn't the best day, but we stuck through it," the German said, "My dancing was probably better than my play today."

Bencic added Kooyong success to the Hopman Cup she won a week ago alongside Swiss teammate Roger Federer. "I've played a lot of matches, I'm pleased to get match play before the Australian Open," she said. — Agencies


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