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Bertens downs Halep in final, foils bid for top rank

The Associated Press

Kiki Bertens holds the championship trophy amid a shower of streamers after winning the women's title at the Madrid Open on Saturday.

AFPMADRID (AFP-Jiji) — The Netherlands’ Kiki Bertens pulled off a surprise 6-4, 6-4 victory over Simona Halep to win the Madrid Open on Saturday, denying the Romanian a return to the top of the world rankings.

Halep could have knocked Naomi Osaka off the No. 1 spot with a triumph in the Spanish capital, but instead it was Bertens who made history, becoming the highest-ranked Dutchwoman ever by climbing to world No. 4.

Bertens secured her ninth WTA singles title, as well as a check for €1.2 million ($1.35 million), while her success should make amends for last year’s disappointment in Madrid, when she lost in the final to Petra Kvitova.

“I’m really happy to win this trophy,” Bertens said. “It means a lot to me after last year getting to the final here.”

Halep was chasing her third success in four years in this tournament, but delivered the sort of patchy, disgruntled display that has hindered her before with a trophy in sight.

Bertens more than played her part, becoming a deserving winner and the first woman ever to win the title without even dropping a set.

On this evidence, she will be a serious contender at the French Open later this month, where Bertens reached the semifinals in 2016 only to be stopped by Serena Williams.

Halep is the reigning champion at Roland Garros, but has struggled at major tournaments since her debut victory last year. The 27-year-old has failed to go past the fourth round in any of the three Grand Slams since.

She was gracious in defeat, high-fiving Bertens as she made her way to collect the trophy.

“It’s an amazing tournament for me, very special,” Halep said. “I’m sad I didn’t win but Kiki deserved to win, she played the better tennis and all week the best tennis, so congratulations.”

Tsitsipas knocks off Nadal

In the men's tournament, Novak Djokovic will play Stefanos Tsitsipas for the title after the 20-year-old Greek stunned Rafael Nadal on Saturday to win a thrilling semifinal 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 on his fourth match point.

Nadal had been a clear favorite to face Djokovic in Sunday’s showpiece at Caja Magica, but the 17-time Grand Slam champion extended his stuttering build-up to the French Open with another surprise defeat.

Tsitsipas’ stunning victory means he reaches his fourth ATP final of the season, while fully vindicating those that have him circled as a future star of the men’s game.

“Emotionally it was very tough, it was one of my toughest wins,” he said.

It might be too early to expect the world No. 9 to challenge at Roland Garros later this month but, with a fearless style and formidable forehand, Tsitsipas is developing a habit for delivering on the big stage.

In terms of career wins, this perhaps trails only his ousting of Roger Federer from the Australian Open in January, when he went on to reach the semifinals for his best run yet at a Grand Slam.

But, as well as Federer and Nadal, Tsitsipas has now beaten Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, both twice, and Djokovic, whom he played on hard court in Canada last year and prevailed in three sets.

He will draw confidence from that result ahead of Sunday’s final, but arguably even more so from overcoming Nadal, on clay, which Djokovic had earlier described as the “ultimate challenge” following his own 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-4) victory over Dominic Thiem.

By his own high standards, Nadal’s clay-court swing has been disappointing. He lost in the last four in both Monte Carlo and Barcelona, arriving in Madrid without winning either tournament for the first time since 2015.

“It’s a lost chance,” admitted five-time champion Nadal after his third straight semifinal defeat on clay.

Djokovic enhanced his credentials as perhaps the greatest threat at Roland Garros by edging past Thiem, who took down Nadal en route to clinching the trophy in Barcelona last month and had also knocked out Federer in the Madrid quarterfinals.

“I thought coming into the match, he was the favorite to win it,” Djokovic said. “So that’s why it’s a great win for me.”Speech

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