Garbine Muguruza

AP

Garbine Muguruza suffers earliest exit for defending Wimbledon champ in 24 years

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LONDON (AP) — Garbine Muguruza insisted she wasn’t thinking about attempting to collect a second consecutive Wimbledon championship. She was adamant that she was not focusing on defending her title.

“It doesn’t really matter,” she would say, “what happened in 2017.”

Well, it seems safe to say she’ll really want to forget what happened at the All England Club in 2018. Muguruza was stunned in the second round 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 by 47th-ranked Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium on Thursday, the earliest exit for a defending women’s champion since Steffi Graf in 1994.

“It’s a little bit sad,” Muguruza said. “But today didn’t go my way.”

That’s become a familiar refrain for prominent women at this topsy-turvy Wimbledon.

Only two of the top eight seeded women are still in the field after four days of action.

No. 3-seeded Muguruza joined No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki, No. 4 Sloane Stephens, No. 5 Elina Svitolina, No. 6 Caroline Garcia and No. 8 Petra Kvitova on the way out so far, along with five-time major champion Maria Sharapova.

“I mean, anyone, on a good day, can beat anyone,” Van Uytvanck said. “That’s what I think. I still think the top players, their average level is higher than, let’s say, sub-top players. But anyone on a good day can beat anyone, for sure.”

Sure seems that way, particularly this week.

Among the men, too.

Resumes and past performances do not matter. At all.

Marin Cilic, for example, entered his second-round match with all sorts of advantages in experience and success over his opponent, including a runner-up finish at the All England Club a year ago and a U.S. Open title in 2014.

So when Cilic took a two-sets-to-none lead against a guy who began the week with records of 0-2 at Wimbledon and 6-15 at all majors, it appeared the No. 3 seed was on his way to a straightforward victory and a step closer to a potential semifinal rematch against defending champion Roger Federer.

Hold that thought. The outcome that seemed obvious vanished, and Cilic is gone from the field, giving away a big edge in a 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-5 loss to 82nd-ranked Guido Pella of Argentina in a match completed Thursday after being suspended midway through the third set because of rain the evening before.

Cilic called it a “big disappointment.”

“Just didn’t feel so good. I was not as accurate as yesterday,” he said. “I was just missing some balls, giving him chance to keep playing.”

WIMBLEDON: Full Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

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Wimbledon first round sees record number of top-10 upsets

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Seven top-10 singles seeds lost in Wimbledon’s first round, a record number of Grand Slam opening-round upsets in the Open Era.

No. 6 Caroline Garcia and No. 8 Petra Kvitova and No. 7 Dominic Thiem and No. 10 David Goffin all went out Tuesday after No. 4 Sloane Stephens and No. 5 Elina Svitolina and No. 6 Grigor Dimitrov were ousted Monday.

The previous record for top-10 upsets in the first round was six, last happening at the 1998 French Open.

Meanwhile, major champions Rafael NadalNovak Djokovic, Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza all swept through the first round.

The biggest stunner Tuesday had to be Kvitova, picked by many to win her third Wimbledon.

The Czech was stunned by 50th-ranked Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus 6-4, 4-6, 6-0.

Kvitova was coming off a grass-court title at Birmingham, England, last month and entered Tuesday with a tour-leading 38 victories this season.

Sasnovich came in with a 2-3 career record at Wimbledon, including a first-round loss a year ago, and a 9-13 Grand Slam mark.

Nadal, twice a Wimbledon champion, moved into the second round with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win over Dudi Sela of Israel.

The second-seeded Nadal hadn’t played a match since claiming his 11th French Open title last month, but showed little sign of rust as he cruised to victory.

Nadal is seeking a first Wimbledon title since 2010, which would also make him just the second man to do the French Open-Wimbledon double three times.

He will next face Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan.

Djokovic equaled John McEnroe’s number of matches won at Wimbledon by beating American Tennys Sandgren 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 for his 59th match victory at the All England Club.

That puts him level with McEnroe in fifth place on the all-time list, behind only Roger Federer, Jimmy Connors, Boris Becker and Pete Sampras. Djokovic is looking for his fourth Wimbledon title, while Sandgren — who reached the Australian Open quarterfinals — was making his debut in the tournament.

Top-ranked Halep eased into the second round with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Kurumi Nara of Japan.

The French Open champion was playing her first match since winning her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros but showed no signs of rust as she broke Nara four times to wrap up the win in 78 minutes.

“It was a big challenge to come and win the first round — it’s not easy after winning a Grand Slam, I knew it was going to be a tough match,” Halep said. “I felt OK. I didn’t think too much that I didn’t have any matches on grass (before Wimbledon). I thought I had enough power to adjust myself. Grass is really tough and every match can go either way. I have no expectations.”

Halep made the semifinals at the All England Club in 2014 but lost in the quarterfinals the past two years.

Defending champion Muguruza advanced with a 6-2, 7-5 victory over British wild card Naomi Broady.

The No. 3-seeded Spaniard overcame a partisan crowd as she fulfilled the reigning women’s champion’s honor of opening proceedings on Centre Court.

Muguruza faced only one break point in the match, but her failure to convert the regular chances she created on Broady’s delivery made for a competitive second set.

However, the two-time Grand Slam champion maintained her focus to close out the match and set up a second-round meeting with Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium.

American Jack Sock, seeded 18th, continued his poor year by losing to Italian Matteo Berrettini in five sets.

Another American, former junior star Frances Tiafoe, notched his first win over a seeded player at a Grand Slam, ousting No. 30 Fernando Verdasco in four sets.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Sloane Stephens into French Open final by winning all-American semi

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PARIS (AP) — When the French Open final was played a year ago, Sloane Stephens was nowhere near Roland Garros. She was in Chicago with coach Kamau Murray, working her way back from a foot injury that required surgery and sidelined her for 11 months.

“Indoors on a hard court. Getting ready for grass. Barely walking. Playing tennis next to a bunch of 5- and 6-year-old screaming kids,” Murray recalled. “So to be here from there, I think, is rewarding, because those times were not easy.”

The times are good now. Stephens closed in on her second Grand Slam title by beating pal Madison Keys 6-4, 6-4 on Thursday in the first all-American semifinal at the French Open since 2002. It also was a rematch of the U.S. Open final won by Stephens last September.

“It’s always hard playing someone from your country and such a good friend,” Stephens said, “so I was really pleased to be able to get through that and play some good tennis.”

The 10th-seeded Stephens’ opponent in Saturday’s final will be Simona Halep, who emphatically ended the impressive French Open run of 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza by defeating her 6-1, 6-4.

Halep, who assured herself of retaining the No. 1 ranking with the victory, earned a fourth chance to win her first major title.

She twice has lost in the final at Roland Garros — to Maria Sharapova in 2014 and to Jelena Ostapenko in 2017 — and was the runner-up to Caroline Wozniacki at the Australian Open in January.

“I lost three times until now and no one died,” Halep said, “so it will be OK.”

FRENCH OPEN: TV/Stream Schedule | Scores | Men’s Draw (PDF) | Women’s Draw

Muguruza, a two-time major champion, entered the semifinals having not lost a set in the tournament. She also was coming off a lopsided victory in the quarterfinals a day earlier, overwhelming Sharapova 6-2, 6-1.

But it took Muguruza quite a while to get going against Halep, who managed to keep sending ball after ball back over the net.

Backed by fans who loudly chanted her first name between games, Halep went ahead 3-0 with the help of only one winner. Of her first 14 points, 13 arrived via errors by Muguruza — nine unforced, four forced.

It was 5-0 by the time Muguruza eventually claimed a game.

Muguruza’s last stand came at 4-all in the second set, a 13-minute game in which she held three break points. But she failed to convert any of those, and Halep held there, before breaking at love to end it.

While the Romanian sometimes has trouble with so much on the line, Stephens has been perfect in title matches on the WTA tour, going 6-0.

“I mean, there is no formula. I didn’t, like, try to do it. I’m not trying to break a record. It’s just how it’s happened for me,” Stephens said, “I think once I get going in a tournament, I’m pretty consistent, which is good. I just try to keep that going.”

She had never made it past the fourth round on the red clay of Paris until now. This year, she was two points from defeat in the third round against Camila Giorgi of Italy before turning that match around.

Stephens hasn’t dropped a set since.

“When you make it out of that,” Murray said, “you build a little bit of confidence.”

Like Halep, Stephens is an incredibly talented defensive player, and she kept stretching points Thursday until Keys would err.

In all, Keys made 41 unforced errors, 30 more than Stephens.

“It’s really tough to get any ball by her, but especially today, she was neutralizing so well. And she was hitting so many deep, heavy balls, that I really felt like I was having to go for a lot,” said Keys, who is now 0-3 against Stephens.

“There is a lot of times where I feel like she made the ball by a centimeter,” Keys continued, “and I was missing it. Just one of those days where I think she played incredibly well.”

There was a stretch after winning the U.S. Open that Stephens did not manage to do that.

Ever.

She endured an eight-match losing streak after leaving New York, going 0-6 for the rest of 2017 and then 0-2 to begin 2018, including a first-round loss at the Australian Open.

“Life came at me fast after the U.S. Open,” said Stephens, whose late father, John, was the 1988 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year with the New England Patriots.

She regrouped and got headed back in the right direction. At the Miami Open in March, she won the title, beating four major champions in a row.

Now she stands between Halep and her first Grand Slam trophy.

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