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Federer, Zverev lead the way as Team Europe ‘retain’ Laver Cup

Aussies in cruise control at Wuhan Open

Team Europe pose with the Laver Cup after defeating Team World on the Laver Cup tennis tournament, Sept 23, in Chicago. (AP)

CHICAGO, Sept 24, (Agencies): Roger Federer and Alexander Zverev won clutch singles matches as Team Europe beat Team World 13-8 to retain the Laver Cup on the third and final day of action in the international tournament in Chicago on Sunday. Federer’s hard-fought 6-7(5), 7-6(8), 10-7 victory over American John Isner put the Europeans just three points from their victory target and Zverev got them there with a 6-7(3), 7-5, 10-7 win over Kevin Anderson.

German Zverev needed to be at his sharpest to get past the South African stalwart but won the final five points of the third set tiebreak to ensure Europe would keep the trophy they won at the inaugural event in Prague last year. It was fitting that 21-year-old Zverev punctuated the triumph for Europe by conquering Anderson, one of the most formidable players of the tournament.

Anderson had teamed up with American Jack Sock to knock off Federer and Novak Djokovic in doubles on day one, then defeated Djokovic in a singles contest on Saturday. On Sunday, John McEnroe’s Team World had taken their first lead of the tournament at 8-7 after the opening doubles when Sock and Isner slipped past Federer and Zverev 4-6, 7-6(2), 11-9.

Federer needed to save three match points to disarm Isner’s big serve and take the day’s opening singles contest, which like all of Sunday’s matches was worth three points. The World Team needed to win one of the first two singles matches to take the tournament down to the final singles clash between Djokovic and Australian Nick Kyrgios but Zverev’s victory ensured it was not required. Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin and Kyle Edmund were the other members of the triumphant team led by Swedish great Bjorn Borg. In Wuhan, China, Australia’s top two brushed aside their firstround opponents at the Wuhan Open on Monday, with straightsets victories in the $2.7-million tournament for both Ashleigh Barty and Daria Gavrilova. Barty, the Australian No. 1, downed Britain’s Johanna Konta 7-5, 6-4 to progress, and could face Wimbledon champ Angelique Kerber in the third round. But it was Gavrilova, the Aussie No. 2, who caused the biggest upset of the Wuhan Open so far, dumping out 10th-seed and last year’s French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4. The Latvian, who reached the Wuhan semi-finals last year, mounted a spirited fightback in the second set but was unable to contain her unforced errors and appeared frustrated as Gavrilova held steady to secure the win.

Ostapenko “is a quality player, she always fights and comes (out) firing… so I expected that,” Gavrilova said after the match. It has been a September to forget for Ostapenko, ranked 12th in the world. Last week, her defence of the Korea Open title was ended in the second round by then-122ndranked Ekaterina Alexandrova. Gavrilova could now face another tough challenger in the third round: Karolina Pliskova, who downed US Open champ Naomi Osaka in straight sets in Tokyo on Sunday to win the Pan Pacific title. Nine of the world’s Top 10 are in action at the Wuhan Open as the 2018 WTA season enters its final stretch and the frenzy for ranking points intensifies.

Japanese star Osaka, the current No. 8, had to withdraw due to illness. In addition to $500,000 in prize money, the winner will also lock down 900 points. In other matches on Monday, the 18th-ranked Madison Keys of the United States defeated China’s Wang Yafan, and 14th-seed Garbine Muguruza eased past Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck 6-4, 6-0. An ankle injury forced American Coco Vandeweghe to retire in the third set against Donna Vekic. World No. 1 Simona Halep will begin her Wuhan challenge against Dominika Cibulkova on Tuesday.

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