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Germany on track for first Hopman final in 20 years

Kyrgios advances in Brisbane; Halep secures top Melbourne seed

Simona Halep of Romania hits a return against Duan Yingying of China during their women’s singles second round match at the WTA Shenzhen Open tennis tournament in Shenzhen in China’s southern Guangdong province on Jan 3. (AFP)

PERTH, Australia, Jan 3, (Agencies): Germany are poised for a first Hopman Cup final appearance in more than 20 years after a resurgent Angelique Kerber helped lead them to a 3-0 win over Canada in Perth on Wednesday. The last time Germany reached the decider in the mixed teams tournament was in 1995, when Boris Becker and Anke Huber gave the country their second title.

The Germans are unbeaten after two ties and Kerber and team mate Alexander Zverev just need to beat the host nation on Friday in their last Group A tie to advance to Saturday’s final. Belgium beat Australia 3-0 in the evening tie on Wednesday and both those teams could sneak into the final if the Germans lose on Friday.

Coming off a frustrating 2017 during which she slid from number one in the world to 21st in the rankings, Kerber is unbeaten in two singles matches in Perth and her confidence is building again. She easily accounted for struggling Canadian Eugenie Bouchard in straight sets on Wednesday, before Zverev sealed the tie with a similar scoreline against Vasek Pospisil and the Germans wrapped up a clean sweep in the mixed doubles.

Kerber, 29, was bouyant after she notched her second straight-sets win in Perth to start the new year, while Bouchard, once ranked fifth but now 83rd, was testy after yet another comprehensive defeat. As was the case in her straight-sets loss to Daria Gavrilova on Sunday, Bouchard barely fired a shot against Kerber in the first set but resurrected her game in the second.

At 3-3 in the second set Bouchard held four break points, but Kerber staved them off, held serve and then strolled through the last two games comfortably to win 6-1, 6-3 in 57 minutes. In the evening tie, Belgians Goffin and Mertens notched their first win and stayed in the hunt for the final by powering past the Australian pairing of Gavrilova and Thanasi Kokkinakis. The Belgians won both singles matches, with Mertens recovering from a set down to beat Gavrilova 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 and Goffin too good for the promising Kokkinakis 6-4, 6-2.

Belgium plays winless Canada on Friday in their final group tie. In Brisbane, Australia, Nick Kyrgios overcame a knee problem to outlast fellow Australian Matthew Ebden 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5), 6-2 on Wednesday and move into the quarter-finals at the Brisbane International. Third-seeded Kyrgios called for a medical timeout after nine games and had further treatment two games later to have his left knee taped. His movement appeared to be hampered but he still had too much for Ebden and set up a quarter-final against former Brisbane International runner-up Alexandr Dolgopolv, who beat Horacio Zeballos 6-1, 6-2 in the second round. Elina Svitolina advanced to the women’s quarter-finals with a 6-3, 6-1 second-round win over Croatia’s Ana Konjuh.

The third-seeded Svitolina, who won five WTA titles last year and peaked at No. 3, will next play fifthseeded Johanna Konta. Kaia Kanepi beat Lesia Tsurenko 6-4, 6-3 and qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich rallied for a 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3 win over Anett Kontaveit to set up a quarter-final match against Alize Cornet. In Shenzhen, China, Simona Halep guaranteed top seeding for this month’s Australian Open after battling back from a set down to defeat Duan Yingying 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 in Shenzhen on Wednesday.

The Romanian is now assured to remain world number one ahead of Caroline Wozniacki and Garbine Muguruza for the season’s first Grand Slam which begins in Melbourne on Jan 15. Looking for a first victory over a top 10 player and cheered on by her home fans, the powerful world number 91 from China blasted her way to the first set without conceding a single break point. Halep roared back, dropping just three more games to reach the quarterfinals of the WTA Tour event that she won in 2015 after an hour and 37 minutes of action. Halep, who posted 21 winners to just 13 unforced errors, will next face another big hitter in teenage sensation Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus.

In Auckland, New Zealand, top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki advanced to the quarter-finals of the ASB Tennis Classic on Wednesday, beating Petra Martic of Croatia 6-2, 6-2. After taking 58 minutes to beat American Madison Brengle in her first-round match Tuesday, Wozniacki needed only 53 minutes to beat unseeded Martic, despite dropping her serve in the first game of the second set. Wozniacki served strongly to take early control, winning 89 percent of points on first serve and putting 90thranked Martic under pressure with deep groundstrokes which forced errors. Wozniacki broke Martic’s serve in the second and eighth games to take the first set in 24 minutes. She quickly recovered after dropping serve to open the second set, breaking back in the fourth and sixth games. Second-seed Julia Goerges beat Viktoria Kuzmova 6-4, 4-0, third-seeded Barbora Strycova beat Johanna Larsson 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-2 and Polona Herzog had a 6-4, 6-2 win over Kirsten Flipkens. Strycova took more than three hours to beat Italy’s Sara Errani in her firstround match and needed almost 2-1/2 hours to move past Larsson. In other results, Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan beat qualifier Ysaline Bonaventure and Sofia Kenin beat Varvara Lepchenko.

In Pune, India, fifth-seeded Robin Haase started the new year with a 7-6 (6), 7-5 victory over Blaz Kavcic in the first round of the Maharashtra Open on Tuesday. Kavcic broke the serve of 42ndranked Haase three times, but the Dutchman eventually came through to line up a match against Chile’s Nicolas Jarry. Brazilian qualifier Thiago Monteiro was on court for 2 hours, 40 minutes before beating Ruben Bemelmans 6-7 (4), 6-3, 7-6 (8). Monteiro, ranked 124th, will meet US Open finalist Kevin Anderson of South Africa in the second round. In Doha, only two seeds remain at the Qatar Open after two more were beaten in the tournament’s early matches on Wednesday, leaving six of the event’s eight highest-ranked players out with only half of the second round completed. Spain’s Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez were the latest highprofile victims to join the growing list of seeds to fall early in Doha.

Russia’s Andrey Rublev, 20, beat veteran seventh seed Verdasco in three sets, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in a centre court match watched by Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser al-Khelaifi. The high-profile pair are former tennis partners and Khelaifiis also president of the Qatar Tennis Federation. Rublev, the world number 39, broke Verdasco in the ninth game of the final set and needed one just match point to secure victory.

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