Former world number one Serena Williams claimed her first WTA Tour title in three years after winning the Auckland Open on Sunday.

Not since winning the 2017 Australian Open had Williams clinched silverware – the 23-time grand slam champion a runner-up at Wimbledon (2018 and 2019) and the US Open (2018 and 2019), while she retired in the 2019 Rogers Cup final.

However, Williams ended her drought by defeating fellow American Jessica Pegula 6-3 6-4 in the women's final in New Zealand.

"It feels good. It's been a long time. I think you could see the relief on my face," Williams said during her on-court interview before announcing she will donate her prize money (and a dress from each of her matches) to the bushfire relief effort in Australia.

Williams was almost flawless against Pegula, stepping up her preparations for the upcoming Australian Open with two aces and just one break of serve to capture her 73rd WTA crown – a record stretching across four decades after winning her first in 1999.

After a sluggish start, which saw the top seed fall 3-1 behind in the opening set, Williams eventually found her range en route to the 38-year-old's first trophy as a mother.

After snapping a sequence of five defeats in finals since her 2017 triumph at the Australian Open, Williams will look to equal Margaret Court's record of 24 slam titles at Melbourne Park.

Meanwhile, defending champion and second seed Karolina Pliskova won the Brisbane International for a second straight year after outlasting Madison Keys in three sets.

Pliskova prevailed 6-4 4-6 7-5 over eighth seed Keys for her third victory at the WTA Premier event in Brisbane.

Serena Williams was in brilliant form to reach the Auckland Open final, while Karolina Pliskova saved a match point to beat Naomi Osaka in a thrilling Brisbane International semi.

Williams needed just 44 minutes to crush 18-year-old Amanda Anisimova 6-1 6-1 in their last four clash at the WTA International tournament in New Zealand.

The 23-time grand slam champion mixed 17 winners with six unforced errors and lost just nine points on serve. Williams served five aces and converted all five of her break points in a dominant display in the lead up to the year's first grand slam in Melbourne.

The American moved into her 98th WTA Tour final and will be aiming for a 73rd title but first since the 2017 Australian Open when she faces Jessica Pegula.

Pegula upset fifth seed Caroline Wozniacki 3-6 6-4 6-0 in their semi-final.

A two-time runner-up, Wozniacki – who will retire after the 2020 Australian Open – won just 10 points in the third set.

Wozniacki will contest the doubles final with Williams against Taylor Townsend and Asia Muhammad.

In Brisbane, Pliskova lost a first set on a tie-break in which she squandered two set points and saved four, and was staring down the barrel after Osaka broke for a 6-5 lead in the second.

However, Osaka's first serve on match point was overly tentative and a series of errors handed Pliskova the break back. The second seed took full advantage, winning the subsequent tie-break and taking the decider in comfortable fashion to defeat the reigning Australian Open champion 6-7 (10-12) 7-6 (7-3) 6-2.

Earlier, Madison Keys rallied past Petra Kvitova to clinch a 3-6 6-2 6-3 victory, meaning there will be no all-Czech final in Queensland.

At the Shenzhen Open, Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova clinched her maiden WTA Tour title with a 6-2 6-4 win over Elena Rybakina in the final.

Serena Williams delivered a stellar display at the Auckland Open, saying she was "in the zone" in a thrashing of Amanda Anisimova on Saturday.

Williams needed just 44 minutes to crush 18-year-old Anisimova 6-1 6-1 in the semi-finals of the WTA International event.

The 23-time grand slam champion was in fine form in the lead up to the Australian Open, producing 17 winners and six unforced errors to move into the final against Jessica Pegula.

"I was definitely in the zone today. It was just one of those days," Williams said during an on-court interview.

"I knew I was playing a really, really great player and an even better person so I knew I had to come out serious."

Williams added: "It feels good. I've been working really hard for a couple of years.

"My daughter is only two, I tend to be really hard on myself, but considering everything I'm doing pretty good."

Williams moved into a 98th WTA Tour final and will be aiming for a 73rd title and first since the 2017 Australian Open.

Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki teamed up to reach the Auckland Classic doubles final after making the final four in the singles, while Naomi Osaka will challenge Karolina Pliskova for the number two ranking in Brisbane.

Williams and Wozniacki, playing as a pair for the first time, beat the top seeds in the quarter-finals and saved five set points in their opening set against Kirsten Flipkens and Alison Van Uytvanck before sealing a 7-6 (11-9) 6-2 victory to advance to the final.

They will play the winners of Saturday's all-American clash that sees Coco Gauff and Caty McNally take on Asia Muhammad and Taylor Townsend.

Earlier on Friday, Williams came from a break down in the second set to beat Laura Siegemund 6-4 6-3 and book an exciting semi-final against Amanda Anisimova, a 6-2 3-6 6-4 winner against wildcard Eugenie Bouchard.

Asked if she felt in good shape ahead of the Australian Open, Williams said: "I definitely feel that, and I feel like my match yesterday [against Christina McHale] was great.

"It's great that I went three sets, and it's great that I ran so much. I came out today just overall feeling better and doing better.

"Especially the match fitness – I'm super fit, but match fitness is a little different, so I think all these matches are really helping."

Wozniacki will face Jessica Pegula, who progressed when Alize Cornet retired at 6-0 3-2 down, after a routine 6-1 6-4 victory over defending champion Julia Goerges.

Osaka can improve her seeding ahead of the Australian Open if she makes the final at the Brisbane International, and standing in her way is her direct rival in world number two Pliskova.

Two-time major winner Osaka – ranked fourth in the world – had to fend off five break points to close out a 6-3 3-6 6-3 triumph over Kiki Bertens in the quarter-finals.

Reigning champion Pliskova lies in wait in the last four, though she had to stave off two set points in the first before winning 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 against Alison Riske. Petra Kvitova and Madison Keys will contest the other semi-final.

Garbine Muguruza was unable to kick off 2020 with a final appearance as she lost 6-4 6-3 to Ekaterina Alexandrova in the semi-finals of the Shenzhen Open.

Elena Rybakina, who beat Kristyna Pliskova 6-2 7-5, stands between Alexandrova and a first singles title on the WTA Tour.

Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka each came from a set down as they geared up their respective Australian Open preparations at the Auckland Classic and the Brisbane International.

Williams needed two hours to overcome compatriot Christina McHale 3-6 6-2 6-3 amid blustery conditions, dropping four of the first five games before hitting her stride.

"I got myself in a hole and I was able to get out of it, so that was satisfying," said Williams, who will face Laura Siegemund in the quarter-finals after the experienced German similarly beat Coco Gauff in three sets.

"I just got mad, and honestly, I said that I wanted to win more than one match here in New Zealand. I thought about that and sometimes it's the craziest things that get you motivated." 

Caroline Wozniacki, who is into the doubles semi-finals as Williams' partner in Auckland, came through a topsy-turvy encounter to beat Lauren Davis 6-1 4-6 6-4.

A dominant opening set from Wozniacki, where Davis was unable to hold serve, was not indicative of the absorbing back-and-forth that followed.

"I got a little lucky in the end and it could have gone both ways," the 29-year-old, who will retire after Melbourne, said.

Julia Goerges is up next for Wozniacki and enjoyed a more straightforward 6-3 6-2 win over Jil Teichmann.

World number one Ash Barty's first singles match of 2020 ended with American qualifier Jennifer Brady prevailing 6-4 7-6 (7-4) at the Brisbane International, where Osaka was facing a similar fate after dropping a tie-break in the opener of her match against Sofia Kenin.

The defending Australian Open champion stormed back to take the contest 6-7 (3-7) 6-3 6-1 and will face Kiki Bertens – a 6-3 2-6 7-5 winner over Anett Kontaveit.

Petra Kvitova made light work of Liudmila Samsonova, dropping only five games in a straight-sets victory, while number two seed Karolina Pliskova sowed more disappointment for the home crowd by beating Ajla Tomljanovic 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-1 to set up a quarter-final against Alison Riske.

Pliskova's twin Kristyna rounded out the quarter-final action at the Shenzhen Open with a 6-4 6-4 win against Kateryna Bondarenko.

She will face Elena Rybakina, who beat third seed Elise Mertens 6-4 4-6 6-2, while Garbine Muguruza and Ekaterina Alexandrova came through three-setters against Zarina Diyas and Wang Qiang respectively to reach the other semi-final.

Serena Williams described her victorious comeback as "solid" after she beat Camila Giorgi in straight sets at the Auckland Classic in her first match since the US Open.

The 23-time grand slam champion had taken a break after losing to Bianca Andreescu at Flushing Meadows.

Having warmed up with a doubles win alongside Caroline Wozniacki on Monday, Williams was back in singles action on Tuesday and cruised past Giorgi 6-3 6-2 in a little over another hour.

"I thought it was solid, technically my second match of the year," she said.

"Spent a long time off from tournament play, match play, so solid is pretty good. It's a great start to build on.

"It's definitely not easy [to get the rhythm back]. It's always hard to play a match early in the season."

Williams will face Christina McHale next and could meet 15-year-old Coco Gauff for the first time in the quarter-finals.

Her doubles partner Wozniacki, who will retire after the Australian Open, also progressed having dropped just one game against Paige Mary Hourigan.

Former world number one and defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka had more difficulties in beating Maria Sakkari 6-2 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 at the Brisbane International.

Sakkari had the momentum in the decider when she forged an early break, yet Osaka fought back and converted her second match point after double faulting with her first.

Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens, who, like Osaka, started the new season ranked in the world's top 10, also advanced in three sets with respective wins against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Dayana Yastremska, while Jennifer Brady came from a set down to oust Maria Sharapova.

Belinda Bencic was eliminated at the Shenzhen Open, though, the world number eight and top seed beaten 3-6 6-3 6-3 by Anna Blinkova.

Defending champion and second seed Aryna Sabalenka was also knocked out as she suffered a straight-sets defeat to Kristyna Pliskova.

Coco Gauff won her first match of the 2020 WTA Tour season in little over an hour at the Auckland Classic, while Serena Williams' singles bow was delayed.

Fifteen-year-old Gauff - a breakout star in 2019 - is in the same quarter of the draw as 23-time grand slam champion Williams, meaning the pair could meet in the last eight.

Gauff has never faced Serena but stunned her sister Venus Williams at Wimbledon last year.

The teenager took a step towards a first clash with the 38-year-old as she saw off Viktoria Kuzmova 6-3 6-1 in the first round on Monday.

"I felt confident, I feel like I'm moving well," Gauff said, with Laura Siegemund or Alison Van Uytvanck up next. "I had a good off-season, and I think that's showing in my matches."

Williams was not in singles action for the first time this year, however, as opponent Svetlana Kuznetsova withdrew, meaning the American must instead play Camila Giorgi on Tuesday.

The WTA great was still able to thrill the Auckland crowd, as she joined the soon-to-retire Caroline Wozniacki in the doubles, beating Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya 6-2 6-4.

"I had a blast," Williams said. "It's so good to play with her - it's like a dream come true."

Wozniacki, who is calling time on her career at the Australian Open, added: "It's amazing to be able to share the court with Serena."

Elsewhere in the singles, Caroline Garcia recovered from a set down to beat Taylor Townsend, while Eugenie Bouchard, Daria Kasatkina, Tamara Zidansek, Jil Teichmann and Jessica Pegula all also advanced.

There were upsets at the Brisbane International, meanwhile, as Danielle Collins crushed Elina Svitolina 6-1 6-1.

Home hopeful Sam Stosur got the better of fellow former major winner Angelique Kerber, recovering in a tough first set to claim consecutive tie-breaks.

"This is the way I want to be all the time on court," Stosur said. "I put more pressure on myself than anyone could ever do."

Ajla Tomljanovic came through three sets, as did Barbora Strycova against Johanna Konta, with Sofia Kenin and Alison Riske also winning.

Aryna Sabalenka cruised through in Shenzhen, while Garbine Muguruza was made to work for victory against Wang Xinyu.

Wang Qiang and Elena Rybakina ensured all four seeds in action on Monday made it into the second round.

Simona Halep believes she deserved the blunt criticism after coach Darren Cahill labelled the Wimbledon champion a "disgrace" during her WTA Finals defeat to Karolina Pliskova.

World number five Halep slipped to a 6-0 2-6 6-4 loss on Friday, as her season came to an end in disappointing fashion.

During a courtside discussion with her coach, midway through the deciding set, Cahill condemned the 28-year-old's performance by saying: "The last three games you have been an absolute disgrace on court."

Cahill's tough words did not have the desired effect, with Pliskova going on to progress to the semi-finals where world number one Ashleigh Barty awaits her.

Halep, however, has conceded her coach was right to be so harsh on her.

"I'm pretty sure that I deserved it because I was not calm," Halep said in a news conference, according to WTA Insider.

"I changed something in my attitude.

"Everyone knows that I'm working on that. I was a little bit p***** at myself that I did that. I'm sure that I made him p***** also."

Since her superb run to Wimbledon glory, former world number one Halep has failed to find her best form, only making it into the last eight in one of the five tournaments she has participated in since July.

Aryna Sabalenka defeated top seed Kiki Bertens in straight sets in the WTA Elite Trophy final on Sunday.

Belarusian fourth seed Sabalenka upstaged Bertens 6-4 6-2 as she closed out her singles season with victory in Zhuhai.

Bertens was the favourite to reign supreme after reaching her fifth final of 2019 by rallying past Zheng Saisai in the semis, while Sabalenka prevailed against Karolina Muchova.

But Sabalenka – who won 81 per cent of his first serves – was too good as she claimed her third singles title of the year.

Sabalenka had already secured victory at the Shenzhen Open and Wuhan Open, with the world number 14 taking her career tally to five titles – four of those coming on Chinese soil.

WTA Elite Trophy favourite Kiki Bertens reached her fifth final of 2019 as she battled from behind to beat Zheng Saisai in Zhuhai.

Bertens narrowly missed out on a place in the season-ending WTA Finals, but she will have the chance to claim a third trophy of the year thanks to a hard-fought 2-6 6-3 6-4 triumph on Saturday.

The Dutchwoman found herself a set and a break down at 6-2 2-1 but rallied to take nine of the next 11 games.

Despite Bertens holding a 4-1 lead in the deciding set, Chinese home favourite Zheng pressed back, breaking serve in a 13-minute eighth game to draw level.

But Zheng's resolve was swiftly undone as Bertens broke back, before the world number 10 served out the win to clinch a place in the final, where she will face Aryna Sabalenka.

World number 14 Sabalenka beat Czech Karolina Muchova 7-5 7-6 (7-4) to reach Sunday's title match.

A deciding third set looked likely at one stage, but it was Belarusian Sabalenka who finally held her nerve, the match finishing on an error when Muchova drilled a slack forehand into the net.

Belinda Bencic clinched a debut appearance at the end-of-season WTA Finals, meaning Serena Williams will miss out.

Swiss star Bencic reached as high as seventh in the world rankings during the 2016 season before slumping outside the top 300, with poor form compounded by injury trouble.

But 22-year-old Bencic has returned to the top 10 since reaching the semi-finals of the US Open in September, beating defending champion Naomi Osaka along the way in New York.

A 6-3 6-4 victory over France's Kristina Mladenovic in the semi-finals of the Kremlin Cup on Saturday made sure of Bencic's appearance in the eight-player WTA Finals.

That lucrative event is the last major tournament of the WTA season and takes place in Shenzhen, China, from October 27 to November 3.

Bencic becomes the last player to secure a place, joining Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova, Elina Svitolina, Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Karolina Pliskova and Bianca Andreescu.

She nudged ahead of Williams in the Race to Shenzhen to deny the American a place in the elite field for the upcoming tournament that carries prize money of $14million.

Williams has been inactive since the US Open and is unlikely to be perturbed by missing the WTA Finals.

Bencic said in an on-court interview: "I'm so happy I reached the top eight. It was a huge goal for me this season and so last-minute.

"I was so nervous before the match, but also reaching the final here [in Moscow] tomorrow is amazing. I'm so happy."

Kiki Bertens look set to miss out on the WTA Finals following a Kremlin Cup quarter-final defeat to Kristina Mladenovic, which left the door open for Belinda Bencic to make her Shenzhen debut.

Bertens missed out on a place in the last four in Moscow when she was beaten 6-4 2-6 6-1 by the unseeded Mladenovic.

The second seed will require a withdrawal to feature in the season-ending tournament in China after failing to climb above the eighth-placed Serena Williams in the standings.

Mladenovic mixed up her game with skill and intelligence and faces a semi-final showdown with Bencic next.

Bencic will move ahead of both Bertens and Williams to grab a Shenzhen spot if she records one more win following a 7-6 (8-6) 6-1 result against qualifier Kirsten Flipkens on Friday.

The Swiss third seed, who has never played in the WTA Finals, drew on her fighting spirit to come from 4-1 down in the opening set and edged a tie-break after saving two set points, then dominated the second set.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Karolina Muchova will contest the other semi-final after getting the better of Veronika Kudermetova and Ekaterina Alexandrova respectively.

Meanwhile, defending champion Julia Goerges rallied from a set down to beat Monica Puig 1-6 6-2 6-3 and reach the last four of the Luxembourg Open.

The German will take on Elena Rybakina, a 6-0 6-4 winner against Laura Siegemund, while Jelena Ostapenko and Anna Blinkova will also do battle for a place in the final.

 

 

Veronika Kudermetova upset top seed Elina Svitolina in the second round of the Kremlin Cup and Jelena Ostapenko fought back to knock Elise Mertens out of the Luxembourg Open on Thursday.

Kudermetova came out on top in her first match against a top-five opponent, defeating Svitolina 6-1 2-6 7-5 in Moscow.

The 22-year-old Russian wrapped up the opening set in only 28 minutes and came from 2-0 down in the decider to move into the quarter-finals.

Kudermetova's attacking approach paid off, world number four Svitolina showing resolve in the final set but missing out on a last-eight showdown with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Second seed Kiki Bertens advanced with 4-6 6-3 7-5 victory over Kaia Kanepi, while Pavlyuchenkova won an all-Russian contest with Varvara Gracheva 5-7 6-4 6-2.

Kristina Mladenovic will face Bertens after battling her way past sixth seed Anastasija Sevastova 7-5 3-6 6-3.

The top seed also bowed out Luxembourg, with Ostapenko digging deep to see off Mertens 4-6 6-2 6-2.

Ostapenko, runner-up to Coco Gauff at the Linz Open last weekend, will now come up against Antonia Lottner, who went through when Andrea Petkovic retired with a knee injury after losing the first set 6-1.

Defending champion Julie Goerges saw off Sorana Cirstea 4-6 6-4 6-4, while Anna Blinkova and Monica Puig also made it through, defeating Kristyna Pliskova 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 7-6 (8-6). 

Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina eased their way into the second round of the China Open, though Venus Williams had to battle to secure her place.

Fresh from her victory in the Pan Pacific Open, Osaka overcame Jessica Pegula 6-3 7-6 (7-5), while Wimbledon champion Halep made light work of Rebecca Peterson.

Third seed Svitolina found matters slightly more taxing against Anastasija Sevastova, coming from a set down to win 6-7 (4-7) 6-1 6-2.

Angelique Kerber, too, needed three sets to get the better of Chinese number two Zheng Shuai, though it was former world number one Williams who had the toughest test.

The 39-year-old was 5-3 down to Barbora Strycova in the final set, but clawed her way back to triumph 6-3 4-6 7-5.

Williams' compatriot Sloane Stephens also made it through, while one of China's main hopes - world number 16 Wang Qiang - retired hurt against Ajla Tomljanovic.

FAVOURITES PILE THROUGH

Having seen second seed Karolina Pliskova dumped out by wildcard Jelana Ostapenko on Saturday, Osaka, Halep and Svitolina took no chances in their respective matches.

Two-time grand slam winner Osaka failed to really press home her advantage in the second set against Pegula, though two errors on the bounce from the American handed the former world number one the win.

"I just felt like this match, I was kind of living in the moment every point. I wasn't really thinking too much in the future, too much in the past," said Osaka.

Halep - who had to withdraw from the Wuhan Open with a back injury - found life much easier against Peterson, though Svitolina did have to come from behind to get past Sevastova and set up a round-two tie with Wang Yafan.

WILLIAMS BATTLES BACK FROM THE BRINK

It looked as though Venus Williams would be heading home early when Wimbledon semi-finalist Strycova took a 5-3 lead in the third set, after the Czech had come from behind in their encounter.

Williams had started strongly but faded in the second set, with Strycova winning five straight games to claim it 6-4.

A Williams break looked set to have handed the veteran the edge, but Strycova fought back with a three-game winning streak.

However, despite twice going within two points of victory, Strycova failed to capitalise, Williams clinching a hard-fought win with her second match point. Belinda Bencic awaits in round two.


FORMER CHAMPIONS FALL

Dayana Yastremska stormed into the second round, taking just 55 minutes to beat 2017 Beijing champion Caroline Garcia 6-1 6-1.

Another former winner - Svetlana Kuznetsova - also fell at the first hurdle, with Christina McHale triumphing 6-0 1-6 6-3.

With Garcia and Kuznetsova out and Garbine Muguruza having been defeated by Sofia Kenin on Saturday, only defending champion Caroline Wozniacki - who faces Lauren Davis on Monday - remains of the four previous winners to have featured in the main draw this time around.

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