• Kyodo


Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic and seventh seed Cristina McHale of the United States reached the final of the Japan Women’s Open in contrasting fashion on Saturday, when the Japanese pair of Shuko Aoyama and Makoto Ninomiya won the doubles title.

Unseeded Siniakova, ranked world No. 65, overpowered sixth seed and 49th-ranked Zhang Shuai of China 6-3, 6-0.

But 53rd-ranked McHale had a grueling encounter with 115th-ranked Jana Cepelova, eventually snatching it 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 against the Slovak.

Neither Siniakova nor Zhang had great first serves in the first set and traded three breaks before the Czech, who overcame Naomi Osaka in the second round, won her fourth and held serve to take the lead.

Siniakova’s accurate and powerful strokes off both sides left Zhang chasing behind the baseline in the perfect second set. She demonstrated her agility too in the second game, when she chased away from the net and grabbed a point after Zhang looked to have won it following a drop shot.

“In the second set I was better than her because I made her make mistakes. I was trying to fight for every point and was running everywhere,” said Siniakova. “I think it’s tough for the opponent because they know I can be everywhere so they are trying to push closer to the line.”

In the other semifinal, McHale notched up 10 aces but had determined play at rallies to contend with from Cepelova, who as in her last match against Kurumi Nara, grinded out points with deep winners.

McHale won the first set after breaking three times, while Cepelova broke twice to win the second. She then had two break points at 4-4 in the final set, following two good forehands down the line, but threw them away.

Cepelova again lasted two break points at 5-5 as McHale showed great mental focus to dig her out, and she broke in the 12th game to secure the win after 2 hours, 27 minutes when Cepelova netted her backhand.

“I played her three years ago at the French Open so I knew how she played, and obviously she was playing really well this week so it was a tough physical match,” McHale said. “She uses a lot of angles and she gets to a lot of balls so it was a really hard-fought match today.

“She had a few break points on me in the third set but I was just focused on where I wanted to serve those points and what I wanted to do, so that really helped me to be able to stay calm.”

In the doubles final, Aoyama and Ninomiya made sure home fans had a Japanese title to savor as they defeated British duo Jocelyn Rae and Anna Smith 6-3, 6-3 for the pair’s first WTA title.

Aoyama and Ninomiya, who lost in the final last month at the Jiangxi Women’s Open, traded two breaks before winning the last three games to win the first set.

They led 4-1 in the second before the British pair broke back, but Ninomiya clinched it with a cross-court return backhand winner.

“I made three mistakes in our first return game, but she (Aoyama) helped me by scoring points on all of them and that lifted a weight off my shoulders,” said Ninomiya, 22. “My target is to win on bigger stages and I’d like to keep going with her.”

The 28-year-old Aoyama said, “Better understanding between us in doubles have helped us go up a level. Ninomiya’s aggressive play gave our play the momentum, and it is giving me good motivation as well.”

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