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Barty reaches semifinals in Cincy; Osaka injured

MASON, Ohio — Ashleigh Barty was in the same predicament, trying to dig out from an ugly first set. The Western & Southern Open’s top seed found a way to do it again.

Barty reached the semifinals of the tournament for the first time and moved closer to regaining the No. 1 world ranking Friday by beating Maria Sakkari 5-7, 6-2, 6-0. With one more win, she can move into the top spot for the U.S. Open, taking it back from Naomi Osaka.

Osaka had much bigger concerns after dropping out of her semifinal match because of a knee injury.

After splitting sets with Sofia Kenin, Osaka took a timeout early in the third set to have her left knee examined and wrapped. She played only two more points before retiring, sending Kenin into the semifinals for the second straight week.

Last week in Toronto, Kenin knocked off Barty on her way to the semifinals, allowing Osaka to jump ahead of Barty for No. 1. Now they’re in position to swap spots again.

Barty is feeling good about her play with the U.S. Open just ahead.

“Still not quite there, but we’re getting better and better each match,” the French Open champion said. “I think that’s the beauty of being able to stay alive in the tournament is to give myself an opportunity to keep getting better. I think I’m still aiming to obviously do very well here, but the big picture is New York in 10 days’ time.”

She needs some work on first sets, though.

Barty got ahead 5-2 in her opening set Friday and then got sloppy, letting it slip away as Sakkari became more aggressive. It was the second straight day that Barty rallied after dropping a first set. She fought off a match point during a three-set win over Anett Kontaveit on Thursday, showing poise that she’d need to draw on again a day later.

“There is certainly no panic, where it gets to the stage where I’m kind of overwrought or can’t think straight,” she said. “I’m still able to, more times than not, have the ability to relax and kind of stay clear and come back to what works.”

Barty will face Svetlana Kuznetsova, who reached her first semifinal of the season by beating third-seeded Karolina Pliskova 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3.

Kuznetsova is playing only her ninth event after missing the start of the season because of a knee injury. Playing on a hot, humid afternoon, she got treatment on her upper right leg after the second set and twice again during the final one.

On the men’s side, qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka withdrew because of illness, sending David Goffin into the semifinals. Nishioka had a good tournament showing, beating sixth-seeded Kei Nishikori — a player he called his hero — and Alex De Minaur to reach the quarterfinals.

Goffin will face Richard Gasquet, who advanced with a three-set victory over Roberto Bautista Agut. Gasquet had groin surgery in January and fell to No. 68 in the ATP rankings on July 29, his lowest in nine years. He’s back in an ATP Masters 1000 semifinal for the first time since 2013 in Miami.

Seven-time champion Roger Federer was upset Thursday, leaving Novak Djokovic as the only high seed left in the bracket.

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