Ash Barty reaches semifinals in Cincy, on track for No. 1

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

Barty reached the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open 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 back to the top spot for the U.S. Open.

The last two sets gave her a better feeling about the bigger stage ahead.

“Still not quite there, but we’re getting better and better each match, “Barty 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.”

The French Open champion will want to work on those first sets.

Barty got ahead 5-2 and got outplayed, 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, 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 had 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.

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic plays the final match Friday against Lucas Pouille. Seven-time champion Roger Federer was upset on Thursday.