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No. 2 Kerber retires at Volvo Car Open due to illness

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, ranked No. 2 in the world, retired because of a viral illness during her semifinal match at the Volvo Car Open on Saturday, sending American Sloane Stephens to the finals.

Stephens won the first set 6-1 and was leading 3-0 in the second when Kerber, the top seed in the tournament, retired.

A trainer came to courtside to examine Kerber after the second game of the set. She scored only one point in the third game before retiring.

The 23-year-old Stephens, ranked No. 25 in the world, meets the winner of Saturday’s late match between Sara Errani of Italy and Russian qualifier Elena Vesnina in Sunday’s final on the green clay in Charleston.

It’s the first Charleston final for Stephens, who is making her sixth appearance in the tournament. She is seeking her third title of the year after victories at Auckland and Acapulco.

Kerber said she wasn’t feeling well while warming up but that once the match started, “I was thinking the energy will come back and I will be feeling OK.” But the German player found that during the first few games of the match, she wasn’t feeling any better.

Kerber, 28, last year’s winner in Charleston, was hoping to defend a tournament title for the first time in her career. She has won eight titles but has never repeated.

Stephens said she didn’t know when the match started that Kerber was ill.

“I just thought it was going to be a battle,” she said. “It’s understandable. It happens. I wish her well.”

Stephens said she came into this week’s tournament with a different approach.

“I think I just came in thinking I have nothing to lose and I always play like garbage here. I just need to figure that out,” she said. “So this year I just decided I was going to come out and do the best I possibly could and if that meant I lost in the first round, then, OK, whatever.”