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Serena Williams ends 9-month title drought at Italian Open

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ROME (AP) Serena Williams ended a nine-month title drought with a 7-6 (5), 6-3 win over Madison Keys in an all-American Italian Open final Sunday.

Williams’ previous title came in Cincinnati in August – a month before her attempt at a calendar-year Grand Slam ended with a semifinal loss to Roberta Vinci at the U.S. Open.

“It feels great,” Williams said, pointing out that she’s only played four tournaments since Cincinnati. “So it’s not like I was playing every week. So that’s kind of how I look at it. But it feels great to win a title, especially on clay.”

It’s Williams’ fourth title in Rome and it comes exactly a week before the French Open begins.

“I’m feeling pretty fit. So I’m looking forward to it,” said Williams, who will be attempting to defend her title at Roland Garros, but won’t have to answer any questions about a potential calendar-year Grand Slam this year. “I’m going to definitely go in there and feel more calm and (not) feel stress to have to win.”

Williams addressed the crowd in Italian during the post-match ceremony then took a selfie as she posed with the trophy.

It was the first time two American women have met in a final on clay since Serena beat older sister Venus in the 2002 French Open.

When they met at the net after the match, Serena told the 24th-ranked Keys that she can be No. 1 one day.

“Too bad what she says doesn’t just happen,” the 21-year-old Keys said. “But it’s always great to hear that from her. … Hearing that is definitely something that makes me just work harder.”

The last all-American final in Rome was in 1970, when Billie Jean King beat Julie Heldman.

In the men’s tournament, top-ranked Novak Djokovic was facing Andy Murray in a rematch of last week’s Madrid Open final.

In the Rome record book, Serena drew level with Conchita Martinez and Gabriela Sabatini, who also took four titles at the Foro Italico. Chris Evert holds the women’s record with five titles while Rafael Nadal holds the overall mark with seven.

It was the 70th title overall in Serena’s career.

Keys was playing in the biggest final of her career. She posted personal best results at all four majors last year, including reaching the Australian Open semifinals and the Wimbledon quarterfinals.

Keys broke Serena at love in the opening game of the match and hit six aces in her opening two service games to take a 3-1 lead.

As Serena became more aggressive, however, Keys hit two double faults to hand the break back, making it 3-3.

In the tiebreak, Serena took control with a wicked cross-court forehand that Keys couldn’t get back then closed it out on her first set point with a big serve out wide that Keys returned long.

After taking the first set, Serena pumped her fists and yelled to herself, `Come on!”‘

In the second set, Serena’s only real trouble came when she was broken while serving for the match at 5-2. But she quickly ended it the next game, concluding the tournament without dropping a set.

Serena hit only 13 winners to Keys’ 17 but had fewer unforced errors – 24-32 – and converted five of her six break-point opportunities.

Serena improved to 16-0 against Americans since losing to Venus in the Montreal semifinals in 2014. Her last loss to an American in a final came against Venus at Wimbledon in 2008.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping tournaments like Federer

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MONACO (AP) For now, Rafael Nadal doesn’t see himself skipping any major tournaments the way Roger Federer has been sitting out the French Open.

The veterans are back at the top of world tennis, with Nadal needing to win the Monte Carlo Masters this week to avoid losing his top ranking once again to Federer in their seemingly eternal battle for tennis supremacy.

For the second consecutive season, the 36-year-old Federer is skipping the entire clay-court season in order to be at his best on grass.

After coming back from injury to win the Australian Open last year, Federer skipped the clay-court season, won Wimbledon, and retained his Melbourne crown to extend his record tally to 20 majors.

The Swiss star is keeping his aging body fresher by playing a bit less – avoiding Nadal on clay at Roland Garros or elsewhere – and it is working for him.

But Nadal still thinks he can play a full schedule.

“There (are) tournaments that I can’t imagine missing on purpose, because (they are) tournaments that I love to play,” Nadal said on Wednesday. “I don’t see myself missing Monte Carlo on purpose. I don’t see myself missing Wimbledon on purpose, or the U.S. Open, or Australian, or Rome. These kind of events, I don’t see missing (them).”

The 31-year-old Spaniard recently returned from a right hip injury which forced him to retire during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

With his 32nd birthday coming up on June 3 – during the French Open – the 16-time Grand Slam champion accepts he may think differently when he gets closer to Federer’s age.

“Of course, when you get older, you need to adjust a little bit more the efforts and the calendar. But for me (it) is difficult to say I don’t play, for example, grass, or I don’t play hard (courts),” Nadal said. “(It) is not in my plan, but I can’t say `never’ because I cannot predict what’s going to be in the future.”

Nadal is chasing an 11th title at both Monte Carlo and Roland Garros, which begins on May 27.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Thiem reaches third round at Monte Carlo

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MONACO — Dominic Thiem saved a match point and beat Andrey Rublev of Russia 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters on Tuesday.

Rublev was serving for the match at 5-4, 40-30 but hit a forehand narrowly wide. Fifth-seeded Thiem broke him with backhand pass down the line and held for 6-5.

The Austrian was 15-40 up on Rublev’s serve and clinched victory on his first match point, when Rublev double-faulted with a weak serve into the net.

“I was 10 centimeters from being out of the tournament,” a relieved Thiem said. “But I’m happy that I played two hours and 40 (minutes).”

Thiem has reached the French Open semifinals for the past two years. He next meets 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic or Borna Coric of Croatia, who play their second-round match on Wednesday.

“I’m looking forward to watching Djokovic and Coric in front of the TV, and then playing the winner on Thursday,” Thiem said.

In the second round later Tuesday, fourth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria faced Pierre-Hugues Herbert and seventh-seeded Lucas Pouille played Mischa Zverev.

In remaining first-round play, there were wins for Gilles Simon of France, Marco Cecchinato of Italy and Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.