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Nadal loses to Thiem in Italian Open quarterfinals

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ROME —¬†Rafael Nadal’s winning streak ended at 17 matches as he lost in straight sets to Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals of the Italian Open on Friday.

The 6-4, 6-3 victory was a sort of revenge for Thiem, who was beaten by the Spaniard in the Madrid Open final last week.

“Of course I came in with a very aggressive game style, because I knew that if I want to have a chance, then I have to do something different and be more aggressive,” Thiem said. “I knew that if it goes in, everything, maybe I have a chance. If not, maybe I also lose easy.

“But today was one of these days where I really felt the ball great on the racquet, and a lot of risky shots went in. It was a very, very good performance and I think probably one of my best matches.”

The 30-year-old Nadal, who was seeded fourth, had won consecutive clay-court tournaments in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid and was aiming for an eighth title at the Foro Italico as he prepares for the French Open in less than two weeks.

“I just have to congratulate (Thiem), because he was better than me this afternoon,” Nadal said. “He played great in all aspects. Just well done for him.

“It’s obvious that I did not play my best match. I have been playing a lot … so is not easy after playing almost every day for the last four weeks,” he said.

Thiem, the No.8 seed, will face four-time champion Novak Djokovic or Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals.

The 23-year-old Austrian dominated from the start, racing into a 5-1 lead. Nadal recovered and broke back to cut the gap to 5-4 but Thiem needed just one of his two set points when Nadal’s backhand down the line landed just wide.

Thiem almost broke again early in the second set but Nadal managed to save two break points and go on to hold his serve.

However, Thiem took advantage on his opponent’s next service game, putting in several delightful returns which had the audience on their feet before closing the game with a crosscourt forehand.

Thiem almost allowed Nadal back into the match but managed to cancel out three break points to go into a 5-3 lead and he broke again to take the match when Nadal sent a forehand long.

The other semifinal pits John Isner against No. 16 seed Alexander Zverev.

The unseeded Isner, who hit 21 aces, beat sixth-seeded Marin Cilic 7-6 (3), 2-6, 7-6 (2) in a serve-dominated quarterfinal to become the first American to reach the last four at the Italian Open since Andy Roddick in 2008.

Zverev beat fifth seed and 2014 semi-finalist Milos Raonic 7-6 (1), 6-1.

In the women’s draw, second-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic lost 6-3, 7-6 (9) to No.8 seed Elina Svitolina.

It was the Ukrainian’s first victory over Pliskova in five meetings and set up a semifinal against Venus Williams, seeded ninth, or third seed Garbine Muguruza.

Anett Kontaveit’s dream debut ended as the Estonian qualifier lost 6-2, 6-4 to Madrid Open champion Simona Halep.

The 21-year-old Kontaveit, who beat top-ranked Angelique Kerber in the second round, saved two break points before succumbing to Halep’s clay-court prowess.

The Romanian, who is seeded sixth, next faces Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands after the 15th seed beat Australian qualifier Daria Gavrilova 6-3, 6-3.

Maria Sharapova wins her 1st title since doping ban

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TIANJIN, China (AP) Maria Sharapova won her first WTA title since returning from a doping ban after defeating Aryna Sabalenka to win the Tianjin Open on Sunday.

The Russian, a tournament wild card, overcame Belarusian teenager Sabalenka 7-5, 7-6 (8) despite trailing heavily in both sets.

Sharapova last won a title at the Italian Open in May 2015.

The former top-ranked player and owner of five major titles, including the 2006 U.S. Open, tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January 2016. That led to a 15-month doping ban, which expired in April.

“Such a special, special tournament, and victory for me, one that I’ll remember forever,” Sharapova said. “Sometimes you never know when it will all come together but it happened to me this week in Tianjin.”

Sharapova displayed resilience as she came from behind in both sets to overcome her 19-year-old opponent.

Sabalenka led 4-1 in the opener and 5-1 in the second before relenting to Sharapova’s greater big-match experience. It was Sharapova’s 36th WTA singles title.

The 30-year-old Sharapova played in her first Grand Slam tournament following the ban at the U.S. Open in August, where she reached the fourth round. Sunday’s result will lift Sharapova up to No. 57 in the world rankings.

Federer beats Nadal to win Shanghai Masters title

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SHANGHAI (AP) Roger Federer extended his winning streak over Rafael Nadal this year to four matches after beating the top-ranked Spaniard 6-4, 6-3 to win the Shanghai Masters on Sunday.

The Swiss 19-time grand slam winner, who still trails Nadal 23-15 in their overall head-to-head record, didn’t face a break point and started and ended the match with service breaks.

“I don’t know what my expectations were going in,” Federer said. “I thought I might struggle early on because it was a late finish last night.

“I had no nerves before the match, surprisingly. I think I was pretty clear about how I wanted to play the match. I started off very well and relaxed from then on.”

Despite his dominance in 2017, Federer doesn’t rate his chances of catching Nadal in their head-to-head record.

“It’s not going to happen. We don’t have enough years left on the tour. We ranked too good so we play each other only in finals at the moment… You can’t win them all against Rafa, to be honest. He’s too good of a player,” Federer said.

Federer took advantage of three of seven break point opportunities in the match to snap Nadal’s 16-game winning streak, which included his China Open victory last week.

Federer, who has won the last five encounters between the pair dating back to the 2015 Basel final, also beat Nadal in the Australian Open final, a round of 16 match at Indian Wells and the Miami final this year.

“Have been a very difficult match for me,” Nadal said. “He played very fast and he played well.

“Of course was not the best match for me of the week. When somebody plays better than you, sport is not very difficult. That’s the real thing, no? When you play against somebody that is better than you in most of the things that really matters in this sport, in this kind of surface, then it’s tougher.”

The Shanghai Masters is Federer’s 94th career title, moving him into a tie with Ivan Lendl in second place on the Open era list.

Nadal arrived on court with a bandage under his right knee, the same leg he twice smacked with his racket after losing his serve for the first time this week in the semifinal.

Federer said he was surprised to see the wrap and didn’t feel Nadal was struggling with his movement.

In his post-match press conference, Nadal elected not to discuss the knee injury, saying, “I don’t want to talk about that now, sorry, but after losing final is not the moment.”

When asked if he would play upcoming tournaments in Basel, Switzerland and Paris, Nadal refused to confirm his participation.

Federer took advantage of a third break point in the first game of the match with a winning backhand passing shot. He broke Nadal’s serve again on a second break point in the fifth game of the second set when Nadal sailed a backhand crosscourt wide. In the final game, Nadal netted a forehand at 15-40 to end the 72-minute match.