Getty Images

Nadal loses to Thiem in Italian Open quarterfinals

Leave a comment

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.

2-time Wimbledon champ Kvitova wins return from knife attack

Leave a comment

PARIS — Sweat-soaked and still wearing her match outfit, Petra Kvitova was looking for someone to hug as she wandered into the players’ lounge in the French Open’s main stadium shortly after leaving the court Sunday.

She found her father, Jiri, and her brother, also Jiri, who greeted her with warm embraces and joyous kisses on the cheek. Kvitova’s family members rarely attend her tournaments, but this was different – “special” was the word she, and others, kept using.

Less than six months after a knife attack at her home, two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova was back competing, winning the first match of her comeback 6-3, 6-2 at Roland Garros against 86th-ranked Julia Boserup of the United States.

“I’m happy with the game, of course,” Kvitova said, “but I mean, it wasn’t really about the game today.”

Indeed, just being there under a cloud-filled sky at Court Philippe Chatrier was a triumph of sorts for Kvitova, who needed surgery on her left hand – the one she uses to hold her racket – after being stabbed by an intruder in the Czech Republic in late December. She was undecided until late last week whether to even try to play in the French Open.

“For us, it’s amazing. It’s miracle. Not even me or Petra thought she could be ready to come back so soon,” said her coach, Jiri Novak. “The prognosis was, let’s just say, not optimistic.”

During her on-court interview, Kvitova addressed Novak, her family and others in her guest box, saying: “Thank you for everything you helped me through (in) this difficult time.”

Several members of her entourage wore black T-shirts with white capital letters on the front that read, “Courage. Belief. Pojd.” That last word, which is the Czech equivalent of “Come on!” and was spelled with a red heart instead of the “O,” is often yelled by Kvitova to celebrate particularly good shots.

“The belief and the mind, the heart, it’s really important,” Kvitova said afterward. “So that’s … what we try to show everyone. I hope that it will be kind of inspiration for other people, as well.”

There were plenty of opportunities for her to clench a fist and scream “Pojd!” on Sunday against Boserup, who was making her debut in the French Open’s main draw and facing a lefty for the first time.

“She’s one of the nicest girls, and we are all really happy to see her back. After what she went through, it’s incredible,” Boserup said. “So it’s a victory for her to be back on court. It was really special.”

Kvitova began things with a quick forehand winner on the opening point.

“Amazing,” she said. “I surprised myself.”

Kvitova wound up compiling the match’s first 10 winners and finished with a 31-9 edge in that category. She took 15 of the first 20 points en route to a 3-0 lead and never really faced a whole lot of resistance, other than when she saved three break points – the only ones she had to deal with in the match – while ahead 3-1.

When it was over, Kvitova dropped her racket near the baseline and removed her blue headband. As she walked to the net for a handshake, her eyes welled with tears.

“We are happy that she is healthy. The hand is good – and also the head,” her brother Jiri said. “Mentally, she is back.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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

Venus Williams eases into French Open’s second round after beating Qiang Wang

Leave a comment

In a record 20th appearance at the French Open, Venus Williams eased into the second round with a straight sets victory over Qiang Wang of China.

Williams, who is seeded 10th, saved two set points to win 6-4, 7-6 (3).

The 36-year-old American will play Kurumi Nara of Japan in the next round.