Fernando Verdasco

AP Photo

Thiem grinds past Gojowczyk at Paris Masters

1 Comment

PARIS — Fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem needed four match points to beat lucky loser Peter Gojowczyk of Germany 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-4 in the second round of the Paris Masters on Tuesday.

Having missed three chances to close out the match on his own serve, the Austrian finally won at close to midnight when Gojowczyk – serving to stay in the match – whipped a forehand that sailed just long.

Thiem, a two-time French Open semifinalist, has dropped in form considerably since losing to Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in a five-set thriller in the fourth round of this year’s U.S. Open. He next faces either U.S. Open runner-up Kevin Anderson of South Africa or Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the third round.

In Tuesday’s other second-round matches, Frenchman Nicolas Mahut secured an upset 6-4, 6-1 win against eighth-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, and another surprise reverse saw No. 10 Sam Querrey of the United States losing 6-4, 6-4 to Serbian qualifier Filip Krajinovic.

The defeat dents Carreno Busta’s chances of qualifying for the season-ending ATP Finals in London – he is dependent on other results here – while Querrey’s bid to reach London is over.

Overcoming an early break of serve, Mahut took the first set with a forehand winner down the line, breaking Carreno Busta’s serve for the second time.

The 35-year-old Frenchman saved five break points but secured a double break on the Spaniard’s serve to move 4-0 up in the second set.

Querrey dropped his usually reliable serve three times against the 77th-ranked Krajinovic, who next meets Mahut.

In remaining first-round play, Britain’s Kyle Edmund rallied from a set and 3-0 down and saved match point before beating Evgeny Donskoy of Russia 5-7, 7-6 (7), 6-3.

Edmund, who had 10 aces, next faces 16th-seeded American Jack Sock.

There were also first-round wins for Pablo Cuevas, Diego Schwartzman, Feliciano Lopez, Adrian Mannarino, Borna Coric, Joao Sousa and Verdasco.

In Wednesday’s second-round matches, Rafael Nadal can guarantee finishing the year as No. 1 for the fourth time in his career if he beats Hyeon Chung of South Korea. The Spaniard last achieved the feat in 2013, with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray holding the top ranking since then.

Del Potro, a runner-up to Roger Federer at the Swiss Indoors on Sunday, is in second-round action against Sousa. The 13th-seeded Del Potro needs to win here to reach the Finals in London next week.

Federer skipped Paris to stay fresh for London, where he will aim to win his eighth title of the year.

Maria Sharapova retires from match after French Open rejection

Getty Images
1 Comment

ROME — Maria Sharapova retired from her Italian Open match citing an apparent left thigh injury hours after learning she would not be granted a wild card into the French Open.

Sharapova was leading against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 4-6, 6-3, 2-1 when she called it quits on Tuesday in the second round.

Sharapova had left the court for an injury timeout during the second game of the third set. She came back with her left thigh taped and managed to win a game despite serving softly then walked to the net after Lucic-Baroni held serve.

The retirement came 2 1/2 hours after French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli announced he would not invite Sharapova to Roland Garros because of her past doping ban.

“Must be tough for her, but it’s the way it is,” Novak Djokovic said after he overcame a challenging first set to beat British qualifier Aljaz Bedene 7-6 (2), 6-2 in his opening match at the Foro Italico. “In some tournaments she’s going to get that help in wild card and invitation; some not. Unfortunately, it’s Grand Slam, which is for sure for her a big one.”

The French Open starts in less than two weeks.

“She has to go through a tougher way back,” Djokovic added. “After being absent from the tour for a long time, she’s going to be patient, at least as much as she can, to slowly build her rankings and get back to where she has the quality to (enter tournaments directly).”

Sharapova returned last month following a 15-month ban for testing positive for the banned heart drug meldonium at last year’s Australian Open.

The Russian has accepted wild cards to enter all three of her tournaments since her return, attracting criticism from many players.

Sharapova reached the semifinals in Stuttgart, Germany, then was eliminated in the second round in Madrid last week.

By winning her opening match in Rome on Monday, Sharapova earned enough points to enter the top 200 next week and gain direct entry to the qualifying tournament for Wimbledon.

She won both of her previous matches against Lucic-Baroni, a semifinalist at this year’s Australian Open.

Earlier, Bedene frustrated Djokovic for long stretches with his foot speed, keeping the ball in play and whipping surprising winners.

At the conclusion of a tight first set, Djokovic served three aces in the tiebreaker then laughed to himself in apparent astonishment.

Also, David Goffin rallied past Fernando Verdasco 3-6, 6-3, 6-2; Tomas Berdych notched his 600th career win by beating qualifier Carlos Berlocq 6-3, 6-4; Jack Sock defeated Diego Schwartzman 6-4, 1-6, 7-5; and Alexander Zverev outlasted Kevin Anderson 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

Nick Kyrgios withdrew from the tournament with a hip injury.

In other women’s action, last year’s finalist, Madison Keys, was beaten by Australian qualifier Daria Gavrilova 2-6, 7-5, 7-5.

Keys is still struggling to regain her form after left wrist surgery in the offseason. She also had opening-round losses in her previous two tournaments in Charleston and Madrid.

The 33rd-ranked Gavrilova had to come through qualifying because she forgot to enter the main draw.

Also, fifth-seeded Johanna Konta defeated Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 6-0; Ekaterina Makarova eliminated Roberta Vinci 6-2, 6-1; and qualifier Catherine Bellis beat Misako Doi 6-4, 7-6 (6).

Steve Johnson wins U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship

Getty Images
Leave a comment

HOUSTON — Steve Johnson fought through late cramps to win the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship, beating Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (5) on Sunday at River Oaks Country Club.

The 27-year-old Johnson won his second ATP Tour title, and became the seventh American to win the event since it moved to Houston in 2001. He also won a grass-court title last summer in Nottingham, England.

Johnson was hobbled by cramps serving at the end of the third set, but – coaxing a backhand return error from Bellucci on a serve he barely hit – was able to get off the court and receive a brisk right-thigh massage from an ATP trainer. Players aren’t allowed timeouts for cramps. Johnson appeared fine in the tiebreaker, the first to decide the championship in tournament history.

“I was in deep trouble. `This stinks.’ But sometimes you get lucky,” said Johnson, seeded fourth. “My body has physically run out of gas this week. Coming in from Australia (where the U.S. lost a Davis Cup quarterfinal last weekend), dealing with all the ups and downs, I was kind of behind the 8-ball.

“A lot goes into cramping. For me today, it was the nerves of trying to close out the title. I haven’t been there enough to feel very comfortable.”

Johnson beat two former champions, Fernando Verdasco (2014) in the quarterfinals and American Davis Cup teammate Jack Sock (2015) in the semifinals, to reach his third career final.

The 29-year-old Bellucci, seeded eighth, had won four three-set matches in four days before falling in the final. He was trying to win his fifth Tour title. The previous four had also come on clay.

“Both players were very tired in the third set and we were missing more shots than before,” Bellucci said. “I’m happy for my week but today I am disappointed. I (thought) I could win because I was a little better than him physically. He deserved it more than me.”

Johnson won NCAA singles titles for the University of Southern California in 2011 and 2012.