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Maria Sharapova retires from match after French Open rejection

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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

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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.

Roger Federer makes quick work of Rafael Nadal in Indian Wells

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Roger Federer defeated Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-3 at the BNP Paribas Open on Wednesday in a fourth-round match that saw the longtime rivals meeting much earlier in a tournament than usual.

Federer broke Nadal four times in advancing to the quarterfinals in just over an hour. Although Nadal owns a 23-13 lead in their series, Federer has won the past three in a row, including an epic comeback in the Australian Open final two months ago.

Federer broke Nadal to open the match in front of a packed Stadium 1 crowd. Federer faced just one break point on his serve in the match, but he recovered with a big serve and two winning backhands to go up 2-0 in the first set.

“The main thing he take the break in the first game, and I had break point in the next game and come back and he had a good serve,” Nadal said. “When Roger has the advantage, his serve is so good, he has a lot of confidence with his serve, he’s able to play much more relaxed.”

Nadal wasn’t too shabby either, serving three love games. But Federer’s shotmaking was superb, frequently kissing the lines off both sides.

The four-time Indian Wells winner was crafty, too. Leading 5-1, Federer moved in quickly on Nadal’s second serve, surprising the Spaniard, whose forehand sailed long. Federer’s drop shots were well-timed and even when a scrambling Nadal got to them in time, Federer answered with one of his 26 winners.

The two superstars hadn’t played each other before the quarterfinals of an event since 2004 when they met in the third round at Miami. Wednesday’s match was just the fifth time they weren’t opposing each other in a final.

Another one of tennis’ Big Four went down, too.

Novak Djokovic’s 19-match winning streak at the desert tournament ended in a 6-4, 7-6 (3) loss to Nick Kyrgios. Djokovic joined Nadal and top-ranked Andy Murray, who was upset in the second round.

Djokovic, Federer and Nadal were all in the same quarter of the draw, ensuring the tournament would lose some of its biggest names before the second weekend.

Kyrgios beat Djokovic for the second time in two weeks, having earned a straight-set victory over the world’s No. 2 player at Acapulco on March 2.

“Conditions like today where the ball travels through the air very fast and it bounces very high, it’s a gamble,” Djokovic said. “On his first serves, to try to anticipate and read his serve, where he’s going to go 140 miles per hour down the T and also pretty good angle wide, it’s hard to position yourself well.”

Djokovic was bidding for a fourth consecutive title at Indian Wells, having won a total of five in his career. But he unraveled with 25 unforced errors, including a forehand service return on Kyrgios’ second match point.

“The run was amazing,” Djokovic said. “It had to end at some stage. Unfortunately, it was today.”

Kyrgios advanced to the quarterfinals, where he will face Federer. The 15th-seeded Australian hit 14 aces, with his fastest serve clocking 141 mph, and won 86 percent of his first serve points.

Also joining Kyrgios in the quarterfinals were No. 4 seed Kei Nishikori, who defeated Donald Young 6-2, 6-4; 17th-seeded Jack Sock, a 4-6, 7-6 (1), 7-5 winner over Malek Jaziri; No. 21 Pablo Carreno Busta, who beat qualifier Dusan Lajovic; and No. 27 Pablo Cuevas, who outlasted 11th-seeded David Goffin 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

On the women’s side, No. 8 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova beat 19th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 6-2 to reach the semifinals.