Mirjana Lucic-Baroni

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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).

Serena Williams reaches Australian Open semifinals

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams reached her 10th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal, and kept her bid alive for a record 23rd major title, with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Johanna Konta at the Australian Open on Wednesday.

Her opponent in the semifinals, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who beat fifth-seeded Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, had a much longer wait to get back to this stage at a major – nearly 18 years.

It’s the second time in the last two years that three women in their 30s have reached the semifinals at a major: Venus Williams, 36, Serena Williams, 35, and Lucic-Baroni, 34. Serena also reached the semifinals at the 2015 U.S. Open, alongside 30-somethings Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci.

“Thirties is the new 10,” Williams said after her match. “No matter what happens, somebody 34 or older will be in the final.”

The second-seeded Williams was tested by Konta in the second set when the British player broke her to go up 2-1. But Williams broke back at love to level the score at 3-all and saved another break point in her next service game before closing out the match.

Williams finished with 10 aces, but only connected on 45 percent of her first serves overall.

“The main focus is actually my serve,” she said. “I missed a lot today. I got a little frustrated.”

Lucic-Baroni advanced to the last four at a major for the first time since her run to the Wimbledon semifinals in 1999 at the age of 17.

The last time she made it this far, Lucic-Baroni also had to face a woman in the semifinals with 22 majors – Steffi Graf. Graf won that match, but fell short in her bid to win her 23rd major title against Lindsay Davenport.

Lucic-Baroni is surprised she is getting another chance at this stage of her career.

She was once considered a prodigy with as much promise as the Williams sisters. She won the first tournament she entered as a 15 year old in 1997 and several months later captured the 1998 Australian Open doubles title with Martina Hingis.

After her run to the Wimbledon semifinals the following year, however, Lucic-Baroni’s career was sidetracked by personal issues and financial problems. She was largely out of the sport for several years before launching a comeback in the late 2000s.

“I know this means a lot to every player to reach the semifinals, but to me, this is just overwhelming,” she said, in tears, after the match. “This has truly made my life and everything bad that happened, it has made it OK.”

The 79th-ranked Lucic-Baroni is the third-lowest-ranked player to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open after Justine Henin (unranked, 2010), Claudia Porwick (No. 81, 1990) and Williams (No. 81, 2007).

Lucic-Baroni and Pliskova combined for 14 service breaks in an up-and-down match before the Croatian, whose left leg was heavily taped, left the court midway through the third set for treatment on her leg.

When she returned, she won eight straight points to hold and get the final break of the match and then put a rosary around her neck to serve the match out.