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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).

Djokovic, Nadal set up Madrid Open semifinal

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MADRID — Rafael Nadal set up a semifinal with Novak Djokovic after withstanding a tough challenge from David Goffin 7-6 (3), 6-2 at the Madrid Open on Friday.

Djokovic, the defending champion, advanced when Kei Nishikori withdrew before their quarterfinal because of a wrist injury.

“It’s going to be a very tough match against one of the best players in tennis history,” Nadal said. “I’ve been playing at a high level during many weeks. I know tomorrow is going to be a day that either I play really well or I’m not going to have many chances.”

Nadal hasn’t beaten Djokovic since the 2014 French Open final, losing the last seven matches against him.

On the women’s side, defending champion Simone Halep of Romania cruised past Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 6-2, 6-3 to reach her third Madrid Open final. The third-seeded Halep, who lost the 2014 final to Maria Sharapova, will play Kristina Mladenovic of France.

Mladenovic made it to her fourth final of the year- and second consecutive – by defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia 6-4, 7-6 (4).

“I just want to go there and (play) my game, because if I do, I have a big chance to win,” Halep said.

In a meeting between the players with the most match wins this year, Nadal saved all five break points he faced against the 10th-ranked Goffin, and converted his chances in the second set to win his 13th straight match and tour-leading 32nd of the year.

Goffin, who has 27 victories, was trying to make it to his third final this season.

He saved all six break opportunities he conceded to Nadal in the first set, but the fifth-ranked Spaniard took control of the tiebreaker under the closed roof on center court.

Nadal, a four-time champion in Madrid, had an easier time in the second set after earning an early break, and closed out the match with another at the end.

“We had to hit very close to the line to win the points,” said Nadal, who is trying to win his third consecutive title after victories in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

In another quarterfinal, Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay rallied to beat Alexander Zverev of Germany 3-6, 6-0, 6-4. Cuevas won one of the points of the tournament with a no-look winner with his back to the court after a lob shot by Zverev early in the second set.

The sixth-seeded Nishikori, a Madrid finalist in 2014, withdrew saying his wrist was “not 100 percent” and he didn’t want to risk a more serious injury.

Djokovic hasn’t played in the semifinals of any event since winning the title in Doha at the beginning of the year. He lost to Goffin in the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo, his first clay tournament of the season.

Nishikori, who beat Djokovic in the 2014 U.S. Open semifinals, was playing in his first tournament since March. He withdrew from the Barcelona Open last month because of the lingering wrist inflammation.

Nishikori said he will “take a couple of days off” and try to recover in time to play in Rome next week and then in the French Open at the end of the month.

“I cannot promise to play or pull out right now,” he said.

Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal advance to Madrid Open’s third round

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MADRID — Defending champion Novak Djokovic recovered from a 3-0 deficit in the third set to defeat Nicolas Almagro 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 and reach the third round at the Madrid Open on Wednesday.

Djokovic rallied in the final set by breaking Almagro to go up 6-5 and served out to earn his 15th win of the season in over two hours. The victory left Djokovic on track to play a semifinal against four-time Madrid champion and home-crowd favorite Rafael Nadal, who struggled in a 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4 win over a Fabio Fognini of Italy in just under three hours.

“I haven’t played bad, I played really bad,” Nadal said. “It was uncomfortable.”

Nadal will play Nick Kyrgios of Australia, who defeated Ryan Harrison of the United States 6-3, 6-3. The second-seeded Djokovic will play veteran Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, who got past Gilles Simon of France 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (3).

Djokovic cruised in the first set by breaking the 76th-ranked Almagro three times. The Spanish wild card entrant rallied in front of the home crowd in the second set, saving all four break points he conceded and breaking at 4-5 to eventually extend the match.

Almagro was two points away from going up 4-2 in the final set but was not able to capitalize on his chances.

It was an important opening-round win for the second-ranked Djokovic as he tries to turn his season around and regain his form going into the French Open later this month.

“When you’re not winning too many matches, you have to build the confidence level,” Djokovic said. “So to win the matches like this definitely helps confidence.”

Djokovic won in Doha to start the season but never made it past the quarterfinals in the following four tournaments he played. In his first clay-court tournament, in Monte Carlo, Djokovic was eliminated by David Goffin in quarterfinals.

“I’m still finding my way to that consistency level and quality of tennis that I’m looking for,” Djokovic said. “I’m aware that I’m not playing at my best, but I’m definitely believing in myself and the process. Eventually the game will come together. I can take a lot of positives from today.”

Djokovic had his playing time diminished this year because of an elbow injury. Wednesday’s match was his first since splitting with longtime coach Marian Vajda.

Nadal had a tough start against Fognini, needing to save 10 of 12 break points conceded to the Italian in the first set alone. Fognini served for the set at 5-4 but was not able to capitalize on his chance. He threw his racket on the ground three times in a row after losing a decisive point in the tiebreaker.

It was the 11th straight win for Nadal, and his tour-leading 30th victory for the year. The fifth-ranked Spaniard has won 22 of his last 24 sets.

“Even though I played really badly, my attitude has been very positive,” Nadal said. “My attitude and the will to win today’s match was there. My level of tennis was not so high today, but I managed to make it through.”

Nadal was coming off titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and had made it to three finals earlier in the year.

Fognini had three career wins over Nadal, including one in the 2015 U.S. Open, but had lost the last three in straight sets.

Fifth-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada defeated Gilles Muller of Luxemburg 6-4, 6-4, while sixth-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan recovered from a slow start to beat Diego Schwartzman of Argentina 1-6, 6-0, 6-4.

Nishikori, a finalist in Madrid in 2014, is playing in his first tournament since March. He withdrew from Barcelona last month because of a right wrist injury.

“In the beginning I wasn’t playing 100 percent,” Nishikori said. “But in the second and third (sets) I was feeling pretty good on the court, moving well, so I was very happy.”

Nishikori will play in the third round against Spaniard David Ferrer, who advanced after 10th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France withdrew before the match because of a shoulder injury.

Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic defeated Robin Haase of the Netherlands 7-6 (5), 6-3,

In the women’s draw, third-seeded Simona Halep of Romania defeated 16th-seeded Samantha Stosur of Australia 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.