Filippo Ganna storms to opening Giro d’Italia victory in time trial

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TURIN, Italy — Italian cyclist Filippo Ganna lived up to his billing as the favorite by storming to victory in the opening stage time trial of the Giro d’Italia, beating his closest rival by 10 seconds.

Ganna, who is the world time trial champion, will wear the first maglia rosa as the race leader.

He also wore the first maglia rosa of last year’s Giro rescheduled to October.

There were questions about Ganna’s form coming into the Giro after he lost his past two time trials, but the Ineos Grenadiers rider obliterated his rivals on the fast, 8.6-kilometer (5.3-mile) course through the streets of Turin, finishing in 8 minutes, 47 seconds.

“Finally, I’m a time trial winner again. It’s been a long time,” Ganna said. “I’m very happy.

“I didn’t feel I was ready for this race. My morale wasn’t great after the Tour de Romandie. Now it’s back up!”

Ganna and compatriot Edoardo Affini were the only cyclists to finish under nine minutes. Tobias Foss was third fastest, 13 seconds slower than Ganna.

There were fans lining the streets, wearing masks and respecting social distancing rules, and Ganna revealed they helped him to win after problems with his team radio.

“I started with a small radio but I didn’t hear anything, so I told myself to go full gas and listen to the people along the road,” Ganna said.

“If they cheered for me, then I knew I was going fast. That’s how I got this amazing victory.”

Joao Almeida, who led last year’s Giro for 15 days, was an impressive fourth, with a time of 9:04. He was two seconds faster than Deceuninck-Quick-Step teammate Remco Evenepoel, who was making his return to racing after a nine-month absence.

Evenepoel hasn’t raced since August after a crash in which he hit a bridge wall and went into a ravine, leaving him with a fractured pelvis and a damaged right lung.

Most of the other overall favorites were all around 40 seconds slower than Ganna, including Ineos teammate Egan Bernal, two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali, and last year’s runner-up, Jai Hindley.

The second stage is a mainly flat, 179-kilometer (111-mile) route from Stupinigi to Novara.

The Giro finishes on May 30 in Milan with another individual time trial.

Zverev beats Thiem to return to Madrid Open final

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MADRID — Alexander Zverev followed his triumph over Rafael Nadal with a win over Dominic Thiem to reach another Madrid Open final.

The No. 6-ranked Zverev defeated No. 4 Thiem 6-3, 6-4 to reach the final again after beating Thiem for the 2018 title.

Zverev broke Thiem’s serve once in the first set and twice in the second on the Magic Box center court.

The German has yet to drop a set, including against Nadal in the quarterfinals.

“They’re probably the two clay-courters that you think of right now when you’re thinking about Roland Garros and the biggest chances of winning,” Zverev said of Nadal and Thiem. “Rafa is the favorite no matter what. Probably Novak (Djokovic) second, Dominic a close third. It’s been so far a good week for me. The job is not done yet.”

Zverev will face No. 10 Matteo Berrettini or Casper Ruud in the final, when he will be trying for his second title of the year after Acapulco in March.

Thiem was playing in his first tournament since March after consecutive losses in Dubai and Doha. He has mostly struggled since winning the U.S. Open for his first grand slam title.

“In general I’m super happy with the week,” Thiem said. “I would have never expected to be in the semifinals, to play in the semifinals a player like him. I cannot complain about anything. Just, of course, there are many things to improve.”

In the women’s final, top-ranked Ash Barty faces No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka.

It was a rematch of the Stuttgart final two weeks ago when Barty won her third title of the year. Sabalenka will be playing in her third final and is seeking her second title after winning the season-opener in Abu Dhabi.

In the women’s doubles final, Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both from the Czech Republic, defeated Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Demi Schuurs of France 6-4, 6-3.

Rafael Nadal: Madrid loss a step backward ahead of French Open

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MADRID — Rafael Nadal’s good run preparing for the French Open has suddenly hit a speed bump.

Nadal’s quarterfinal loss to Alexander Zverev at the Madrid Open came as an unexpected setback in a week in which the king of clay said he was feeling good about his game.

“Negative feelings because this was an important week for me,” Nadal said. “I had been progressing, but sometimes when you are going up the stairs you may take a step backward, and that’s what happened today.”

Nadal lost to No. 6-ranked Zverev 6-4, 6-4 after comfortable wins against up-and-comers Carlos Alcaraz and Alexei Popyrin.

“The entire week I did things well, both in training and in the matches,” Nadal said. “Today again, but when it counted, in the decisive moments, I did everything wrong.”

Nadal has been trying to regain his best form after not playing much because of the coronavirus pandemic. He got off to a slow start on clay by his standards, being eliminated by Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo then won the Barcelona Open after dropping multiple sets through that week. At the start of the year at the Australian Open, he lost in the quarterfinals.

He will attempt to win a 10th Italian Open next week to complete his buildup for a 14th French Open trophy.

He said he was frustrated because he felt like he played better than Zverev at times but could not take advantage of his chances. He felt like he let the quarterfinal slip away by making “too many unjustified mistakes.”

“It was a different match than the one against Rublev (in Monte Carlo), when the conditions favored me. Here there was a sensation that I was not in control of things, so when you lose it feels like things are worse than they really are.”

Nadal said he doesn’t enjoy the faster pace in Madrid, prompted by the high altitude in the Spanish capital, even though he’s won the tournament five times.

Nadal still tried to look on the bright side.

“It was a week with many positive things. I did a lot of things well in training,” he said. “I leave Madrid with good sensations in general, but with a bad sensation of having played a match like today.”