Federer wins after last-minute decision to play

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ROME (AP) Roger Federer put his full array of shots on display in a 6-3, 7-5 win over Alexander Zverev on Wednesday in the second round of the Italian Open, an encouraging performance considering he only decided to play moments before stepping onto the court.

“I was expecting to lose in straight sets today. That was the mindset going in, so to win in straights is actually a really big surprise to me,” said Federer, who has been having problems with his back. “I played cautious, and I only decided after the warmup that I was actually going to play.”

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray also advanced in straight sets on the red clay courts at the Foro Italico.

In women’s action, Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber and fourth-seeded Victoria Azarenka each lost.

After withdrawing from last week’s Madrid Open with lower back pain, Federer looked sharp from the start against the 44th-ranked Zverev, using his backhand slice drop shot especially well.

“I’m happy I was able to play a full match without any setbacks,” said Federer, who also missed 10 weeks earlier this year after surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus. “I’m coming off a brutal last few months, and I’m just happy to be able to play normal tennis to some extent. … So for me it’s a big day and huge step in the right direction.”

The 19-year-old Zverev, considered a potential future Grand Slam champion, often found himself running down shots wide in the alleys. At one point, the 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) German was pulled so far off the court he ended up in the lap of a line judge – then hugged the official after Federer put away an easy volley.

On the first point of the final game, Federer surprised Zverev by following his second serve to the net and Zverev lost his footing as he attempted to chase down Federer’s volley. Zverev fell to the clay, dirtying his shorts and shirt, and had to go over to his chair to dust himself off.

Still, Federer was impressed with Zverev.

“Clearly he has a big game and nice technique and good attitude and all that,” the 17-time Grand Slam champion said.

Federer will next meet 13th-seeded Dominic Thiem, who beat Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-3, 6-2, but he couldn’t immediately confirm that he would play Thursday.

“I don’t know how I’m going to feel tomorrow,” Federer said. “I hope so. But I’m literally going practice after practice. Every 15 minutes I speak to (coaches) Ivan (Ljubicic) or Severin (Luthi) and say, What else can we do?

“It’s baby steps right now. So to even think of tomorrow is already a big ask,” he added.

Back to No. 2 in the rankings this week, Federer is attempting to win this tournament for the first time. It’s his 16th appearance in Rome and he’s a four-time runner-up.

“It would be wonderful to win, but not this year,” Federer said. “I’m too far off.”

Rome is the last major warmup for the French Open, which starts May 22.

Djokovic beat 35-year-old French qualifier Stephane Robert 7-5, 7-5 as he seeks a third straight title in Rome and fourth overall.

Robert unleashed a series of winners followed by wild fist pumps as he broke Djokovic’s serve early in the second set and when Djokovic eventually broke back, the Serb let out a loud demonstrative scream.

Robert hit more than twice as many winners as Djokovic, 33-16, but also committed far more unforced errors, 32-14.

Murray never dropped his serve, hitting seven aces, as he eliminated Kazakh qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3, 6-3.

Eugenie Bouchard, the 2014 Wimbledon runner-up, beat the second-seeded Kerber 6-1, 5-7, 7-5. Irina-Camelia Begu, ranked 35th, defeated Azarenka 6-3, 6-2.

Azarenka said she was still affected by a back injury that prompted her to withdraw in Madrid.

“I thought I was OK and was ready to play and came back, so I’m just disappointed,” Azarenka said. “It’s just unfortunate that I can’t play my best tennis.”

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Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”

Sonego beats Bublik at Moselle Open to win 1st title of 2022

Winston-Salem Open - Day 5
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METZ, France – Lorenzo Sonego clinched his first title of the season by beating Alexander Bublik 7-6 (3), 6-2 in the Moselle Open final.

The 27-year-old Italian did not drop a set all tournament as he won the third title of his career and first on hard courts.

The unseeded Sonego recovered from 0-40 down in the fifth game of the match and secured victory when the seventh-seeded Bublik sent a backhand return long.

He then danced on court as he celebrated a perfect tournament where he also beat defending champion Hubert Hurkacz in the semifinals.

Sonego’s win will move him up 21 places in the ATP rankings and into 44th place.