Djokovic beats Nadal for 7th straight time, reaches semis

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ROME (AP) Novak Djokovic extended his recent mastery over Rafael Nadal with a 7-5, 7-6 (4) win in the Italian Open quarterfinals on Friday, helped by Nadal wasting five set points in the second set.

Djokovic has won the last seven of their 49 encounters, the most in the Open Era. Overall, Djokovic leads the series 26-23.

This was their last opportunity to play each other before the French Open, which starts in nine days.

Djokovic’s semifinal opponent will be either Kei Nishikori or Dominic Thiem.

In the other half of the draw, Andy Murray overcame some trouble on his service games to beat David Goffin 6-1, 7-5 and improve his record on clay this year and last to 27-3.

“I’m getting rewarded now for the work that I put in over the years on this surface,” Murray said. “I deserve it because I have worked hard for it.”

Murray’s semifinal opponent will be French qualifier Lucas Pouille, who advanced when Argentine opponent Juan Monaco withdrew because of injury.

Organizers said Monaco, who upset Stan Wawrinka in three sets Thursday, had a problem with his left side.

In the women’s quarterfinals, Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza beat Timea Bacsinszky 7-5, 6-2 and will next meet Madison Keys, who eliminated Barbora Strycova 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.

Also, Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania defeated Misaki Doi of Japan 6-2, 7-6 (3) and will next face either top-ranked Serena Williams or Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Seven-time champion Nadal and four-time winner Djokovic have combined to win the last 11 titles at the Foro Italico, and their match was billed as “a premature final.”

Djokovic closed out the first set by sticking out his racket at the last second for a volley winner to finish off a close exchange at the net, concluding a long point that also saw the Serb spinning around far behind the baseline to retrieve a shot with a desperation backhand.

Djokovic reacted to winning the first set with a big fist pump, but then after dropping his serve to start the second he slammed his racket to the clay in frustration.

Nadal called for a trainer to examine his left foot while leading 2-1 in the second set, apparently because the Spaniard was having trouble feeling his foot. The trainer tapped around in a few areas to see if Nadal could feel anything then cut off supportive tape around his ankle.

Serving for the second set at 5-4, Nadal wasted five chances to push it to a third then shanked a forehand off his racket frame into the stands to set up Djokovic’s first break point of the set, which the Serb promptly converted.

The match lasted 2 hours, 24 minutes.

Murray, meanwhile, hasn’t dropped a set this week and was a finalist at last week’s Madrid Open. He’ll return to No. 2 in the rankings ahead of Roger Federer on Monday.

Murray dropped his serve in the opening game of the match and three times in the second set as he and Goffin struggled amid swirling winds that whipped the clay up into their eyes.

“Second set obviously was up and down, but I don’t think there was any other reason for that apart from the conditions making it very tricky to play good tennis,” Murray said before going off to spend time with his three-month-old daughter, Sophia Oliva.

The 52nd-ranked Pouille gained a spot in the tournament as a lucky loser after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga withdrew because of an adductor injury. He beat David Ferrer in straight sets in the third round, and reaching the quarterfinals was already a career-best result.

“I’m very lucky and I cross the fingers it’s keeping this way,” Pouille said, adding that he goes to the casino now and then. “Sometimes I win but the next I lose. … I’m not especially lucky.”

Next week, Pouille will move into the top 32 of the rankings, making him a seeded player for Roland Garros.

Djokovic lines up Dimitrov at Queen’s Club

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LONDON — Novak Djokovic’s first appearance at Queen’s Club in eight years was successful when he put away Australian qualifier John Millman 6-2, 6-1 on Tuesday.

Djokovic, entered as a wild card, will play second-seeded Grigor Dimitrov in the second round.

Also, Milos Raonic, runner-up to Roger Federer last week in Stuttgart, won his opener when Indian qualifier Yuki Bhambri retired hurt while trailing 6-1, 3-1.

Djokovic’s comeback from right elbow surgery in January has been gathering pace after reaching the Rome semifinals and French Open quarterfinals. He leads Dimitrov 6-1 in career matchups.

Dimitrov, the 2014 Queen’s champion, struggled past Damir Dzumhur 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3. Dimitrov saved six of eight break points.

Svitolina’s top ambitions survive grass-court struggle

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BIRMINGHAM, England — Elena Svitolina, who came within two wins of becoming world No. 1 in January, maintained her ambitious momentum to reach the top by surviving a tricky start to her Wimbledon build-up on Tuesday.

The second-seeded Svitolina stumbled within sight of a two-set victory, and briefly faltered again in the last set before beating Donna Vekic of Croatia 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.

Svitolina showed glimpses of the tenacious movement and consistently ferocious drives which have earned her the best win-loss record on the WTA tour since the beginning of last year, but also revealed glimpses of insecurity on the lush, low-bouncing surface.

Despite carving a lead of a set and 3-1, her gradually increasing attempts to win points in the forecourt were of variable quality, while Vekic, a former runner-up here, began to contain and counterattack more effectively.

Svitolina nearly let slip another lead of 3-1, in the last set, needing to save two break points on her next service game – one with a fine serve, and the other with a net attack finished off at the third attempt.

Eventually, the Ukrainian’s determination to adapt tactically to a surface on which she has yet to progress beyond any quarterfinal paid timely dividends, and she accelerated toward the finishing line at a canter.

“I was just trying to play well and to dominate, but she played a couple of great points to break back – which is always nice to have,” said Svitolina, apparently meaning she was pleased to gain extra practice on such a technique-testing surface.

“It was difficult for me because she hit the ball very flat and the first match on grass is always a challenge.”

She next faces Alize Cornet of France, who notably beat Serena Williams at 2014 Wimbledon, and who outlasted former top-10 player Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, by 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.