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.

French players get life bans for fixing

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LONDON — Two low-ranked French players were banned from the sport for life after being found guilty of match-fixing by a hearing officer.

Jules Okala, a 25-year-old with a career-best ATP ranking of No. 338, and Mick Lescure, a 29-year-old with a top ranking of No. 487, “admitted multiple charges,” the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Neither player is allowed to compete at – or even attend – any sanctioned event again.

Okala was found guilty of seven match-fixing charges and fined $15,000 in addition to the permanent suspension. Lescure was found guilty of eight charges and fined $40,000 on top of the ban.

The punishments come after both players were involved in law enforcement investigations in France and Belgium, according to the sport’s integrity agency.

Ash Barty wins Australia’s top sports award for second time

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Ash Barty’s Australian Open singles title in January was enough to ensure the former top-ranked player won Australia’s most prestigious annual sports award — despite retiring from the game less than two months later.

Barty has been given The Don Award, named after its most accomplished and famous cricketer Don Bradman.

Barty shocked the tennis world in March when she announced her retirement at the age of 25. The three-time major winner was the No. 1-ranked female player at the time of her retirement decision.

The Sport Australia Hall of Fame’s Don Award is given to an athlete or a team “which has provided the most inspiration to the country through performance and example in the past year.”

Barty (2019, 2022) joins Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sally Pearson (2012, 2014) and Olympic champion pole vaulter Steve Hooker (2008, 2009) as a multiple winner of the award.

Barty said she had decided before the Australian Open started that it would be her last major tournament.

“This year was certainly my most enjoyable Australian Open . . . because it felt free,” Barty said in a television interview. “I played without consequence, I played like a little kid. In my eyes, there was no pressure. It was just about me trying to redeem myself, in a way, and playing how I’d always wanted to play – go out there and play like the kid that fell in love with sport.”

Barty said she has no plans to return to tennis.

“In my mind there was never going to be a perfect ending, but it was my perfect ending,” Barty said of her retirement. “It was never about finishing on a win or on a really high emotional feeling. It was just about collectively, I felt it was right.

“Now (that decision) has led to nine months of just an incredible life off the court. It’s been amazing.”

Barty married her long-time partner Garry Kissick in late July. She also golfs frequently and is reported to be playing off a handicap of low single figures.