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Nadal loses to Thiem in Italian Open quarterfinals

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ROME —¬†Rafael Nadal’s winning streak ended at 17 matches as he lost in straight sets to Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals of the Italian Open on Friday.

The 6-4, 6-3 victory was a sort of revenge for Thiem, who was beaten by the Spaniard in the Madrid Open final last week.

“Of course I came in with a very aggressive game style, because I knew that if I want to have a chance, then I have to do something different and be more aggressive,” Thiem said. “I knew that if it goes in, everything, maybe I have a chance. If not, maybe I also lose easy.

“But today was one of these days where I really felt the ball great on the racquet, and a lot of risky shots went in. It was a very, very good performance and I think probably one of my best matches.”

The 30-year-old Nadal, who was seeded fourth, had won consecutive clay-court tournaments in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid and was aiming for an eighth title at the Foro Italico as he prepares for the French Open in less than two weeks.

“I just have to congratulate (Thiem), because he was better than me this afternoon,” Nadal said. “He played great in all aspects. Just well done for him.

“It’s obvious that I did not play my best match. I have been playing a lot … so is not easy after playing almost every day for the last four weeks,” he said.

Thiem, the No.8 seed, will face four-time champion Novak Djokovic or Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals.

The 23-year-old Austrian dominated from the start, racing into a 5-1 lead. Nadal recovered and broke back to cut the gap to 5-4 but Thiem needed just one of his two set points when Nadal’s backhand down the line landed just wide.

Thiem almost broke again early in the second set but Nadal managed to save two break points and go on to hold his serve.

However, Thiem took advantage on his opponent’s next service game, putting in several delightful returns which had the audience on their feet before closing the game with a crosscourt forehand.

Thiem almost allowed Nadal back into the match but managed to cancel out three break points to go into a 5-3 lead and he broke again to take the match when Nadal sent a forehand long.

The other semifinal pits John Isner against No. 16 seed Alexander Zverev.

The unseeded Isner, who hit 21 aces, beat sixth-seeded Marin Cilic 7-6 (3), 2-6, 7-6 (2) in a serve-dominated quarterfinal to become the first American to reach the last four at the Italian Open since Andy Roddick in 2008.

Zverev beat fifth seed and 2014 semi-finalist Milos Raonic 7-6 (1), 6-1.

In the women’s draw, second-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic lost 6-3, 7-6 (9) to No.8 seed Elina Svitolina.

It was the Ukrainian’s first victory over Pliskova in five meetings and set up a semifinal against Venus Williams, seeded ninth, or third seed Garbine Muguruza.

Anett Kontaveit’s dream debut ended as the Estonian qualifier lost 6-2, 6-4 to Madrid Open champion Simona Halep.

The 21-year-old Kontaveit, who beat top-ranked Angelique Kerber in the second round, saved two break points before succumbing to Halep’s clay-court prowess.

The Romanian, who is seeded sixth, next faces Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands after the 15th seed beat Australian qualifier Daria Gavrilova 6-3, 6-3.

Victoria Azarenka misses direct entry for U.S. Open

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NEW YORK — Two-time U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka is ranked just below the cutoff for direct entry into the year’s last Grand Slam tournament.

Azarenka, a former No. 1 and twice the champion at the Australian Open, is No. 108 this week, seven spots outside of an automatic spot in the main draw.

The U.S. Tennis Association announced Wednesday that defending champion and top-ranked Rafael Nadal is one of six past male singles champions in the U.S. Open field, along with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic. Another past title winner at Flushing Meadows, Stan Wawrinka, is ranked 199th this week.

The women’s winners with direct entry based on this week’s rankings are six-time champion Serena Williams, two-time champ Venus Williams, defending champ Sloane Stephens, Maria Sharapova and Samantha Stosur.

Nadal-Djokovic semifinal suspended after 3rd set

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LONDON (AP) It was the kind of tennis that Wimbledon’s Centre Court crowd would gladly have watched all night long.

The show being put on by Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was so good it could have been an instant classic had they been able to finish their semifinal before the tournament’s 11 p.m. curfew.

Instead, the two players – and a disappointed audience – were sent home after the third set on Friday with Djokovic leading 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9) following a tense tiebreaker that had more entertaining rallies than some entire matches.

The two players didn’t even get onto the court until after 8 p.m. because of an earlier marathon semifinal won by Kevin Anderson and when Djokovic converted his second set point in the tiebreaker – having saved three of Nadal’s – the clock had ticked a couple of minutes past 11. That left organizers no choice but to call it a night, although the announcement from the chair umpire led to a scattering of boos from some fans who clearly wanted more.

Most of them will have to watch the rest on TV.

The match will resume at 1 p.m. local time on Saturday, before the women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber. At stake is a place in Sunday’s men’s final against the man who was partly at fault for keeping Nadal and Djokovic out there so late. Anderson’s win over John Isner lasted 6 + hours and went to 26-24 in the fifth set.

Djokovic-Nadal had clearly been the headline act of the day – they have five Wimbledon titles between them and met in the 2011 final while Anderson and Isner had never made the semifinals before – and their tennis was at another level from the earlier match. Even Anderson said he could feel during his match that the crowd would rather be watching the next one.

“They’ve paid to see two matches, and they came pretty close to only seeing one match,” Anderson said. “I can feel the crowd (get) pretty antsy for us to get off the court. They’ve been watching us for over six hours.”

While Anderson-Isner was mostly a serving duel with a few longer rallies thrown in, Djokovic and Nadal repeatedly slugged it out from the baseline, chasing each other around the court and coming up with spectacular winners from every corner.

Many of the best points came in the tiebreaker, including a 23-shot rally that Nadal finished off with a forehand half-volley drop shot to set up his first set point.

It was one of three successful drop shots from the Spaniard in the tiebreaker alone, but Djokovic answered with one of his own to save the second set point at 7-6.

He eventually went up 10-9 with the help of a backhand passing shot and an errant shot into the net by Nadal brought the entertainment to an end – for now.

It led to the unusual situation of both players leaving the court to a huge ovation – and applauding the fans in return – but without there being a clear winner or loser.

To be continued.