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Djokovic beats del Potro to reach Italian Open semifinals

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ROME — Four-time champion Novak Djokovic picked up right where he left off in a rain-delayed Italian Open quarterfinal against Juan Martin del Potro, closing out a 6-1, 6-4 win Saturday to set up a semifinal later against Dominic Thiem.

Djokovic was leading 6-1, 1-2 before heavy rain Friday night caused the conclusion of the match to be postponed by a day.

In clearer conditions at the Foro Italico, Djokovic held serve when the match resumed and then got the decisive break in the next game with a drop-shot winner.

Djokovic waved his arms to get the crowd behind him as the set wore on, dictating play from near the baseline while del Potro stood further back retrieving balls in the corners.

In the other semifinal, 16th-seeded Alexander Zverev was playing big-serving John Isner.

In the women’s tournament, fourth-ranked Simona Halep advanced to the final and extended her clay-court winning streak to 10 matches with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Kiki Bertens.

After dropping five set points while serving for the opening set at 5-4, Halep started knocking her head with her finger as if saying, `Wake up.” After getting broken in that game she held at love in her next service game to end the set.

Halep then cruised past her 20th-ranked Dutch opponent amid intermittent rain.

Bertens committed 31 unforced errors to Halep’s nine.

Halep is looking for back-to-back clay-court titles after taking the title in Madrid last weekend.

The Romanian will face either Garbine Muguruza or Elina Svitolina in Sunday’s final.

 

Federer survives scare to advance in Halle

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HALLE, Germany (AP) Defending champion Roger Federer survived two match points against Benoit Paire to reach the quarterfinals of the Gerry Weber Open with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7) win on Thursday.

Paire rallied after losing the first set to take the second, and the Frenchman defended two match points at 6-5 in the decider to force a tiebreaker. Eight minutes later, it was a match point for the 48th-ranked Paire, and again when a mistake from Federer left it 7-6 in Paire’s favor.

But the top-ranked Swiss took the next three points to close the match in just under two hours at the grass-court tournament.

Federer extended his grass-court winning streak to 18 matches, including his titles in Stuttgart last week and at Halle and Wimbledon last year.

Federer skipped the entire clay-court season for the second year in a row and is now just four wins away from matching Jimmy Connors’ all-time record of 174 victories on grass.

Federer next faces Matthew Ebden of Australia, who upset former champion Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Also Thursday, Borna Coric defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-2.

The Croat next faces either Florian Mayer or Andreas Seppi.

Magdalena shows form on grass in Birmingham

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BIRMINGHAM, England — Magdalena Rybarikova, who climbed almost 90 places last year to reach a career-high No. 17 in March, showed she might rise even further after rallying against Kristina Mladenovic 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 Wednesday to advance to the quarterfinals in Birmingham.

The Slovak accelerated toward victory against the former top 10 player from France with an array of slice ground strokes, clever approaches and sharp volleys. The range of shots worked excellently on the lush surface at the grass-court Nature Valley Classic and helped her take control midway through the second set.

Rybarikova last year reached the Wimbledon semifinals. She is a former champion here, winning the title in 2009.

In the first round she beat third-seeded Karolina Pliskova for the loss of only five games but found it tougher against Mladenovic.

“I started to play very well,” Rybarikova said of her improvement from the fourth game of the second set against Mladenovic. “She served great to begin with and I struggled with my returns, but I kept fighting and my game improved a lot.

“I think I’d been a bit passive. The key was when I played more cross-court slices and drops and made an early break in the second set.

“That’s the way I am trying to play on grass. I am thankful that I have the game to do that. This court here really suits my game.”

At the changeover in the fifth game of the second set, Mladenovic’s morale appeared to plunge, and afterward her error ratio rose sharply with her standard dropping significantly.

The third set of a match which lasted nearly two hours took only 22 minutes, and long before the end the outcome had ceased to be in doubt.

Rybarikova next faces Slovenian qualifier Dalila Jakupovic, who on Tuesday overcame a difference in rankings of almost 100 places and saved four match points while beating seventh-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium.

Jakupovic followed up Wednesday by getting past 18th-ranked Naomi Osaka of Japan, who recently beat four former top-ranked opponents. Osaka was forced to retired injured after losing the first set 6-3.