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.

 

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.