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Jaziri upsets top-seeded Dimitrov at Dubai Championships

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Tunisian wild-card entry Malek Jaziri earned the biggest victory of his career by stunning top-seeded Grigor Dimitrov 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 in the opening round of the Dubai Championships on Tuesday.

The 34-year-old Jaziri, ranked 117th in the world, recorded his first win over a top-5 ranked player by beating the Bulgarian No. 4 in 2 hours, 17 minutes.

Fifth-seeded Richard Gasquet of France was also eliminated, losing to Croatia’s Borna Coric 6-4, 6-3. However, second-seeded Lucas Pouille avoided a similar slip-up as the Frenchman ousted Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 6-4, 6-4.

Jaziri saved three break points in the second game of the opening set but lost his serve in the 10th game. Dimitrov’s intensity then dropped in the second set and Jaziri broke in the 11th game before holding serve to level the match.

In the decider, Jaziri saved two more break points in the sixth game and the Bulgarian then double-faulted to give his opponent three break points in the next game. Jaziri converted the second for the decisive break.

“I was really aggressive today. I tried hard to keep the ball in, tried hard to attack him, to make a lot of variety in the game today,” Jaziri said. “I tried to keep going, kept encouraging myself by saying, `It’s OK, next game is my serve.’ It was most important is to keep winning my serve. That was the objective in the third set.”

Dimitrov refused to blame any injury, or the cold that affected him in the final loss to Roger Federer in Rotterdam recently, for his performance.

“You have days like this when you can’t really do much else. Unfortunately, I couldn’t play my game to the extent that I was looking for. My movement wasn’t good over the court. I thought I served OK for a little bit, but then I lost my rhythm again,” he said.

Jaziri will next face Dutchman Robin Haase for a place in the quarterfinals. Pouille will get a rematch against Russian Karen Khachanov, who beat him in the Marseille final last Sunday.

Nadal beats Zverev for Italian Open title

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ROME — Rafael Nadal came out on top in a matchup of this year’s top two clay-court players, beating defending champion Alexander Zverev 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 Sunday to win a record-extending eighth Italian Open title.

Nadal recovered from an early break in the third set after a 50-minute rain delay.

The victory means Nadal will reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Roger Federer on Monday.

Federer is sitting out the clay season to prepare for Wimbledon.

Nadal and Zverev had each won two titles on clay this season entering the final, with Nadal lifting trophies in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and Zverev taking Munich and Madrid.

Nadal improved to 5-0 in his career against Zverev and gained an extra measure of confidence entering the French Open, which starts next Sunday.

Earlier, Elina Svitolina defended the women’s title, facing little resistance from top-ranked Simona Halep in a 6-0, 6-4 win.

Svitolina defends Italian Open title as Halep injured again

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ROME – Elina Svitolina faced little resistance from Simona Halep in a 6-0, 6-4 win Sunday to defend her Italian Open title.

Just like in last year’s final, Halep appeared bothered by an injury.

The top-ranked Romanian called a trainer onto the court for an apparent back problem while trailing 2-3 in the second set then exited the court for treatment under a medical timeout.

“I was a little bit too stiff with my body and I couldn’t stay in the rallies,” Halep said. “The muscles were stiff. I couldn’t run.”

Last year, Halep rolled her ankle in the final and lost a set lead to Svitolina.

This time, Svitolina didn’t face a single break point in a match that lasted just 67 minutes.

“It’s amazing that I could come and defend my title here,” Svitolina said. “It’s really something very, very special for me.”

Halep said her physical problems were the result of a long three-set win over Maria Sharapova in the semifinals a day earlier

“Every time I play against Sharapova the ball is coming very flat and I bend down a lot,” Halep said.

The fourth-ranked Svitolina became the first woman to defend her title at the Foro Italico since Serena Williams accomplished the feat in 2013 and 2014. The Ukrainian picked up a winner’s check of 507,000 euros (nearly $600,000) for her 12th career title.

Svitolina improved to 4-2 in her career against Halep, who had already secured the No. 1 ranking for another week by reaching the semifinals.

“She deserved to win for sure,” Halep said. “She didn’t miss. I missed.”

Later, Rafael Nadal was aiming for a record-extending eighth Rome title against defending champion Alexander Zverev.

This is the last major warmup for the French Open, which starts next Sunday.

“In a Grand Slam it’s very tricky,” said Svitolina, who has never made it beyond the quarterfinals at a major. “But I’m definitely going to Roland Garros on a high note.”