AP

Roger Federer dazzles in first career Bay Area appearance

Leave a comment

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) From his knees at the middle of the net, Roger Federer struck volley after volley right back at Jack Sock until the American star finally faltered. Federer just smiled.

He’s the best in the world at age 36.

Earlier, Federer emerged from the tunnel of smoke and walked onto the court greeted by roars and thousands of camera phones held high for the first Bay Area appearance of his career.

Even if this doubles match didn’t officially count Monday night, it sure mattered to all of the children in Africa who Federer is committed to helping through his foundation.

Federer waved every which way, held his racket in the air and beamed when introduced during warmups with the announcement at the sold-out SAP Center that he had regained the No. 1 world ranking.

He entertained from the start, too, praising Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates as a perfect partner.

“He knows numbers very well. He never makes mistakes on the scores,” Federer cracked. “I’ll do the running and Bill does the thinking.”

He joked to opponent Savannah Guthrie of NBC’s “TODAY” show: “You have to start looking at the ball and stop looking at me.”

Federer called off Gates with, “That’s mine … that’s mine, too,” before Sock lobbed a winner over Gates that Federer couldn’t chase down. Federer and Gates took the match 6-3.

Federer’s “The Match for Africa” exhibition sold more than 15,000 tickets to benefit his foundation that supports education for children in Africa.

“This match for Africa is something extraordinary,” Sock said.

The Swiss star, who at 36 is the oldest men’s player to be No. 1, won the Australian Open in January for his 20th Grand Slam title.

Federer and Gates also teamed up last year in Seattle.

Sock joked beforehand, “Don’t hit it to Roger … I’m winless against him for my career.”

A video promoting the match featured Federer training Gates, from weight lifting – lunges with a heavy bar over his shoulders – to studying a tennis book and both ping-pong and tennis practice to work on his reflexes and skills.

“You’ll train like I do,” Federer said. “You are ready.”

And Gates, dressed in a bright pink polo, drew oohs and aahs as he impressed with his shot-making and hustle to keep points alive.

Nadal beats Zverev for Italian Open title

AP Photo
Leave a comment

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

AP Images
Leave a comment

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.”