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Nadal loses to Thiem in Madrid, first loss on clay in 1 year

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MADRID – Top-ranked Rafael Nadal lost to Dominic Thiem 7-5, 6-3 in the Madrid Open quarterfinals on Friday, breaking the defending champion’s run of 21 straight wins on clay courts.

Nadal hadn’t lost a single set on clay since falling to Thiem a year ago in the Italian Open quarterfinals.

Since that loss, Nadal had been impeccable on his preferred surface. He won the French Open and the hard-court U.S. Open to take his Grand Slam haul to 16, and he came to the Spanish capital fresh off winning his 11th titles at both Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

But Thiem succeeded in doing the nearly impossible with his deep drives: Make Nadal look sluggish and a step slow on clay.

“Of course I am disappointed,” Nadal said. “I tried to fight back but I wasn’t good enough and he was better.”

Thiem got the better of long rallies by hitting precise winners, and avoided the costly errors that sunk Nadal’s title defense.

The fifth-seeded Austrian earned his third career victory in nine meetings with Nadal, all on clay. He also avenged his loss to Nadal here in last year’s final.

“It’s one of the toughest things to do to beat Rafa on clay,” Thiem said. “It’s so special, amazing, in his home country and in his living room in Madrid. I can just be happy. It was an amazing match.”

Thiem will face sixth-seeded Kevin Anderson in the semifinals after he hit 15 aces to down Dusan Lajovic 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3.

Nadal said on Thursday, after breaking John McEnroe’s 1984 record for sets won on the same surface by winning his 50th straight set on clay, that he expected the match against Thiem to be “key to this tournament.”

He was right to be worried.

Thiem unsettled Nadal from the start, breaking his serve twice in the first set.

Nadal appeared to have salvaged the opening set when he broke Thiem back for 5-5, but the Austrian took the advantage right back after Nadal sent a forehand into the net.

Thiem then struck an ace to complete the set.

His shirt drenched in sweat, Nadal looked stunned in the second set when he sent four serves in a row into the net for back-to-back double faults before he ceded another break to go down 2-1.

Nadal pulled back a break, but couldn’t defend his serve and Thiem broke him twice more, finishing off the world No. 1 with one final forehand winner.

“If you want to beat him, especially on clay, you have to do something special. If I had played normal I would have no chance,” Thiem said. “I had to go for shots and go down the line and everything worked today. To beat Rafa on clay you have to have a special day.”

On the women’s side, Kiki Bertens beat seventh-seeded Caroline Garcia 6-2, 6-2 to advance to the final.

Bertens broke Garcia four times and hit 16 winners, while Garcia committed 24 unforced errors.

Bertens, from the Netherlands, will be seeking her sixth career title and her second of 2018.

Two-time former Madrid champion Petra Kvitova played Karolina Pliskova later in an all-Czech semifinal.

Bertens defeats Halep to win Western & Southern Open

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MASON, Ohio — Kiki Bertens served a 109 mph ace , flipped her racket away, fell to her knees and raised both arms. Moments later, she covered her face for a joyous cry, wiping the tears away with her sweat-soaked blue wristband.

One point away from another loss, she had pulled off her biggest win.

Top-ranked Simona Halep let a match point slip away during the second-set tiebreaker, and Bertens rallied for a 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-2 victory and the Western & Southern Open title on Sunday that left her as stunned as everyone else.

“I cannot find words for this moment,” she said.

Playing her first hard-court final, the Dutch clay-court specialist ended Halep’s streak of nine straight wins, including the title at Montreal a week earlier. She’d never beaten a top-ranked player, but wore down Halep at the end of her two draining weeks.

During the week in Cincinnati, Halep had one match suspended overnight by rain and wound up playing twice in one day to reach the semifinals. She controlled the first set on Sunday and had a chance to close it out, leading 6-5 in the tiebreaker.

When that slipped away, she never recovered, playing her worst in the final set – 13 unforced errors that gave Bertens a chance to pull away.

“I am a little bit tired,” she said.

Halep will be ranked No. 1 through the U.S. Open. She fell to 0-3 in Cincinnati finals, finishing as the runner-up in 2015 and each of the last two years.

Bertens has worked on her hard-court game and her confidence on the surface. In three previous appearances in Cincinnati, she won a total of one match. She became the first unseeded player to win in Cincinnati since Vera Zvonareva in 2006.

In the men’s bracket, Novak Djokovic was looking for a breakthrough win against nemesis Roger Federer. Djokovic was 0-5 in Cincinnati, the only ATP Masters 1000 event he hasn’t won. He’d become the first to claim all nine.

Federer has won the tournament an unmatched seven times, going 7 for 7 in the finals. He’s beaten Djokovic three times for the Rookwood pottery trophy.

Djokovic beats Federer for first Cincinnati title

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MASON, Ohio — Novak Djokovic finally mastered the one tournament that’s eluded him, beating nemesis Roger Federer 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday for his first Western & Southern Open championship.

He got the better of a nostalgic rematch — they hadn’t played in two years because of injuries — and broke through in a tournament that Federer has won seven times, never losing a title match.

After Federer’s forehand sailed wide for the deciding point, Djokovic raised both arms and roared. Then he jumped and punched the air before giving his racket to a fan and tossing his sweatbands into the stands.

No need for mementos. That first Rookwood pottery trophy will be enough.

Djokovic is the first to claim all nine ATP Masters 1000 events since the series started in 1990. It had become his personal quest after he lost in the finals five times — three against Federer.

Djokovic leads their all-time series 24-22, doing much better in the biggest matches. He’s 3-1 against Federer in Grand Slam finals and 12-6 overall in championship matches, including wins at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2015.

Djokovic completed a long comeback from elbow surgery by winning his fourth Wimbledon title last month, then set out to get his hard-court game in order for the U.S. Open. He got better as the rainy week went on in Cincinnati, playing his best at the end.

Federer’s serve had been untouchable all week — held for 46 consecutive games. Djokovic broke that streak to go up 4-3 in the opening set, prompting Federer to mutter angrily. Djokovic served out the set, and then traded breaks with Federer early in the second set.

Federer’s game was off — 28 unforced errors — and Djokovic took full advantage. He broke him again to go up 4-3 and served it out.

In the women’s bracket, top-ranked Simona Halep let a match point slip away during the second-set tiebreaker, and Kiki Bertens rallied for a 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-2 victory in her first hard-court final.

Bertens served a 109 mph ace , flipped her racket away, fell to her knees and raised both arms. Moments later, she covered her face for a joyous cry, wiping the tears away with her sweat-soaked blue wristband.

One point away from another loss, she had pulled off her biggest win, one that left her as stunned as everyone else.

“I cannot find words for this moment,” she said.

The Dutch clay-court specialist ended Halep’s streak of nine straight wins, including the title at Montreal a week earlier. She’d never beaten a top-ranked player, but wore down Halep at the end of her two draining weeks.

During the week in Cincinnati, Halep had one match suspended overnight by rain and wound up playing twice in one day to reach the semifinals. She controlled the first set on Sunday and had a chance to close it out, leading 6-5 in the tiebreaker.

When that slipped away, she never recovered, playing her worst in the final set — 13 unforced errors that gave Bertens a chance to pull away.

“I had a match (point), so I was there,” Halep said. “I didn’t take my chance. In the third set , I was empty and I couldn’t fight anymore.”

Halep will be ranked No. 1 through the U.S. Open. She fell to 0-3 in Cincinnati finals, finishing as the runner-up in 2015 and each of the last two years.

“I need a little bit of rest because I’m exhausted,” Halep said. “But I also take the positive from these two weeks. It’s a great confidence (boost).”

Bertens has worked on her hard-court game and her confidence on the surface. In three previous appearances in Cincinnati, she won a total of one match. She became the first unseeded player to win in Cincinnati since Vera Zvonareva in 2006.