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Fognini fires up crowd with win over Thiem

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ROME — Fabio Fognini got the Foro Italico crowd fired up Wednesday with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 win over sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem in the second round of the Italian Open.

The top Italian player came out wearing a black shirt with a red lightning bolt design down his chest and he was energized from the start, grazing the flower beds lining the court to return Thiem’s heavily angled shots and frustrating the Austrian with well-placed lobs and touch volleys.

“I played very well today,” said Thiem, who beat Rafael Nadal in the Madrid Open semifinals last week. “It was just him, he was very pumped playing at home.”

While Fognini drop-kicked his racket onto the court after a miss early in the third set, it was Thiem who ultimately lost his cool. In the final game, Thiem smashed his racket into a mangled wreck and handed it to a befuddled fan in the front row.

When Thiem netted a service return two points later to end it, the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army was blasted over the stadium sound system and the crowd began singing along in an atmosphere that more closely resembled a soccer game than a tennis match.

“The Italian crowd is great,” Thiem said. “I was expecting it that way so it was completely fine. It was fun to play with that atmosphere. … It’s a loss which is not too painful, which is just motivating me for the next weeks.”

Also on the red clay of the Foro Italico, Albert Ramos-Vinolas rallied to beat eighth-seeded John Isner 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5).

In women’s action, Simona Halep routed Naomi Osaka 6-1, 6-0 for the first of two wins she needs this week to hold on to the No. 1 ranking.

Halep needs to reach at least the quarterfinals or risk losing the top spot to Caroline Wozniacki.

It was a sharp turnaround for Halep from when Osaka lost only three games against her in the Indian Wells semifinals in March – when Osaka went on to win her first career title.

Osaka wasted four break points and a chance to take a 2-0 lead in the first set, then lost 11 straight games.

“For some reason, I couldn’t get a ball in the court after that, on my backhand side,” Osaka said. “And she was playing very solid. And I knew she knew I couldn’t hit a backhand, so we were just having backhand rallies.

On Halep’s first match point, the 21st-ranked Osaka didn’t even make a move for Halep’s return of her second serve.

“I’m not that disappointed with this match, despite the score,” Osaka said. “I feel like she’s the No. 1 player in the world and she’s great on clay. And I think it was harder than what the score showed.”

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

Also, U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens held off a comeback from Estonian qualifier Kaia Kanepi in a 6-0, 5-7, 6-4 victory; seventh-seeded Caroline Garcia defeated Timea Babos 6-3, 6-4; and 14th-seeded Daria Kasatkina eliminated American qualifier Danielle Collins 6-2, 6-3.

Larsson beats Riske to win Nuremberg Cup

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NUREMBERG, Germany — Swedish player Johanna Larsson won her first WTA singles title in three years by beating Alison Riske of the United States 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the final of the Nuremberg Cup on Saturday.

Her only other career singles victory was on home soil at Bastad in 2015.

Having come from a set down to win matches in the quarterfinals and semifinals, Larsson rallied from a break down in the first set and won the last four points of the tiebreaker. Larsson then won the final five games to take the match and deny Riske a second career singles title.

“When I held for 4-2, I could see some signs that she was a little bit tired,” Larsson said, “and that gave me a lot of energy to fight back.”

Pavlyuchenkova labors past Cibulkova to win at Strasbourg

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STRASBOURG, France — Third-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia won the Strasbourg International after laboring to a 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3), 7-6 (6) win against Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia on Saturday.

They spent 3 hours, 35 minutes on court in a grueling contest, which ended when Pavlyuchenkova sealed victory on her second serve.

Pavlyuchenkova won her first title of the year and 12th overall, beating Cibulkova for the fourth time in their 11 career meetings.

Fifth-seeded Cibulkova was bidding for her ninth career title.

Both players head to the French Open in Paris, where first-round play starts Sunday.

Cibulkova reached the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2009, while Pavlyuchenkova reached her only quarterfinal there in 2013.