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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.

Fognini stuns Nadal 6-4, 6-2 to reach Monte Carlo final

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MONACO (AP) Fabio Fognini ended Rafael Nadal’s long winning streak at the Monte Carlo Masters, stunning the defending champion 6-4, 6-2 Saturday to reach the final for the first time and hand Nadal his first defeat here since 2015.

The 13th-seeded Italian had beaten Nadal twice before on clay, and also once at the U.S. Open in five sets, but this was arguably the most impressive.

Not since the 2005 final, a five-setter which Nadal won in four sets, had the 11-time champion Nadal been beaten 6-0 in a set here. And Fognini came so close to doing just that.

He served for the match at 5-0 and 40-0, but Nadal saved three match points – and some pride – by breaking back and then holding.

Serving again for the match at 5-2, Fognini hit a superb forehand down the line to clinch victory on his fourth match point.

Nadal’s last defeat here was also in the semifinals, against Novak Djokovic in 2015. He had not lost a set at the clay-court tournament since conceding one in the second round against Britain’s Kyle Edmund in 2017.

Fognini next plays unseeded Serb Dusan Lajovic in their first-ever meeting, and one few would have predicted happening here.

The 48th-ranked Lajovic earlier staged a remarkable comeback from 5-1 down to beat 10th-seeded Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-1.

Lajovic won 10 straight games to open up a 4-0 lead in the second set before Medvedev finally held serve. But after saving one match point, the Russian player tamely hit a return long on his opponent’s next opportunity.

It could have been an all-Serb semifinal but Medvedev knocked out the top-ranked Djokovic in Friday’s quarterfinals.

Saturday’s match started in difficult conditions, with a heavy wind coming in from the Mediterranean.

Serving for the first set at 5-1, Medvedev dropped his serve and remonstrated with himself.

Lajovic clinched the first set on serve, with Medvedev completely mistiming the ball and sending it skyward.

The 28-year-old Lajovic was ill before the tournament and said he needed antibiotics to recover.

He struggled to describe his surprise run.

“Incredible … Unreal,” he said, before settling on “It’s been a great week.”

Lajovic stages comeback to reach Monte Carlo final

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MONACO (AP) Unseeded Serb Dusan Lajovic staged a remarkable comeback from 5-1 down to beat 10th-seeded Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-1 in the Monte Carlo Masters semifinals on Saturday.

Lajovic won 10 straight games to open up a 4-0 lead in the second set before Medvedev finally held serve. But after saving one match point, the Russian player tamely hit a return long on his opponent’s next opportunity.

The 48th-ranked Lajovic now plays in his first career final against 11-time champion Rafael Nadal or 13th-seeded Fabio Fognini.

It could have been an all-Serb semi but Medvedev knocked out top-ranked Novak Djokovic in Friday’s quarterfinals.

Saturday’s match started in difficult conditions, with a heavy wind coming in from the Mediterranean blowing clay around the court.

Serving for the set at 5-1, Medvedev dropped his serve and remonstrated with himself.

He had good cause.

The first-set turnaround was complete when Lajovic clinched it on serve, with Medvedev completely mistiming the ball and sending it skyward.