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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.

Matteo Berrettini breaks through on grass to win Stuttgart Open

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STUTTGART, Germany — Matteo Berrettini beat Canadian teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 7-6 (11) to win the Stuttgart Open and his third tour-level title on Sunday.

The Italian saved five set points in a second-set tiebreaker and clinched his first title on grass. His other titles came at Budapest in April, and Gstaad, Switzerland, last year.

The 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime previously reached championship matches in Rio de Janeiro in February and the Lyon Open in May – both on clay.

Berrettini won all 50 of his service games during the week in Stuttgart. He did not face a break point against Auger-Aliassime.

Auger-Aliassime progressed to the final in his first professional grass tournament without playing Saturday as compatriot Milos Raonic withdrew ahead of their semifinal due to back problems.

Playing on two surfaces, Vekic reaches Nottingham semis

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NOTTINGHAM, England — Former champion Donna Vekic finally got to play on grass at the Nottingham Open on Friday but had to overcome multiple rain delays and another switch indoors before reaching the semifinals.

The second-seeded Vekic defeated Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 6-4 in a match played on two surfaces as rain again played havoc with the schedule.

The opening two days were completely washed out before organizers decided to switch the first and second rounds indoors as rain fell for four consecutive days.

Vekic, who won the tournament in 2017, will play Germany’s Tatjana Maria in her third straight semifinal in Nottingham. Maria earlier defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 6-3, 7-6 (7) in the only match completed on grass so far at the tournament.

Also Friday, American Jennifer Brady defeated fourth-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece 7-5, 6-3 to set up a semifinal against top-seeded Caroline Garcia.

Garcia rallied to beat Romanian qualifier Elena-Gabriela Ruse 4-6, 7-6, 6-1 in the last quarterfinal.