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Svitolina defends Italian Open title as Halep injured again

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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.”

Murray excited to end 11-month absence at Queen’s this week

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LONDON (AP) Andy Murray is excited to be returning at the pre-Wimbledon Queen’s Club event this week after the former top-ranked player in the world experienced the “lowest point” of his career during an 11-month absence from tennis.

The 31-year-old Briton, who has been out of action with a hip injury since losing in the 2017 Wimbledon quarter-finals, has been drawn to meet Australia’s Nick Kyrgios in the first round at Queen’s.

“I’m really looking forward to playing again,” Murray said in his regular BBC Sport column. “While I will be nervous, it will be great to finally step back on the court.

“With sport you play to win, but when you are away from something you love doing for almost a year, you realize you’re playing because you love it.

“I didn’t start playing to win Wimbledon or get to number one in the world. I never believed that was something I was going to do, or something I thought about when I was a kid growing up. I played tennis because I loved it and continued doing that throughout my whole career.”

Murray, who won the Wimbledon title in 2013 and 2016 and the U.S. Open crown in 2012, had an operation on his hip in January.

“When, after six months of not competing, you’re still not good enough to be where you want to be and looking like you’re going to have to have surgery, it’s the lowest point you can get to in your professional career,” he said.

“People might say, `oh, you’ve got it great’ – which I’m aware that we do, and I’m very lucky I get to play tennis for a living. But that’s what I’ve been doing since I was a child, and when you’re not able to do something that you love it’s tough.”

Wimbledon starts on July 2.

Federer beats Raonic for Stuttgart title, his 18th on grass

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STUTTGART, Germany (AP) Roger Federer defeated Milos Raonic 6-4, 7-6 (3) to mark his return from three months off with the Stuttgart Open title on Sunday.

The Swiss great, who is assured of reclaiming the No. 1 ranking from Rafael Nadal on Monday, broke at 1-1 in the opening set and held his nerve in the second, where Raonic double-faulted.

Federer skipped the entire clay-court season for the second year in a row, but he wrapped up his 18th grass-court title in 1 hour and 18 minutes – his 98th title overall and third of the season after victories at the Australian Open and World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam.

“It’s a wonderful feeling. I fought hard. When you finally manage it, the joy is even greater,” said Federer, who extended his grass-court winning streak to 16 matches including his titles at Halle and Wimbledon last year.

The 36-year-old will need to defend his title at Halle to maintain his No. 1 spot ahead of Wimbledon.