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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.”

Defending US Open champ Stephens wins Cincy opener

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MASON, Ohio (AP) Defending U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens overcame a thumb injury to cruise into the third round of the Western & Southern Open with a 6-3, 6-2 win over qualifier Tatjana Maria on Wednesday.

A trainer applied a bandage to the third-seeded Stephens’ right thumb between the third and fourth games of the second set of this U.S. Open tuneup. The match was Stephens’ first since losing on Sunday to Simona Halep in the finals at Montreal.

Sloane’s semifinal appearance last season is her best Cincinnati finish in six previous appearances.

Roger Federer advances in Cincinnati

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MASON, Ohio (AP) Roger Federer advanced to the third round of the Western & Southern Open with a 6-4, 6-4 victory against Peter Gojowczyk on Tuesday.

It was Federer’s first Cincinnati appearance since winning his tournament-record seventh championship in 2015. After a first-round bye, Federer extended his Cincinnati winning streak to 11 matches since losing to Rafael Nadal in the 2013 quarterfinals.

The second-seeded Federer, refreshed from a month off after losing in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, became the tournament favorite when Nadal withdrew on Sunday night.

Karolina Pliskova and Nick Kyrgios also advanced Tuesday in early tournament action.

Pliskova moved into the second round by snapping a seven-match losing streak against Agnieszka Radwanska with a 6-3, 6-3 win.

“It means a lot because it was against her, and, like, you know, I never beat her,” Pliskova said. “We played so many times. I think I always played her at her best level the matches before, so it was always tough.”

Kyrgios, a finalist last year in Cincinnati, overcame physical problems to fight off qualifier Denis Kudla for a 6-7 (2), 7-5, 7-6 (9) victory.

“This year has been tough,” Kyrgios said. “I started the year very well. Then, obviously, I hurt my elbow. Then I had an ongoing hip injury. We have been definitely thinking about the options with my hip. You know, there is only so much you can do before you have to, you know, I guess, get surgery or something like that. You know, right now I’m just managing it.”

No. 11 seed David Goffin advanced with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Leonardo Mayer became the first player to reach the third round on the men’s side with a 7-6 (7), 6-4 victory over 16th-seeded Lucas Pouille.

Australian Open semifinalist Hyeon Chung won the last five games to beat Jack Sock 2-6, 6-1, 6-2. Sock has lost eight straight matches since winning in Rome on May 13.

Two-time Cincinnati semifinalist Milos Raonic advanced with a 6-3, 6-3 win over qualifier Dusan Lajovic. Robin Haase also made it to the second round, defeating Filip Krajinovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Sixth-seeded Caroline Garcia reach the third round with a 6-4, 6-5 win over wild card Victoria Azarenka. Elise Mertens scored a 6-4, 6-2 first-round win over Magdalena Rybarikova. Ashleigh Barty stopped wild-card Marketa Vondrousova 6-3, 7-5.

Maria Sakkari upset Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka 6-3, 7-6 (8). Ekaterina Makarova cruised past qualifier Ana Bogdan 6-3, 6-2.