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Tiafoe making good on promises at Wimbledon

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LONDON — Frances Tiafoe remembers promising to his parents before he was even a teenager that tennis would change their lives.

As his talent for the sport became obvious at the tennis center in Maryland where his father was a maintenance worker – and lived with his family in an office that served as their apartment – Tiafoe vowed he would use his abilities to better their circumstances.

“I told them when I was about 11, 12 years old, this is what it was going to be,” Tiafoe said Tuesday, sitting in an interview room at the All England Club after a first-round win at Wimbledon. “You guys just have to sit back and wait for it.”

Wait no longer. The now 20-year-old Tiafoe is on the verge of breaking into the top 50 in the rankings. He already has reached a level where his income from the sport has taken his parents a long way from the struggles they faced after arriving in the United States as immigrants from Sierra Leone.

“I’ve still got a long way to go,” Tiafoe said. “But I said, `Look, I’m going to change everybody’s life, I’m going to buy you all a house. I’m going to do X, Y, and Z, and everybody’s going to live nice at the end of my career and no one is going to have to worry about anything.’ `’

If he keeps playing the way he did against Fernando Verdasco – a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist seeded 30th – they won’t have to worry at all.

Tiafoe beat Verdasco 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-3 after outplaying the Spaniard on the key points. The American saved 13 of the 15 break points he faced while converting two of the only four he had himself.

“I played to win when it was time to step up,” he said.

Tiafoe has been stepping up all his life. Even though his parents weren’t as sure as he was that tennis was the answer.

“My dad always believed me,” Tiafoe said. “My mom, she wanted me to go to college, (and said) you can do whatever you want after that. I said, it’s not going to go down like that. … There was one plan and that was it. There was no Plan B because that just distracts you from Plan A. I had a vision, and I wanted it every day. I dream chased every day. There was always a purpose to what I was doing on the court, because it’s not about me at the end of the day. Because my parents, they sacrificed for me and my brother, and I had to do it for them.”

His mom, Alphina, didn’t seem unhappy about her son’s career choice as she watched him play on Court 11 on Tuesday.

“That’s my little boy,” she shouted as he wrapped up the victory.

Nadal gets his revenge over Tsitsipas to reach Rome final

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ROME (AP) After losing in the semifinals of three straight clay-court tournaments, Rafael Nadal looked more like his old, dominant self when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-4 Saturday to reach the Italian Open final.

It was a measure of revenge for Nadal after losing to Tsitsipas in three sets at this stage in Madrid last week. The victory should also restore Nadal’s confidence as he seeks a record-extending 12th title at the French Open starting next weekend.

“I’m playing better every match, every weekend,” Nadal said.

Aiming for a ninth trophy in Rome, Nadal’s opponent in Sunday’s final will be either Novak Djokovic or Diego Schwartzman, who were playing later.

Nadal is in the middle of his longest title drought to begin a season since he came onto the scene in 2004. His last trophy came in Toronto last August.

The crowd attempted to encourage Tsitsipas with chants of “Tsi-Tsi-Tsi; Pas-Pas-Pas” but the 20-year-old Greek player couldn’t keep up with Nadal on the long rallies – even though he didn’t play a day earlier after Roger Federer withdrew from the quarterfinals.

Conditions were much slower than on the high-altitude court in Madrid, which favored Nadal and made it tougher for Tsitsipas to execute his attacking game.

Midway through the first set, Nadal produced an awesome forehand winner up the line on the run, drawing a loud roar from the packed Campo Centrale crowd.

Nadal broke Tsitsipas’ serve early in both sets.

In the women’s tournament, Johanna Konta rallied past sixth-seeded Kiki Bertens 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 in nearly three hours to reach the biggest clay-court final of her career.

Konta’s only previous final on clay came recently in Rabat, Morocco, where she lost the title match to Maria Sakkari.

Konta could get a rematch with Sakkari if the Greek qualifier beats fourth-seeded Karolina Pliskova in the other semifinal.

Midway through the first set, Konta surprised Bertens with a drop shot winner during a baseline rally, causing Bertens to fall on her stomach to the clay as she rapidly changed directions. Then in the next game, Konta ran down a drop shot and produced an angled winner.

Bertens was coming off the Madrid Open title.

“She played really smart with the drop shots,” Bertens said. “I was all the time getting myself together and trying to push for more energy. But it was not there.”

The 42nd-ranked Konta served for the first set at 5-4 but was broken at love. But Bertens double faulted to let Konta serve for the second set and Konta got an early break in the third.

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John Isner out of French Open with injury

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PARIS — John Isner has pulled out of the French Open because of an injured left foot, ending his streak of 24 consecutive appearances at Grand Slam tournaments.

The 34-year-old Isner announced his withdrawal Friday on Twitter.

He is ranked No. 11, the top American man, but has not competed since hurting his foot during the Miami Open final March 31.

Isner was a Wimbledon semifinalist last year, his best Grand Slam performance. He hasn’t missed a major since the 2013 Australian Open.

He’s reached the fourth round at Roland Garros three times, including in 2018, and is one of only two men to push 11-time champion Rafael Nadal to a fifth set there.

Isner is best known for winning the longest match in tennis history, 70-68 in the fifth set against Nicolas Mahut in Wimbledon’s first round in 2010. The match lasted more than 11 hours over three days.