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Stan Wawrinka out in first round in Washington

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WASHINGTON — Stan Wawrinka’s surgically repaired left knee is just fine. What’s missing now for the three-time major champion as he goes through a rough season is the self-belief that comes with success.

Wawrinka’s latest quick exit came Tuesday night at the Citi Open, a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3) loss against 234th-ranked qualifier Donald Young of the U.S. in the first round of the hard-court tournament.

“I was missing a lot. Not feeling the way I wanted. I’m looking for confidence, for sure,” said Wawrinka, who has been ranked No. 3 but is merely 198th at the moment on account of a 6-11 record in 2018 after two knee operations last year. “It’s tough to not win a lot of matches. Then you start to think too much on the court.”

This was Wawrinka’s first match since bowing out of Wimbledon in the second round in early July; his ranking is so low that he needed a wild-card entry just to get into qualifying for his next event, in Toronto.

The only other time Wawrinka entered the U.S. Open tuneup in Washington, in 2010, he also lost his opener.

Right now, his issue is the doubt can creep up at key points in a match.

“I feel I’m really close but, at the same time, really far. The positive right now is that physically, I’m feeling good. Tennis-wise, I’m practicing well. I can put (in) a lot of work on the court,” said Wawrinka, who has won the U.S. Open, Australian Open and French Open once apiece. “I know and I’m sure I will get where I want to be. It’s just tough. It’s a long process and you have to accept (it).”

He and Young, who came into the day with just a 2-10 record this year, were supposed to play Monday night. But because of rain delays and a lengthy match before theirs, they only made it onto the court to warm up at 1 a.m., and then a downpour arrived, so the contest was postponed.

Wawrinka got broken in the first game Tuesday by dumping a forehand into the net; that turned out to be the match’s only break. Wawrinka then was two points from losing at 5-3 in the second-set tiebreaker. But a series of miscues by Young, including a double-fault at 5-4, sent them to a third set. This time, Young held on, and he’ll face 2014 U.S. Open runner-up Kei Nishikori on Wednesday.

“Fought a lot of nerves there, but I’m happy the end result was a `W,”‘ Young said. “Closing matches is kind of like a skill you get from winning and I haven’t done that – but I was able to do that.”

No. 1 seed and defending champion Alexander Zverev was scheduled to face Malek Jaziri in the main stadium’s final match Tuesday.

In earlier action, local product Denis Kudla – who is staying at his parents’ home in nearby Arlington, Virginia, this week – collected his first victory in seven attempts at the Citi Open, coming back to beat Lukas Lacko of Slovakia 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-4.

“This is always a place that I’ve wanted to win and I’ve always struggled here. My record was pretty awful coming into today,” said Kudla, who had been 0-4 in main-draw matches and 0-2 in qualifying at the tournament. “Today it just came together.”

Marcos Baghdatis, the 2010 runner-up, advanced with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 victory over Benoit Paire, who drew boos from spectators after a racket-breaking tantrum. Vasek Pospisil, a finalist in 2014, lost to 19-year-old Alex de Minaur 6-7 (6), 6-2, 6-3.

Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki pulled out of the women’s draw because of an injured right leg, while defending champion Ekaterina Makarova lost her first-round match to Ana Bogdan 7-6 (2), 6-3.

No. 2 seed Sloane Stephens, the reigning U.S. Open champion, moved into the second round with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Pliskova wins Italian Open for biggest clay title of career

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ROME (AP) – Karolina Pliskova captured the biggest clay-court title of her career by beating Johanna Konta 6-3, 6-4 Sunday in the Italian Open final.

Adding to a very consistent year from the 2016 U.S. Open runner-up, the victory will move Pliskova up to No. 2 in the rankings and makes her one of the contenders for the French Open, which starts next weekend.

“I just hope to take the tennis I was playing here to Paris,” Pliskova said. “For sure there’s going to be a chance for me if I play this way.”

Pliskova also reached the Australian Open semifinals and the Miami Open final after opening this season with a title in Brisbane, Australia. But she lost in the second round of her previous two tournaments on clay in Stuttgart, Germany, and Madrid.

“Nobody really gave me chance for this tournament – even me,” Pliskova said. “Before the tournament, I was not super confident, not thinking about the final at all. I was just happy with every match which I played. So it’s little bit like a miracle for me.”

The unseeded Konta appeared nervous at the start, double faulting then landing a backhand into the net to hand Pliskova a break in her opening service game.

In the second set, Pliskova used a swinging forehand volley putaway to break for a 4-3 lead and never looked back.

“It’s always tough playing Karolina,” Konta said. “There’s rarely really a rhythm to the match. She plays with big shots, quite flat, and big serves. It can feel sometimes you’re fighting an uphill battle. That was the case today.”

After converting her third championship point, Pliskova went over and slapped hands with Conchita Martinez, the four-time Rome champion who she recently named her head coach. Pliskova then asked Martinez and the rest of her team to come down onto the court for her victory celebration.

“She loved clay so she knows exactly what I should do,” Pliskova said of Martinez. “There were small differences: movement, maybe to put more topspin on the balls, use drop shots – which I never use, but I start little bit, and to mix also the serves. … I know she loved this tournament. I think she prayed so I could win today.”

Back on top: Nadal beats Djokovic for 9th Italian Open title

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ROME (AP) Rafael Nadal is right back where he wants to be.

After losing in the semifinals of three straight clay-court tournaments, Nadal dominated for stretches against his longtime rival, Novak Djokovic, in a 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 win Sunday for a record-extending ninth Italian Open title.

It marked the first time in an Open Era-record 54 meetings, and in their 142nd set against each other, that Nadal won a set against Djokovic without conceding a game – otherwise known as a bagel.

The timing for Nadal’s return to form could not have been more opportune, as he will seek a record-extending 12th title at the French Open starting next weekend.

“Winning a title is important but for me the most important thing is feel myself competitive, feel myself healthy,” Nadal said. “Then with the feeling that I am improving. I know if I’m able to reach my level you can win, you can lose, but normally I’m going to have my chances, especially on this surface.”

Top-ranked Djokovic, meanwhile, appeared exhausted after spending more than 5 1/2 hours on court against Juan Martin del Potro and Diego Schwartzman the previous two days.

Djokovic was also coming off the Madrid Open title last week.

“I don’t want to talk about fatigue or things like that,” Djokovic said. “Rafa was simply too strong today.”

In the women’s final earlier, Karolina Pliskova captured the biggest clay-court trophy of her career by beating Johanna Konta 6-3, 6-4.

The Foro Italico crowd continually tried to encourage Djokovic with chants of “Vai Nole!” – Go Nole! – but the top-ranked Serb struggled with his overhead and drop shots.

Midway through the second set, Nadal chased down a lob with an over-the-shoulder shot and Djokovic’s ensuing overhead landed in the net to conclude a long point.

Djokovic again netted an overhead in the next game and then kicked the ball in frustration when he missed a drop shot attempt late in the second.

But Djokovic hung around in the second and converted his first set point when a looping forehand from Nadal sailed wide for his first break of the match. As he walked to his chair after winning the second set, Djokovic waved his arms to get the crowd behind him.

However, Djokovic didn’t have much left in the tank.

When Nadal pushed Djokovic deep into the corner in the opening game of the third set and Djokovic’s desperation lob sailed long to hand Nadal a break, Djokovic smashed his racket to the clay three times in frustration and received a warning from the chair umpire.

Djokovic won only 29 percent of the points on his second serve and committed 39 unforced errors to Nadal’s 17. Also, Nadal won 23 of the 31 rallies with nine or more shots.

PLISKOVA NO. 2

Pliskova’s victory will move her up to No. 2 in the rankings and makes her one of the contenders for Roland Garros.

“I just hope to take the tennis I was playing here to Paris,” Pliskova said. “For sure there’s going to be a chance for me if I play this way.”

The 2016 U.S. Open runner-up, Pliskova also reached the Australian Open semifinals and the Miami Open final after opening this season with a title in Brisbane, Australia. But she lost in the second round of her previous two tournaments on clay in Stuttgart, Germany, and Madrid.

“Nobody really gave me chance for this tournament – even me,” Pliskova said. “Before the tournament, I was not super confident, not thinking about the final at all. I was just happy with every match which I played. So it’s little bit like a miracle for me.”

The unseeded Konta appeared nervous at the start, double faulting then landing a backhand into the net to hand Pliskova a break in her opening service game.

In the second set, Pliskova used a swinging forehand volley putaway to break for a 4-3 lead and never looked back.

“It’s always tough playing Karolina,” Konta said. “There’s rarely really a rhythm to the match. She plays with big shots, quite flat, and big serves. It can feel sometimes you’re fighting an uphill battle. That was the case today.”

After converting her third championship point, Pliskova went over and slapped hands with Conchita Martinez, the four-time Rome champion who she recently named her head coach. Pliskova then asked Martinez and the rest of her team to come down onto the court for her victory celebration.

“She loved clay so she knows exactly what I should do,” Pliskova said of Martinez. “There were small differences: movement, maybe to put more topspin on the balls, use drop shots – which I never use, but I start little bit, and to mix also the serves. … I know she loved this tournament. I think she prayed so I could win today.”