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Bencic follows Hopman Cup win with tough first round in Hobart

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HOBART, Australia — Belinda Bencic has followed up her title at the Hopman Cup with a 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 win over second-seeded Mihaela Buzarnescu in the first round of the Hobart International.

Bencic, who combined with Roger Federer to win the international mixed teams event in Perth, Western Australia, on the weekend, kept up her successful start to the season in Australia’s southern island state.

The third set contained nine service breaks, including seven straight, as blustery conditions made it difficult for both players. Bencic had two match points in the 10th game of the third set but dropped serve before winning the last two games to seal her spot in the second round.

“It was an incredibly up-and-down match – very hard work,” said Bencic, who dropped her racket in relief and exhaustion after clinching it on her fifth match point. “I’m a really emotional player and then the wind comes and I’m even more emotional. I feel like `Ah, this wind is against me,’ but I have to remember it is for both players.”

Buzarnescu, a finalist last year at Hobart, was one of the four highest-seeded players to lose on Tuesday.

Sofia Kenin beat top-seeded Caroline Garcia 6-3, 6-2, third-seeded Zhang Shuai lost to Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova 6-2, 0-6, 6-2 and No. 4 Maria Sakkari was beaten 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 by Magda Linette.

“She was a top 5 player, so I knew I had to play my best to win. I tried to not act like I was nervous, even though I was,” Kenin said. “I was controlling the points, I was dictating so that was a big part and I was holding serve every time, so that helps.”

Seventh-seeded Kirsten Flipkens beat Dalila Jakupovic 6-4, 7-5, 2016 Hobart champion Alize Cornet opened with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Alison Bai, eighth-seeded Alison Van Uytvanck had a 7-6 (5), 7-5 win over Madison Brengle and Viktoria Kuzmova beat Timea Babos 6-3, 6-3.

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.