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Thiem upsets Nadal to reach Barcelona Open final

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BARCELONA, Spain — Dominic Thiem defeated Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-4 in the Barcelona Open semifinals on Saturday, becoming the first player other than Novak Djokovic to defeat the Spaniard on clay four times.

Thiem will try to win his second title of the year on Sunday in a final against Daniil Medvedev, who upset fourth-seeded Kei Nishikori 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.

The fifth-ranked Thiem won his first title of the season by defeating Roger Federer in the Indian Wells final in March. This will be his first final on clay since last year’s French Open, where he lost to Nadal.

It was the second straight semifinal loss for the second-ranked Spaniard, who was coming off a defeat to Fabio Fognini in Monte Carlo.

Nadal was seeking a record 12th Barcelona title, and fourth consecutive.

Thiem lost the Barcelona final to Nadal two years ago, but the Austrian has beaten the 17-time Grand Slam champion on clay in each of the last three seasons.

“I’m always super proud if I beat him because he’s the best player ever on this surface,” Thiem said. “We always had great matches in the past, and also today’s was very good. I was more lucky today.”

Only two other players have beaten Nadal on clay three times – Fognini and Gaston Gaudio.

The second-ranked Nadal had never lost a semifinal or final in Barcelona. He had won 18 straight here going back to a third-round defeat to Fognini in 2015.

Thiem has yet to lose a set this week, and he was in control early on against Nadal, putting pressure on the Spaniard’s serve from the start. He broke Nadal in the fifth game of the first set and had four break opportunities immediately after that before Nadal recovered to hold.

The one break ended up being enough for Thiem in the first set, and he moved ahead of the Spaniard again at 2-2 in the second set. He was down 0-40 while serving for the match, but came back to close out the victory at the Rafa Nadal main court.

Nishikori, the winner in Barcelona in 2014 and 2015, was broken twice in the final set against Medvedev, including in the final game of the match.

It was a tour-best 25th win this year for the 14th-ranked Medvedev, who was coming off a semifinal appearance in Monte Carlo. It will be his first-ever clay court final.

“I’m really happy that I managed to hold my nerves, to try to come back, and I managed to come back,” Medvedev said. “I’m just happy to be in the final.”

Wild-card entry Tipsarevic advances at Geneva Open

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GENEVA (AP) Former top-10 player Janko Tipsarevic used his wild-card entry to beat Peter Gojowczyk of Germany 7-5, 7-5 in the Geneva Open first round on Monday.

Now ranked No. 317, the 34-year-old Tipsarevic is back in ATP Tour main draws after missing the 2018 season for hamstring injuries to heal.

Fifth-seeded Radu Albot advanced to the second round on a day when two seeded players lost in the final week of clay-court warmups for the French Open.

Albot beat qualifier Lorenzo Sonego 7-6 (6), 7-6 (3), after 92nd-ranked Hugo Dellien beat eighth-seeded Andreas Seppi 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, and seventh-seeded Matthew Ebden lost to Nicolas Jarry of Chile 6-2, 7-6 (4).

Rain cut short play and gave former No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov a day off after playing through two qualifying rounds.

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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.”