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Nadal beats Auger-Aliassime to advance at Madrid Open

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MADRID — Rafael Nadal was concerned going into his first match at the Madrid Open.

He lost practice time ahead of the tournament because of a stomach virus and didn’t know exactly how his body would react when he stepped onto the “Magic Box” center court on Wednesday.

But despite the lack of preparation and the physical toll of the illness, Nadal cruised to a 6-3, 6-3 win over Canadian teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime to reach the third round in the Spanish capital.

Playing only a few days after falling ill, Nadal lost only four points on his serve in the first set and broke Auger-Aliassime three times in the second.

“I’ve had this stomach virus for a few days so this was a very important match for me,” the second-ranked Spaniard said. “I’ve been improving but obviously the body remains a bit debilitated for a while. I’m very happy with the victory. It was very important.”

Nadal is trying to rebound from consecutive eliminations in the semifinals of both Monte Carlo and Barcelona, which marked his worst start to the clay-court season in four years.

“The important thing is to win, you know, especially given what’s happened in the last three days,” he said. “In general, it’s a day to be very satisfied, very happy.”

A five-time champion in Madrid, Nadal will next face American Frances Tiafoe, who defeated Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

“He is playing really well,” Nadal said of Tiafoe. “He has that drive and energy and it will be a good test for me and an opportunity for me to play a tough match and to keep improving.”

The 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime is having his breakthrough season on tour, having moved to 30th in the rankings after reaching the final in Rio and the semifinals in Miami.

He converted on his only break opportunity of the match late in the second set, but Nadal broke right back to close out the match at the “Magic Box” center court. The 17-time Grand Slam champion converted four of his 10 break opportunities, with the last one coming on his sixth-match point of the final game.

Earlier, Juan Martin Del Potro squandered a match point in a 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 loss to Laslo Djere in his second tournament since injuring his knee in October. Del Potro converted only two of his 11 break opportunities, failing to capitalize on the match point at 5-4 in the final set. The Argentine had last played in Delray Beach in February, losing in the quarterfinals.

Stan Wawrinka defeated Guido Pella 6-3, 6-4 and will face Kei Nishikori, who got past Bolivian qualifier Hugo Dellien 7-5, 7-5.

Fabio Fognini beat John Millman 6-2, 6-2, while Gael Monfils edged Marton Fucsovics 1-6, 6-4, 6-2. Estoril Open champion Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Adrian Mannarino 6-2, 7-5.

On the women’s side, top-ranked Naomi Osaka reached the quarterfinals with a straight-set win over Aliaksandra Sasnovich and will next face Belinda Bencic, who dropped only two games in her victory over Kateryna Kozlova.

“I’m at a really good place right now,” Osaka said. “I feel like I’m having fun playing tennis again, which is always a good thing for me and I always play well if I have that mentality.”

Sloane Stephens needed three sets to defeat Saisai Zheng, while third-seeded Simona Halep routed Viktoria Kuzmova 6-0, 6-0.

“I think everything went very well for me to today,” said Halep, a two-time champion in Madrid. “I felt the ball, every single shot.”

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.”