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Djokovic beats Thiem to reach Madrid Open final

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MADRID — Novak Djokovic defeated Dominic Thiem 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4) Saturday to reach the Madrid Open final for the third time.

Djokovic outplayed Thiem in both tiebreakers at the Magic Box center court, converting on his first match point to set up a final against either Rafael Nadal or Stefanos Tsitsipas, who play later Saturday.

It will be the second final of the season for the top-ranked Djokovic, who began the year by winning the Australian Open.

A victory on Sunday will give Djokovic his 33rd Masters 1000 title, tying Nadal for most all time.

Djokovic, who won in Madrid in 2011 and 2016, had played only four sets in the Spanish capital this week ahead of the semifinals. He didn’t play his quarterfinal match because Marin Cilic withdrew with food poisoning.

The fifth-seeded Thiem, who beat Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, had won two straight against Djokovic and was trying to make his third straight Madrid final following losses to Nadal in 2017 and Alexander Zverev in 2018. The Austrian was also attempting to become the first player to win three titles this season, adding to triumphs in Indian Wells and Barcelona.

“Dominic is one of the best tennis players in the world at this moment, especially on this surface, so this was a very big win for me,” Djokovic said. “I thought he was the favorite coming into this match because of his win in Barcelona and the way he played winning against Roger yesterday.”

Thiem got off to a good start by breaking Djokovic in the third game of the match, but the Serb quickly got back on serve and then cruised in the opening tiebreaker, dropping only two points.

Thiem converted one of his many break opportunities to go 4-2 ahead in the second set, but again Djokovic quickly recovered, breaking back in the following game. The two exchanged two more breaks late in the set, and Djokovic eventually prevailed in the deciding tiebreaker.

“I was still kind of trying to find my best game on clay,” Djokovic said. “These are exactly the matches that I need. I’m very, very pleased with this win.”

In the women’s final Saturday, two-time Madrid champion Simona Halep takes on Kiki Bertens, last year’s runner-up in the Spanish capital.

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.

More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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.”