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Federer loses to Thiem in Madrid Open quarterfinals

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MADRID — Roger Federer’s return to clay lasted only three matches.

A day after saving two match points at the Madrid Open, Federer squandered two match points himself in the quarterfinals against Dominic Thiem on Friday, losing 3-6, 7-6 (11), 6-4.

It may have ended his first appearance at a clay-court tournament in three years, but Federer wasn’t leaving the Spanish capital too disappointed with the outcome of his return.

“I feel very good about my game. I thought I had some good matches here,” Federer said. “I feel good on the clay right now. It’s been a good week. Frustrating, clearly. Losing with match points is the worst, so that’s how I feel. But nevertheless, if I take a step back, it’s all good.”

Federer skipped the clay swing the past two years to remain fit for the rest of the season. He decided to return this year in preparation for his first French Open appearance since 2015.

The fifth-seeded Thiem, runner-up in Madrid the last two seasons, will next face top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who didn’t have to play his quarterfinal after Marin Cilic withdrew because of food poisoning.

Thiem has a chance to win his third title of the year after victories in Barcelona and Indian Wells, where he defeated Federer in a three-set final.

“Facing him, it always requires my absolute best game and also a little bit luck, which I both had in Indian Wells and also here, and that’s why I won these two matches,” Thiem said.

The other semifinal will be between Stefanos Tsitsipas and five-time Madrid champion Rafael Nadal. Tsitsipas defeated defending champion Alexander Zverev 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, while Nadal cruised past Stan Wawrinka 6-1, 6-2.

Nadal lost only seven points on his service games, conceding no break opportunities against the 34th-ranked Wawrinka. The Swiss lost the 2013 Madrid final to Nadal.

“It was one of my best matches in a long time, my best match on clay this year,” the second-ranked Spaniard said. “It means a lot to have this feeling in this crucial moment of the clay season.”

On the women’s side, Simona Halep made it back to the Madrid final for the first time since 2017 with a 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-0 win over unseeded Belinda Bencic.

The French Open champion can surpass Naomi Osaka for the No. 1 ranking if she wins Saturday’s final.

“I don’t want to think about that. For me, it is more important to win the trophy here than being No. 1,” the third-ranked Halep said. “I prefer titles than numbers and rankings. So this is my goal, to play finals and to win trophies.”

She will face last year’s runner-up Kiki Bertens, who defeated Sloane Stephens 6-2, 7-5.

The 37-year-old Federer was trying to win his third Madrid title, and first since 2012. He has already won hard-court titles this season in Dubai and Miami.

Federer got off to a great start against Thiem at the Magic Box center court, breaking the Austrian’s serve early and cruising to a first-set win. He squandered five break points in the second, and then had match points at 8-7 and 10-9 in the tiebreaker before Thiem forced the deciding set by converting his sixth set point.

Federer had saved two match points in his difficult three-set win over Gael Monfils on Thursday.

Thiem broke Federer for the first time in the third game of the third set, converting his ninth break opportunity of the match. Federer got back on serve at 4-4, but started his next game 0-40 and couldn’t recover. Thiem then served out for the victory, converting on his second match point.

Thiem has won the last two matches he played against Djokovic, who got the day off because of Cilic’s withdrawal.

“It was supposed to be definitely a good match,” said Djokovic, who has played only four sets this week. “I went back on the court, trained for another hour and got a good sweat in. Happy that I’m going to be fresh for my semifinal.”

The top-seeded Serb is seeking a third Madrid Open title, and his second of the season after winning the Australian Open.

Thiem lost the Madrid final to Nadal in 2017 and to Alexander Zverev in 2018.

“I was playing Novak last year and two years ago and he was not at his best I guess, and now he is again,” Thiem said. “He’s won the last three Slams and he is at the top of the ranking again. So the challenge couldn’t be bigger.”

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.”