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Serena, Venus will face each other at Italian Open

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ROME — Serena Williams looked sharper than in her previous match two months ago as she opened her clay-court season with a routine 6-4, 6-2 win over Swedish qualifier Rebecca Peterson on Monday.

Next up at the Italian Open: Sister Venus Williams in the siblings’ first meeting on European clay in nearly 17 years.

Venus, who won her only Rome title 20 years ago, defeated Elise Mertens 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (4) after more than three hours, requiring nine match points before eliminating her Belgian opponent.

The Williams sisters’ last match on red clay came in the 2002 French Open final won by Serena. In their last match in Rome, Venus won their second career meeting way back in the 1998 quarterfinals.

“That’s crazy,” Serena said. “I vaguely remember that, so I don’t really remember. … We play each other a lot. Seems like every tournament nowadays we meet early. It is what it is.”

Serena is now a 37-year-old mother and Venus is 38.

“It doesn’t change at all. We’re just as fierce, Venus is just as fierce,” Serena said. “We both really want to get some match play. We’ll both do the best that we can.

Serena leads the career series 18-12.

“I know that she’s going to play really well and compete really well,” Venus said. “That’s a given.”

In March at the Miami Open, Serena needed three sets to beat Peterson.

“It’s been a while. I haven’t played a ton of matches this year,” Serena said. “Not my choice, just by force. I really, really actually desperately wanted to be on the tour and to be playing. It felt good to finally be back out. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep it up.”

Serena fell behind 3-1 in the first set but then began to take control with her baseline power on a windy day at the Foro Italico.

When Serena ran down a passing attempt from Peterson and replied with a cross-court winner to break for 5-2 in the second set, she let out a scream and bent over as she pumped both of her fists.

In the final game, Serena served two aces and saved two break points before closing out the first-round match.

Serena finished with 28 winners to Peterson’s eight, and committed only two more unforced errors than the 58th-ranked Swede, 22-20.

Serena was playing for the first time since withdrawing ahead of her third-round match in Miami because of a left knee injury. The last time Serena played in Rome was in 2016 when she won the last of her four Italian Open trophies.

Serena is playing only her fourth tournament of the season and was unable to finish her last two due to physical ailments.

“I haven’t been able to train or practice a lot. I was out much longer than I expected,” Serena said. “But I did everything I could to stay fit and to keep my cardio up. I knew that I love the clay season and I wanted to be a part of it.”

In men’s action, Italy’s top player Fabio Fognini wore a shirt featuring a design of Rome’s skyline during a 6-3, 6-4 win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga; and Borna Coric rallied past Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 in a matchup of two of the top young players on tour. Auger-Aliassime struggled with his serve, hitting seven double-faults to Coric’s one.

Also, Karen Khachanov overcame a partisan crowd to beat Italian wild card Lorenzo Sonego 6-3, 6-7 (1), 6-3; while last year’s French Open semifinalist Marco Cecchinato was inspired by the home fans to beat Alex Di Minaur 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.

Spanish qualifier Albert Ramos-Vinolas eliminated Gael Monfils 6-3, 6-1; and Denis Shapovalov beat Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3, 7-6 (5).

Others advancing on the women’s side included Madison Keys, Garbine Muguruza, Johanna Konta and Dominika Cibulkova.

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.”