Nadal beaten by Schwartzman in 1st tournament in 7 months

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ROME — Rafael Nadal’s first tournament in seven months ended with a 6-2, 7-5 loss to Diego Schwartzman in the quarterfinals of the Italian Open on Saturday.

Nadal, a nine-time champion in Rome, had never lost to the 15th-ranked Schwartzman in nine previous meetings. But Schwartzman dictated the baseline rallies and produced a series of drop-shot winners as Nadal uncharacteristically made unforced errors and struggled to get his first serve into play.

For two months during the lockdown, Nadal said, he didn’t touch a tennis racket.

“It’s a completely special year — an unpredictable year,” Nadal said. “At least I played three matches.”

While Nadal won his opening two matches this week in straight sets, his rustiness showed from the start against Schwartzman.

Nadal committed nearly twice as many unforced errors as Schwartzman, 30 to 17, and won only 29 of 63 points on his serve — resulting in five breaks.

“Losing that many serves you can’t expect to win a match,” Nadal said. “So something that I have to fix. I know how to do it.”

Nadal, who chose not to play the U.S. Open due to travel concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic, had not played a tournament since winning a title in Acapulco, Mexico, in February. He now has one week to regroup before he attempts to win a record-extending 13th French Open title.

Roland Garros starts next weekend.

“I’m going to keep working and keep practicing with the right attitude and I’m going to try to give (myself) a chance to be ready,” Nadal said.

Schwartzman came up with a series of clutch shots, perhaps none better than during the second game of the second set when he won a 17-shot rally to save a break point by running down a drop shot and passing Nadal with a forehand that landed on the line.

“It was my best match ever,” Schwartzman said.

Nadal suggested he struggled with the humidity on a warm evening.

“Conditions out there was much heavier than the previous days in terms of the bounces of the ball,” Nadal said. “Was difficult to push him back. He did a great job.”

Earlier, Novak Djokovic lost his cool again midway through a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over German qualifier Dominik Koepfer – less than two weeks after getting defaulted from the U.S. Open.

When Djokovic was broken at love to even the second set at 3-3, he slammed his racket to the red clay in anger.

With the frame broken and the strings all mangled, Djokovic was forced to get a new racket and received a warning from the chair umpire.

“It’s not the first nor the last racket that I’ll break in my career,” Djokovic said. “I’ve done it before and I’ll probably do it again. I don’t want to do it but when it comes, it happens.

“That’s how, I guess, I release sometimes my anger and it’s definitely not the best message out there, especially for the young tennis players looking at me, and I don’t encourage that — definitely.”

The top-ranked Djokovic was thrown out of the U.S. Open for unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball in a fit of anger.

At the Foro Italico, Djokovic had already appeared frustrated during the game before he broke his racket, glaring toward the umpire following a couple of overrules and a point that was ordered to be replayed.

“That’s just me,” Djokovic said. “Of course I’m not perfect and I’m doing my best.”

The 97th-ranked Koepfer, who screamed at himself in frustration throughout the match, was also warned for misbehavior early in the third set.

Aiming for his fifth title in Rome, Djokovic’s semifinal opponent will be Casper Ruud, who eliminated local favorite Matteo Berrettini 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in a match that lasted 2 hours, 57 minutes.

Schwartzman will next face Denis Shapovalov, who held off Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.

While fans have not been admitted to the tournament yet, Italy’s sports minister said Friday that 1,000 spectators will be allowed in for the semifinals and finals.

In the women’s tournament, top-seeded Simona Halep reached the last four when Kazakh opponent Yulia Putintseva retired midway through their match due to a lower back injury.

Halep was ahead 6-2, 2-0 when Putintseva decided she was in too much pain to continue — having already taken an off-court medical timeout between sets.

Halep, who lost two straight finals in Rome to Elina Svitolina in 2017 and 2018, will need to beat two-time Grand Slam winner Garbine Muguruza to return to the championship match.

Muguruza required more than two hours to eliminate U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

The other semifinal will feature last year’s French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova against fellow Czech and defending champion Karolina Pliskova.

Vondrousova beat Svitolina 6-3, 6-0, and Pliskova defeated Elise Mertens 6-3, 3-6, 6-0.

Nishioka beats Shapovalov to win Korean Open

2022 US Open - Day 1
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SEOUL, South Korea – Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka claimed his second career title after beating fourth seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada 6-4, 7-6 (5) to win the Korean Open.

The 27-year-old Japanese, who beat top seed and world No.2 Casper Ruud in the quarterfinals, was impressive in defense and his counter-punching style eventually wore down his higher ranked opponent in just under two hours at the Seoul Olympic Park Tennis Center.

The unseeded Nishioka, appearing in his second championship match this year after reaching the Washington final in August, started the brighter and found his rhythm early to claim the first set.

The second set saw momentum change as Shapavolov found his range from the backcourt to take a 3-1 lead. But Nishioka rallied to take the set into a tiebreak where he held firm to win his first tournament since his maiden title at the Shenzen Open in 2018 – where he also beat Shapovalov in their only previous meeting.

The ATP Tour returned to Seoul for the first time since 1996 after the city was awarded a single-year license to stage the Korean Open.

Mayar Sherif becomes first Egyptian to win WTA Tour event

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PARMA, Italy — Mayar Sherif became the first Egyptian to win a WTA Tour event by beating top-seeded Maria Sakkari 7-5, 6-3 at the Parma Ladies Open.

Besides earning her first career title, Sherif also notched her first win over a top-10 opponent.

Along with Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, who reached the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals this year, Sherif is raising the profile of tennis in North Africa.

The 74th-ranked Sherif actually had to win two matches on Saturday, first overcoming sixth-seeded Ana Bogdan 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the semifinals, which were postponed a day due to rain.

The seventh-ranked Sakkari beat Danka Kovinic 7-5, 6-2 in her semifinal earlier Saturday.