Rafael Nadal: Madrid loss a step backward ahead of French Open

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MADRID — Rafael Nadal’s good run preparing for the French Open has suddenly hit a speed bump.

Nadal’s quarterfinal loss to Alexander Zverev at the Madrid Open came as an unexpected setback in a week in which the king of clay said he was feeling good about his game.

“Negative feelings because this was an important week for me,” Nadal said. “I had been progressing, but sometimes when you are going up the stairs you may take a step backward, and that’s what happened today.”

Nadal lost to No. 6-ranked Zverev 6-4, 6-4 after comfortable wins against up-and-comers Carlos Alcaraz and Alexei Popyrin.

“The entire week I did things well, both in training and in the matches,” Nadal said. “Today again, but when it counted, in the decisive moments, I did everything wrong.”

Nadal has been trying to regain his best form after not playing much because of the coronavirus pandemic. He got off to a slow start on clay by his standards, being eliminated by Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo then won the Barcelona Open after dropping multiple sets through that week. At the start of the year at the Australian Open, he lost in the quarterfinals.

He will attempt to win a 10th Italian Open next week to complete his buildup for a 14th French Open trophy.

He said he was frustrated because he felt like he played better than Zverev at times but could not take advantage of his chances. He felt like he let the quarterfinal slip away by making “too many unjustified mistakes.”

“It was a different match than the one against Rublev (in Monte Carlo), when the conditions favored me. Here there was a sensation that I was not in control of things, so when you lose it feels like things are worse than they really are.”

Nadal said he doesn’t enjoy the faster pace in Madrid, prompted by the high altitude in the Spanish capital, even though he’s won the tournament five times.

Nadal still tried to look on the bright side.

“It was a week with many positive things. I did a lot of things well in training,” he said. “I leave Madrid with good sensations in general, but with a bad sensation of having played a match like today.”

Unseeded Parks beats top-seeded Garcia for her 1st title

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LYON, France — Unseeded American Alycia Parks secured a stunning 7-6 (7), 7-5 upset win over WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in the Open Metropole de Lyon final to clinch her first career title.

“I think France has a special part in my heart right now,” Parks said. “I’ll be back next year.”

The 22-year-old Parks, who is ranked 79th, had 15 aces and saved all four break points against the top-seeded Garcia.

Parks secured the only break of a tight contest to win the match.

The fifth-ranked Garcia, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, was seeking a 12th career title.

“Congrats on a great tournament,” Garcia told Parks in English. “If you keep playing like this for sure you’re going to keep going up (the rankings).”

Parks has a career-best ranking of 75th.

The 29-year-old Garcia, who grew up in Lyon, took time to thank her home crowd – this time in French.

“It means a lot to play here, thanks for being here,” Garcia said. “You supported me from the first point to the last. Thanks for all your encouragement.”

Zhu beats Tsurenko to win Thailand Open

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Zhu Lin of China won her maiden career title after beating Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the Thailand Open.

In a match lasting one hour and 45 minutes, both players exchanged nail-biting baseline rallies before Zhu finally found a way past her determined opponent.

The 29-year-old Chinese player managed a break to go up 5-3 in the first set. Although she was broken to love in the following game, Zhu returned the favor straight back, also to love, to take the opening set in 46 minutes.

The second saw players trade breaks with Zhu eventually securing her first match point at 5-3. She sprayed a shot wide to miss the chance but capitalized on her third in the 10th game with a backhand winner.

“I’m so happy to finally win my first tour title. All the hard work finally paid off,” said the No. 54-ranked Zhu, who will crack the top 50 when the new WTA rankings are updated.

Zhu has started the season strongly, reaching the quarter-finals in Auckland and the last 16 at the Australian Open.

The victory also allowed Zhu to avenge her loss to the Ukrainian at the WTA Dubai Championships back in 2019.

Despite the loss, the No. 136-ranked Tsurenko, 33, will return to the top 100.