Serena Williams’ 1,000th match ends in defeat at Italian Open

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ROME — Serena Williams’ 1,000th tour-level singles match ended in defeat as she marked her return to action with a 7-6 (6), 7-5 loss to Nadia Podoroska in the second round of the Italian Open.

The eighth-seeded Williams, who hadn’t played since the Australian Open, rallied from a break down twice in the opening set and saved the first three set points she faced in the tiebreaker before Podoroska converted her fourth. The Argentine went on to win in 1 hour, 58 minutes.

“It’s tough to have a first match on clay. It was definitely kind of good to go the distance and to try to be out there, but clearly I can do legions better,” said Williams, who has won the Italian Open four times. “Maybe I do need a few more matches, so I’m going to try to figure that out with my coach and my team and see what we would like to do. I have been training for months, but it feels definitely different on clay to make that last adjustment.”

The 24-year-old Podoroska took a 5-2 lead in the second set but was broken at love the first time she tried to serve out the match. She broke Williams again in the 12th game to seal her third career win over a top-10 player.

“It’s special win. She’s a great athlete. She did too many things for our sport. It’s history,” Podoroska said. “So for me it’s very special. But most of all, I’m happy the way I played. I felt again comfortable on clay, on my game, and that’s most important for me.”

Defending champion Simona Halep was forced to retire with a left calf injury in the second set of her match against fellow former No. 1 Angelique Kerber.

The third-seeded Halep was leading 6-1, 3-3 before her injury.

Second-seeded Naomi Osaka is also out after losing 7-6 (2), 6-2 to Jessica Pegula of the United States. Fourth-seeded Sofia Kenin lost 6-1, 6-4 to Barbora Krejcikova.

Top-ranked Ashleigh Barty and former champion Karolina Pliskova earned straight-set wins, while Vera Zvonareva ousted 11th-seeded Petra Kvitova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

In the men’s tournament, Rafael Nadal held off a strong challenge from local teenager Jannik Sinner to prevail 7-5, 6-4.

Earlier, third-seeded Daniil Medvedev lost 6-2, 6-4 to fellow Russian Aslan Karatsev.

Cirstea beats Sabalenka at Miami; night matches rained out

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Sorana Cirstea advanced to her first semifinal of a WTA 1000 event in a decade, beating Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka 6-4, 6-4 at the Miami Open on Wednesday.

The 32-year-old Cirstea beat the highest-ranked opponent of her career by knocking off the second-ranked Sabalenka. Cirstea previously defeated No. 4 Caroline Garcia this month at Indian Wells and topped Garcia again in the second round at Miami.

“I think I’m a bit speechless,” Cirstea said. “I came out knowing that it’s going to be a really tough match. Aryna hits so hard, so I knew I had to hold my ground, and I’m very, very happy with my performance today.”

The 74th-ranked Romanian, who has two career singles titles, will face either Petra Kvitova and Ekaterina Alexandrova in the semifinals. The Kvitova-Alexandrova match had been scheduled for Wednesday night but was postponed to Thursday because of rain; also postponed was the men’s match between top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz and No. 10 Taylor Fritz.

Alexandrova advanced on Tuesday when Bianca Andreescu suffered a left ankle injury and left the court in a wheelchair. On Wednesday, the 22-year-old Andreescu tweeted that she tore two ligaments in her ankle and will be out indefinitely.

“It’s tough to say exactly how long it will take, but let’s just say it could’ve been much worse!! I’m going to take it day by day, and I am optimistic that with the right work, rehab, and preparation, I’ll be back on court soon,” the 2019 U.S. Open champion said in her social media post.

Sabalenka had six double faults, three of them on break points, and made 21 unforced errors to just nine for Cirstea.

“I guess people like to keep count of the age, the years, the results, but I never do that. I just mind my own business, work hard, do my thing, believe in my game, work with my coach Thomas Johansson – we just started in December and so far, I think it’s going great,” Cirstea said.

In the men’s draw, 11th-ranked Jannik Sinner beat Emil Ruusuvuori 6-3, 6-1.

Elena Rybakina hits 10 aces in Miami for 12th straight win

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina extended her winning streak to 12 matches by delivering 10 aces – her fourth consecutive outing with at least that many – in a 6-3, 6-0 victory over 25th-seeded Martina Trevisan in the Miami Open quarterfinals.

Rybakina has 46 aces through four matches at the hard-court tournament in Florida and a WTA-leading 201 this season.

The 23-year-old, who represents Kazakhstan, improved to 20-4 in 2023, including a run to the Australian Open final in January and a title at Indian Wells, California, last week.

She is trying to become only the fifth player to win the women’s trophies at Indian Wells and Miami in the same season. Top-ranked Iga Swiatek did it a year ago; she withdrew from Miami this time because of a rib injury.

“Of course it would be amazing to achieve something like that,” the 10th-seeded Rybakina said about the prospect of completing what’s known as the Sunshine Double, “but it’s still far away.”

So far in Rybakina’s career, 13 of her 18 semifinal appearances have come on hard courts. She will face No. 3 Jessica Pegula for a berth in the final after the American fought off two match points and outlasted No. 27 Anastasia Potapova 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2) in a match that ended just before 1:30 a.m. after play had been delayed by rain.

“I haven’t been that physically tired in just a really long time,” Pegula said. “Just the humidity was taking so much out of me, and I haven’t been able to play in humidity like that in a while. It was just really tough, so really, it was just pure will.”

Trevisan reached the French Open semifinals in 2022.

In fourth-round men’s action Tuesday, No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was beaten 7-6 (4), 6-4 by No. 14 Karen Khachanov, while defending champion Carlos Alcaraz, Taylor Fritz and Jannik Sinner all beat seeded opponents in straight sets.

Alcaraz, who returned to No. 1 in the ATP rankings last week, got past Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul 6-4, 6-4 to set up a meeting against Fritz, the top-ranked American man and seeded ninth in Miami.

Fritz compiled twice as many winners, 22, as unforced errors, 11, and only dropped serve once during a 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 7 Holger Rune. That put Fritz into his first quarterfinal in seven appearances in Miami – and his first matchup against Alcaraz, a 19-year-old from Spain who won the U.S. Open in September for his first Grand Slam title.

“I’m really excited for it,” Fritz said. “I think that a lot of people are really excited for that, too.”

No. 10 Sinner eliminated No. 6 Andrey Rublev 6-2, 6-4 and has yet to drop a set in the tournament.

Sinner’s next opponent will be unseeded Emil Ruusuvuori, a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 winner against No. 26 Botic van de Zandschulp.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedev, forced to start late and off his scheduled court after the rain, beat Quentin Halys 6-4, 6-2. He will face American Christopher Eubanks, who edged Adrian Mannarino in a pair of tiebreakers.

Khachanov will play Francisco Cerundolo, a semifinalist in Miami last year, in the other men’s quarterfinal.