Nadal ends losing streak against Zverev with win in Rome

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ROME — Rafael Nadal ended a run of three straight losses to Alexander Zverev with a convincing 6-3, 6-4 win over the German to reach the Italian Open semifinals on Friday.

Zverev beat Nadal in straight sets at the same stage in Madrid a week ago and their latest meeting was also one-sided.

Nadal raced to 4-0 in the first set and saved all eight break points he faced in the second.

“I played more solid than Madrid. Conditions are different,” Nadal said, alluding to the fact that the high-altitude of the Spanish capital allowed Zverev to dominate more with his serve. “Here are little bit more normal conditions. I was able to control a little bit more.”

Nadal, aiming for a record-extending 10th Rome title, will next face big-serving American Reilly Opelka, who reached his first Masters semifinals by edging Argentine qualifier Federico Delbonis 7-5, 7-6 (2).

Novak Djokovic’s quarterfinal against Stefanos Tsitsipas was suspended due to rain with Tsitsipas ahead 6-4, 2-1 and up a break in the second. The match, which had already been interrupted for 3 1/2 hours before resuming briefly, was scheduled to be completed on Saturday.

Another quarterfinal, Andrey Rublev vs. Lorenzo Sonego, didn’t get started.

In the women’s tournament, top-ranked Ash Barty retired from her rainy quarterfinal against 17-year-old Coco Gauff while leading 6-4, 2-1 due to a right arm injury.

“The pain was becoming too severe, so it was important that I listen to my body and of course try and do the right thing, knowing that we have a Grand Slam in two weeks,” Barty said, referring to the French Open.

Barty was coming off a period in which she played finals in three of four tournaments on two continents.

“It’s a pre-existing injury,” Barty said, adding that the arm issue first bothered her when she was “15 or 16 years old,” and that “it just pops up every now and again.”

Gauff’s opponent in her first clay-court semifinal will be French Open champion Iga Swiatek or two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina. Their quarterfinal was also postponed.

In the other half of the draw, 2019 Rome champion Karolina Pliskova rallied past 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (1) and will play Petra Martic.

Martic eliminated Jessica Pegula 7-5, 6-4 for her biggest result since recently hiring former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone as her coach.

The only real moment of concern for Nadal came when he tripped over the service line while running down a drop shot when he was serving for the first set.

The crowd of about 2,500 let out a collective gasp as Nadal tumbled onto the clay and rolled over onto his back wincing in apparent pain.

After putting Nadal’s reply away for an easy winner – the Spaniard still managed to get the ball over the net – Zverev hopped over the net to check on the 20-time Grand Slam champion.

Nadal got up, though, dusted himself off and served out the set with his back and even headband still covered in clay.

“Some lines are higher than the rest of court, so when you touch the line it’s dangerous,” Nadal said.

Zverev, the 2017 Rome champion and Madrid winner last weekend, had numerous opportunities to recover from an early break in the second set but Nadal stepped up his game each time and closed it out on his first match point with a perfectly executed serve-and-volley.

“I played a very solid match, with not too many mistakes – playing the way that I have to,” Nadal said. “It’s an important victory for me against a great player.”

The 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Opelka, not previously known for his clay-court tennis, overwhelmed Delbonis with 18 aces to record his fourth straight-set win of the week.

“I’m surprised. Clay is not really my thing,” Opelka said. “It’s probably just a fluke. But I’m OK with it.”

Opelka also saved all four break points he faced. But it wasn’t just his serve that made the difference.

The 47th-ranked Opelka hit a delicate slice volley drop-shot winner in the final game before the tiebreaker and produced a difficult backhand cross-court passing shot to set up the only match point he needed.

Opelka entered Rome on a six-match losing streak that included dealing with a bout of COVID-19.

“The first 10 weeks of the year I just didn’t play well. It wasn’t COVID-related at all,” Opelka said. “After you lose eight weeks in a row, the one thing you want to do is practice – not get COVID and be stuck inside for 2 1/2 weeks. But I guess it worked out.”

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.