Novak Djokovic shows he’s back in top form with Italian Open title

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ROME — Just in time.

Novak Djokovic raised his first trophy of the year at the Italian Open and showed that he’s back in top form exactly a week before the French Open starts.

After missing a large portion of the season because he wasn’t vaccinated against the coronavirus, the top-ranked Djokovic beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-0, 7-6 (5) for his sixth Rome title.

“I’ve been building my form the last few weeks,” Djokovic said. “It couldn’t be better timing coming into Roland Garros.”

“Perfect scenario for me,” Djokovic added later.

Earlier on the red clay, Iga Swiatek defended the women’s title by overwhelming Ons Jabeur 6-2, 6-2 to extend her winning streak to 28 matches.

Djokovic didn’t drop a set all week, having won his 1,000th career match over Casper Ruud in the semifinals.

Djokovic, who was deported because of his un-vaccinated status ahead of the Australian Open, hadn’t won a tournament since raising the Paris Masters trophy in November.

“This year it was a particular situation. With everything that happened in Australia, it took some time,” Djokovic said. “I found my best shape here. I’m going to Paris with a lot of confidence.”

It was Djokovic’s 12th final at the Foro Italico.

“This court has always been very, very special,” he said. “It’s given me joy when I really needed positive sensations. Whenever my form was a bit down I’ve found energy in this city.”

Djokovic needed only a half hour to win the opening set, during which Tsitsipas got so frustrated at one point that he banged his racket against his bag during a changeover and mangled the frame.

After falling behind early in the second set, Djokovic stepped up his game when Tsitsipas served for the set at 5-3.

First, Djokovic ripped a forehand cross-court return winner that landed on the line, then on the next point he pushed Tsitsipas from corner to corner before the fifth-ranked Greek player resorted to a drop shot attempt that landed in the net. Djokovic celebrated with a series of fist pumps as the crowd chanted his nickname: “NO-LE, NO-LE.”

When a backhand from Tsitsipas sailed wide on the first match point, Djokovic simply raised his arms and smiled.

During the trophy ceremony, Djokovic made a special dedication: “Today at 4 (p.m.) when we started this match, my son Stefan, who is 7 years old, was playing his first tennis match. I hope he won. This is for him.”

The 20-time Grand Slam champion reached the final of his home Serbia Open last month. He was beaten by 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in the Madrid Open semifinals last week.

Djokovic produced 24 winners to Tsitsipas’ eight and had only 14 unforced errors to Tsitsipas’ 20.

Swiatek was a surprise champion at the French Open in 2020 when she was ranked No. 54. Now the 20-year-old Polish player is the favorite to add a second title at Roland Garros when the year’s second Grand Slam starts.

“I already know that I did some great stuff this season, so I feel like I can just play freely,” Swiatek said. “For sure the expectations around are higher, but I never had a problem to cut it off and not to think about it. Also I’m gaining experience at that.”

Swiatek has won five straight titles during her run.

“All these tournaments that I’ve won seem pretty surreal right now,” she said.

Jabeur was on a streak of her own with 11 consecutive wins entering the final after her Madrid Open title last week but the Tunisian’s crafty game of drop shots and spins proved no match for Swiatek’s swift movement and accurate groundstrokes.

“Iga is the No. 1 for a reason,” Jabeur said. “She’s really the leader here on tour. I personally have a lot to learn from her.”

When a backhand from Jabeur landed in the net to end it, Swiatek sunk down to the clay and covered her face with her hands as she bent over.

The last player to win more consecutive matches was Justine Henin, who won 32 straight over 2007 and 2008. The all-time longest streak belongs to Martina Navratilova, who had a run of 74 in 1984.

Swiatek last defeat came in mid-February in Dubai to Jelena Ostapenko in a third-set tiebreaker. She has won 42 of the last 43 sets she’s contested.

Alcaraz loses to Goffin in 1st match as No. 1

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Carlos Alcaraz’s first match as the No. 1-ranked player ended with a straight-set loss to David Goffin at the Astana Open.

The 19-year-old Spaniard lost 7-5, 6-3 in his first tour match since winning the U.S. Open and capturing the No. 1 ranking.

“David was playing really, really well. To come back to competition is never easy,” Alcaraz said. “It’s really tough for me, for my confidence.”

Alcaraz came from 5-2 down to level the first set at 5-5, only to be broken again by his Belgian opponent.

“When you play against the World No. 1 on a big stage, big crowd, the fire inside gives you so much power to play your best tennis because you don’t have any choice,” Goffin said. “You have to fight and give your best and that was the case today.”

Second-seeded Daniil Medvedev and No. 3-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas both avoided similar upsets. Medvedev beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain 6-3, 6-1 and Tsitsipas ousted Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3. 6-4.

Kasatkina knocks out Raducanu at Agel Open

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — Fifth-seeded Daria Kasatkina defeated 2021 U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu 7-5, 6-4 to advance to the second round of the Agel Open.

Kasatkina was playing her first match since losing in the first round of the U.S. Open and will next face Ekaterina Alexandrova.

Sixth-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland rallied to eliminate former top-five player Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 6-7 (7), 6-1, while Aliaksandra Sasnovich upset eighth-seeded Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-2.

American qualifiers Alycia Parks and Catherine McNally both advanced. Parks upset Czech Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 7-6 (3) and McNally eased past Anna Blinkova 6-1, 6-2 at the indoor hardcourt event in the Czech eastern city of Ostrava.