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.

Gael Monfils withdraws from French Open with wrist injury

Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
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PARIS — A thrilling five-set victory took a toll on Gael Monfils, whose withdrawal from the French Open handed No. 6 Holger Rune a walkover to the third round.

The 36-year-old Frenchman said he has a strained left wrist and can’t continue.

He battled Sebastian Baez for nearly four hours on Court Philippe Chatrier before beating the Argentine 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 1-6, 7-5 in a first-round match that ended at 12:18 a.m. local time.

The victory was Monfils’ first at tour level this year, as the veteran was coming back from heel surgery.

“Actually, physically, I’m quite fine. But I had the problem with my wrist that I cannot solve,” he said. “The doctor say was not good to play with that type of injury. Yesterday was actually very risky, and then today definitely say I should stop.”

Monfils reached the semifinals at the French Open in 2008 and made it to the quarterfinals on three other occasions.

Mikael Ymer fined about $40K after default for hitting umpire stand with racket

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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PARIS — Swedish tennis player Mikael Ymer was docked about $40,000 after being disqualified for smashing his racket against the umpire’s chair at a tournament the week before he competed at the French Open.

An ATP Tour spokesman said Ymer forfeited about $10,500 in prize money and 20 rankings he earned for reaching the second round of the Lyon Open. Ymer also was handed an on-site fine of about $29,000.

The spokesman said the ATP Fines Committee will conduct a review of what happened to determine whether any additional penalties are warranted.

The 56th-ranked Ymer, who is 24 and owns a victory over current No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, was defaulted in Lyon for an outburst late in the first set against French teenager Arthur Fils last week.

Ymer was upset that the chair umpire would not check a ball mark after a shot by Fils landed near a line. As the players went to the sideline for the ensuing changeover, Ymer smacked the base of the umpire’s stand with his racket twice – destroying his equipment and damaging the chair.

That led to Ymer’s disqualification, making Fils the winner of the match.

After his 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 loss to 17th-seeded Lorenzo Musetti in the first round at Roland Garros, Ymer was asked whether he wanted to explain why he reacted the way he did in Lyon.

“With all due respect, I think it’s pretty clear from the video what caused it and why I reacted the way I reacted. Not justifying it at all, of course,” Ymer replied. “But for me to sit here and to explain? I think it’s pretty clear what led me to that place. I think that’s pretty clear in the video.”