Top-ranked Djokovic loses, No. 3 Nadal eases into quarters

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MONACO — Top-ranked Novak Djokovic lost 6-4, 7-5 to Dan Evans in the third round of the Monte Carlo Masters for his first defeat of the year.

No. 3 Rafael Nadal had no such problems, breezing past Grigor Dimitrov 6-1, 6-1 to reach the quarterfinals of a tournament he has won a record 11 times.

It was an unusually sloppy performance from Djokovic, the Australian Open champion who has 82 career titles compared to one for his unseeded British opponent.

“I don’t want to take anything away from his win, but from my side I just felt awful on the court,” Djokovic said. “Nothing worked. It’s one of those days.”

Having won in Melbourne for his 18th major title, Djokovic was 10-0 in 2021 coming into the match. But he faced pressure from the outset as he trailed 3-0 in the first set.

“Should have and could have done much, much better,” Djokovic said. “I can’t take anything positive away from this match.”

He dropped his serve five times in windy conditions.

“Tough to play in these kind of conditions against a guy like Evans who makes you move,” Djokovic said. “He’s very unpredictable with his shots. He dismantled my game.”

Evans, after breaking for a 6-5 lead in the second set, clinched victory on his first match point with a forehand winner that clipped the net.

“It probably hasn’t sunk in yet, I couldn’t quite believe that last ball went over the net. It nearly didn’t,” said Evans, who is ranked 33rd. “It’s clearly a big win. That’s the biggest thing, you’ve got to believe you can win. Serving it out isn’t easy, you’ve got all these things going through your head.”

Nadal broke Dimitrov’s serve five times in a lopsided contest that saw the 14th-seeded Bulgarian double-fault three times in his opening service game.

“Sorry for him. He played a bad match, that is the truth,” Nadal said. “I was doing the right things, but it is true that today was more his fault than my good tennis.”

Nadal next faces sixth-seeded Andrey Rublev, after the Russian beat ninth-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-3.

Evans will play his first Masters quarterfinal against 11th-seeded David Goffin, who upset fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev 6-4, 7-6 (7). Goffin saved all six break points he faced and broke the imposing German’s serve once.

In other third-round play, No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas advanced 6-3, 6-4 against Cristian Garin and the big-serving Greek will meet Alejandro Davidovich Fokina after he beat wild-card entry Lucas Pouille 6-2, 7-6 (2).

No. 15 Fabio Fognini, the 2019 champion, won 6-2, 7-6 (1) against Filip Krajinovic. The Italian, who convincingly beat a subdued Nadal in the semifinals two years ago, plays Casper Ruud. The unseeded Norwegian won 7-6 (4), 5-7, 7-5 against No. 12 Pablo Carreno Busta.

The clay-court tournament was canceled last year because of the coronavirus.

Vini Zabù team withdraws from Giro d’Italia after doping cases

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MILAN — Italian cycling team Vini Zabu withdrew from the Giro d’Italia while awaiting a decision from the UCI over a possible suspension because of two doping cases.

The team said the decision comes “despite showing to the relevant bodies (we) have adopted the most strict measures” to fight doping.

It adds that an “internal investigation has confirmed” the innocence of its athletes and the entire team regarding “any unfair practice.”

The UCI said last month that Matteo De Bonis has been provisionally suspended pending a disciplinary case after testing positive for the blood-boosting hormone EPO in a sample taken on Feb. 16.

De Bonis was targeted for testing during training by the Lausanne-based International Testing Agency, the UCI said.

Vini Zabu also had rider Matteo Spreafico test positive twice for the trial drug ostarine in October at last year’s Giro.

The UCI said it would “shortly refer the matter to the disciplinary commission which will render a decision in due course.”

Teams with two doping cases in a 12-month period can be banned from racing for 15 to 45 days. The three-week Giro starts on May 8.

The team said it asked De Bonis to cooperate with the authorities and turn the case into an instrument that can fight against “organizations that make deals with the trade of banned substances.”

It adds that the Giro withdrawal “is an act of love for cycling.”

Zabu received a wild-card invitation to the Giro and race organizer RCS announced later that the slot would go to the Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec team instead.

Djokovic, Nadal make winning returns at Monte Carlo Masters

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MONACO — Returning from a long break, both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal opened their clay-court seasons with victories Wednesday at the Monte Carlo Masters.

Djokovic produced a clinical 6-4, 6-2 win over up-and-coming Jannik Sinner before Nadal – an 11-time champion at the Country Club – defeated Federico Delbonis 6-1, 6-2.

Both Nadal and Djokovic took some time off after the Australian Open, where Djokovic claimed a record-extending ninth title in February.

Facing a stern test against Sinner, the top-ranked Djokovic eased into his clay-court routine to reach the third round and improve his unbeaten record this season to 10-0.

“It was a very good encounter. I thought it was a great first match, a big challenge for me,” said Djokovic, who is a Monaco resident. “I just hung in there today and managed to find the right shots and the right game at the right time.”

After dropping his serve early, Djokovic won four straight games.

Sinner, who arrived in Monte Carlo following a runner-up finish in Miami, saved two match points but was too often troubled by Djokovic’s mix of baseline attacks and subtle drop shots. The 19-year-old Sinner bowed out on a double-fault.

Djokovic will next face Daniel Evans, who beat Hubert Hurkacz 6-4, 6-1.

Djokovic, who beat Nadal in the 2013 final and won the tournament again in 2015, could face the Spaniard in Sunday’s final.

Against Delbonis, an Argentine qualifier, Nadal saved four of the five break points he faced and was in total control. He will take on Grigor Dimitrov in the next round.

“I think I just really played a solid match. Nothing unbelievable, but nothing wrong,” Nadal said. “Just a solid match, a positive start.”

The Monte Carlo Masters is back on the calendar with no fans after it was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Defending champion Fabio Fognini also advanced to the third round, beating Jordan Thompson 6-3, 6-3. Fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas progressed with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Aslan Karatsev and Alexander Zverev defeated Lorenzo Sonego 6-3, 6-3. Also, Casper Ruud earned his second top-10 victory with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over ninth-seeded Diego Schwartzman.