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WBA orders Dmitry Bivol to defend 175-pound belt against Gilberto Ramirez

Dmitry Bivol will have a tough test on his hands if he wants to stay a champion.

Bivol must face top contender Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez in a mandatory defense, the World Boxing Association revealed Wednesday. Ramirez is the No. 1 contender in the WBA’s 175-pound ranking.

Bivol had requested to face London’s Joshua Buatsi, per the WBA.

“After an extensive study of the same, the WBA denied such permission,” the sanctioning body said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Bivol (20-0, 11 KOs) is coming off a landmark win against Canelo Alvarez, ESPN’s top pound-for-pound fighter at the time. The Russian boxer won in a unanimous decision — 115-113 on all three scorecards — to successfully defend the belt for the eighth time.

Ramirez (44-0, 31 KOs) told ESPN he was surprised Bivol made the request to the WBA but was pleased with Wednesday’s ruling.

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“I felt that they were scared to fight me,” Ramirez said. “That’s why I’m so happy to fight him. I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long. Now it’s my time.”

The 31-year-old Mexican fighter is looking to become a two-division champion.

In 2016, he made history by becoming the first Mexican to win a super middleweight title when he outpointed Arthur Abraham. It set the table for Alvarez, who ran through the 168-pound division to become the first undisputed super middleweight champion in the four-belt era.

The ruling also suggests that if the two sides cannot come to terms by the end of Wednesday, a purse bid will be held for the fight’s rights. Matchroom Boxing promotes Bivol, and Golden Boy Promotions handles Ramirez.

If Bivol doesn’t want to face Ramirez, he could vacate the WBA belt, since Badou Jack relinquished the title in 2017. However, Ramirez said he doesn’t think Bivol will go that route.

Ramirez said he feels he presents the most lucrative option for Bivol and believes there is an appetite to see if a Mexican fighter can dethrone Bivol, something Alvarez couldn’t do in his ambitious attempt in May.

“It will be really surprising if he vacated the title,” Ramirez told ESPN. “Who else is he going to fight?” The matchup could be one of boxing’s most competitive title fights of the year.

Bivol is No. 2 in ESPN’s divisional rankings, trailing only Artur Beterbiev. Ramirez is slotted third following his win versus Dominic Boesel in May.

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Iga Swiatek routs Daria Kasatkina to reach French Open final

Iga Swiatek continued her march toward a second French Open title in three years when she wrecked Russian Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-1 to reach the final and tie Serena Williams for the second-longest winning streak of this century.

Swiatek’s 34th win in a row puts her one victory from winning her second Roland Garros title and matching Venus Williams for the longest streak on the tour since 2000.

Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion, has not lost since February and has dropped only two sets in her past four tournaments.

“I’m just trying to treat these matches as any other matches,” Swiatek said, “because it is stressful, and I accept that. But I want to keep doing the same work.”

The world No. 1 conceded an early break Thursday, but from 2-2 in the opener, Swiatek dropped only three points the rest of the first set, using her heavy forehand, quick-strike ability and all-court excellence to seize control with a five-game run.

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She then won the last nine points and clinched the triumph with her only ace of the 64-minute match.

The 20th-seeded Kasatkina, a first-time Grand Slam semifinalist, has two career wins over reigning No. 1 players but hit 24 unforced errors to Swiatek’s 13. Swiatek concluded with 22 winners, more than twice as many as Kasatkina’s 10.

She will meet American teenager Coco Gauff, the 18th seed, who defeated Italy’s Martina Trevisan 6-3, 6-1, in Saturday’s final.

“From what I see on court, she’s developing every year, basically,” said Swiatek of Gauff. “And when I see her, I tend to forget that she’s 18.”

With a win, Swiatek, who turned 21 on Tuesday, would become only the fourth woman in the Open era (since 1968) to win multiple French Open titles at age 21 or younger, joining Monica Seles (who won three), Steffi Graf and Chris Evert.

Swiatek again played with a ribbon in the colors of the Ukrainian flag pinned to her hat while facing her Russian adversary. Swiatek improved to 41-3 this season, with four of the wins coming against Kasatkina.

She has now won her past 13 contests against foes in the top 20 in the WTA rankings, conceding one set along the way.

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Andrey Rublev beats Novak Djokovic to win Serbia Open title

Andrey Rublev defeated Novak Djokovic 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-0 to collect the Serbia Open on Sunday for his third title of the season.

The second-seeded Russian player dug deep to stop Djokovic from mounting another comeback as he prevented the top-ranked Serb from claiming his first title of 2022.

The 24-year-old Rublev looked fitter in their third set as he closed out the win in 2 hours, 24 minutes.

Djokovic — who is 10 years older than Rublev — appeared affected by the effort he put in to level the match in the second-set tiebreaker.

Djokovic had already come back from a set down in each of his three matches at his hometown tournament, defeating Laslo Djere, Miomir Kecmanovic and Karen Khachanov on his way to the final in what were only his fifth, sixth and seventh matches of the year.

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The 20-time Grand Slam champion opened his clay-court season with a surprising loss to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina at the Monte Carlo Masters the previous week, his first match since being eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Dubai Championships in February.

Dubai was his first tournament of the year after he was barred from playing at the Australian Open because of his unvaccinated status, which also prevented him from playing tournaments in the United States last month.

Rublev, who dropped only one set as he eliminated Jiri Lehecka, Taro Daniel and Fabio Fognini on his way to the final, has now equaled Rafael Nadal’s mark of three tour-level titles in 2022, after victories in Marseille and Dubai in February.

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Daniil Medvedev rolls to win at Indian Wells in his first match since reaching No. 1 in men’s tennis rankings; Rafael Nadal survives

Daniil Medvedev defeated Tomas Machac 6-3, 6-2 on Saturday in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open, the Russian’s first tournament since ascending to No. 1 in the world.

Medvedev made quick work of his Czech adversary, finishing Machac off in just over an hour. The Russian won 80% of his first-serve points and saved the lone break point he faced.

Rafael Nadal didn’t have it as easy in opening his pursuit of a fourth title at Indian Wells. He got pushed to the limit by practice partner Sebastian Korda before winning 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (3), giving Nadal a 16-0 record this year.

“I started to play a little bit more crosscourt with my forehand and with having a little bit more of calm,” Nadal said. “He made a couple mistakes and I was able to save myself.”

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Nadal won the Australian Open in January for his record 21st major championship, breaking a tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. He gained other titles in Melbourne and in Mexico.

Nadal trailed 5-2 in the third set before winning four straight games with two breaks of Korda to take a 6-5 lead. Korda held at 6-all to force the tiebreaker. The 38th-ranked Korda led 3-2 and then Nadal reeled off five straight points to close out the 2 1/2-hour match.

“He’s one of the greatest players of all time. He’s super hot. Hasn’t lost a match this year,” Korda said. “To kind of push him to the edge was awesome. Shows a lot of my game, how dangerous it can be against tough opponents.”

Before the match, Nadal withdrew from the Miami Open, which starts March 21. He is managing a chronic condition in his left foot.

Earlier this week, Medvedev received a trophy commemorating his status atop the ATP Tour rankings.

He displaced Djokovic, who wasn’t allowed to enter the U.S. to play because he’s not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Medvedev has to reach the quarterfinals in the desert to stay in the top spot.

“If I’m going to lose it because I’m either going to play a bad match or my opponent is going to play an amazing one, there is the next tournament in Miami,” he said. “That’s how tennis is, every week is a new story. Right now it’s Indian Wells week and I want to make it a good story.”

Medvedev is among players from Russia and Belarus competing at Indian Wells without flags, symbols or anthems as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The decision to eliminate their national identity was made by the International Tennis Federation and both tours. “It’s definitely not for me to decide,” Medvedev said. “I follow the rules. I want to play my favorite sport.”

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Andrey Rublev ‘cannot imagine a better start’ after topping Daniel Evans at Dubai Championships

Second-seeded Andrey Rublev defeated Daniel Evans 6-4, 7-5 in the first round of the Dubai Championships on Tuesday, just two days after winning his ninth tour title.

The Russian, who defeated Felix Auger-Aliassime in the final at the Open 13 tennis tournament in Marseille, France, on Sunday, next faces Soonwoo Kwan after the South Korean beat Ilya Ivashka 6-3, 6-2.

The seventh-ranked Rublev also obtained the doubles title in Marseille with Ukrainian partner Denys Molchanov.

“I arrived at the hotel maybe at 2 a.m. today,” Rublev said in his on-court interview Tuesday. “I slept maybe six or seven hours. I was thinking that probably no chance for me to win, and here I am, I won my first round so I’m really happy. I cannot imagine a better start.”

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Karen Khachanov will face top-seeded Novak Djokovic in the second round after the Russian defeated Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-7 (1), 7-5.

On Monday, Djokovic won his first match of the year when he beat Lorenzo Musetti 6-3, 6-3.

The top-ranked Serb couldn’t defend his Australian Open title last month because he was deported from the country for being unvaccinated, but seemed at ease on the court after walking out to a raucous standing ovation.

“I have to be satisfied with my tennis, especially after not playing for two and a half, three months,” Djokovic said.

“Of course, there were moments when I played great, there were moments when I made a couple of unforced errors in a row uncharacteristically. But it’s normal to expect that [in my] first match after a while.”

Fourth-seeded Jannik Sinner outlasted Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3 and will next face Andy Murray.

American qualifier Mackenzie McDonald topped seventh-seeded Aslan Karatsev of Russia 7-5, 6-3 to set up a second-round match versus Filip Krajinovic of Serbia.

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Andrey Rublev knocks off Rafael Nadal to reach Monte Carlo semifinals

Andrey Rublev produced an audacious display of attacking tennis to hand record 11-time champion Rafael Nadal a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 defeat on clay in the Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinals on Friday.

The sixth-seeded Russian might have won even more convincingly, with Nadal saving break points at 3-1 down in the second set.

Nadal clawed his way back to win that set and seemed to have settled down, but Rublev broke him instantaneously at the start of the decider in which the 34-year-old Nadal looked very tired.

Rublev clinched his first win versus third-seeded Nadal on his first match point with a typically powerful winner on forehand — a weapon Nadal struggled to contain all match.

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“I don’t even know what to say. I cannot imagine being in the situation of Rafa, knowing that you are the best player on clay,” Rublev said. “I think for him it must be incredibly tough.”

Having beaten the 20-time Grand Slam champion on one of his clay strongholds, Rublev’s next opponent is unseeded Norwegian Casper Ruud.

The 22-year-old Ruud, who has just one career title compared to 86 for Nadal, also defeated a former champion by knocking out 2019 winner Fabio Fognini of Italy 6-4, 6-3.

“(Casper) is playing really well. I have known him a long time,” said Rublev, who is 3-0 against him overall. “He finished today much earlier. I will try to recover as best as I can.”

There are no former champions left, with Nadal and 15th-seeded Fognini joining two-time winner Novak Djokovic at the exit before the last four.

Nadal last won the tournament in 2018 and had high hopes after saying he was in good shape for clay. It certainly seemed so when he swept aside Grigor Dimitrov in under an hour Thursday in the third round.

It was a different story versus the 23-year-old Rublev, who drained Nadal after 2½ hours on court. Nadal hit seven double-faults, conceded 15 break points and dropped serve seven times — on his dominant surface and one of his favorite courts.

The aggressive Rublev upset Nadal’s rhythm in a first set where the Spaniard got only 48% of his first serves, made five double-faults, and hit 13 unforced errors.

By the second game of the second set, Nadal was angrily shouting at himself and — in a rare gesture of agitation — wildly swatted a ball away.

When Rublev saved break point in the fourth game of that set, Nadal stood perplexed with hands on hips. Then, he took 11 minutes to hold serve and stop Rublev leading 4-1.

The 13-time French Open champion drew on his immense physical resources to claw back, forcing Rublev into mistakes and breaking him in the 10th game to level matters. But Rublev showed just why he’s such a rising star.

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Novak Djokovic ends Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev’s golden run

Novak Djokovic had a perfect record in Australian Open semifinals, and he was playing almost flawless tennis to protect it.

It didn’t matter that across the net was Aslan Karatsev, a 114th-ranked, 27-year-old Russian who had come through qualifying to make his debut in a Grand Slam tournament after nine failed attempts.

Djokovic made only one unforced error in more than 50 minutes.

It was tight for the first seven games — before Djokovic reeled off eight consecutive points to win the first set — and again when Karatsev went on an all-or-nothing roll late in the second set.

Sensing a shift in support for the underdog — there was a vocal crowd at Rod Laver Arena after a five-day span when fans were barred during a local COVID-19 outbreak — Djokovic moved up a gear and finished off his opponent 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

He’s now 9-0 in semifinals at the season-opening major, and one victory from a ninth Australian title.

“The more I win, the better I feel coming back,” the top-ranked Djokovic said. “The love affair continues.”

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Djokovic, 33, will have a day off Friday when No. 4 Daniil Medvedev and No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is coming off a five-set victory over Rafael Nadal, meet in the other semifinal. Djokovic said he’d have a rest and get the popcorn ready to watch and see who he gets to face in Sunday’s final.

Given his past success in Melbourne, Djokovic should feel confident going into another championship match.

He already owns a record eight Australian titles, and he’s aiming for an 18th major title, which would reduce the gap to Roger Federer and Nadal, who share the men’s record at 20.

Djokovic also is aiming to be only the second man to attain nine or more titles at one of the four Grand Slams. Nadal has 13 at Roland Garros. Djokovic, in Australia, and Federer, with eight at Wimbledon, currently share second place.

“Recovery is the priority right now,” Djokovic said. “I’ve had enough match play, enough practice.

“Right now it’s just gathering all the necessary energy for the most important match of the Australian Open.”

Djokovic has been bothered by an abdominal muscle problem since the third round. He initially stated it was a tear, but has since refused to talk about the details until after the tournament.

After his victory over Karatsev, he said it’s “the best as I’ve felt the entire tournament.” “I felt great. I could swing through the ball. No pain. Best match so far,” Djokovic said. “It came at the right time. I’m thrilled to feel this way.”

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