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Rafael Nadal bounces back with win over John Isner at Italian Open

Once is enough when it comes to beating Rafael Nadal on a clay court.

Throughout his career, Nadal has never lost consecutive matches on his favorite surface and the Spaniard extended that perfect record Wednesday by defeating John Isner 6-3, 6-1 to reach the third round of the Italian Open.

Nadal was coming off a loss to 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in the Madrid Open quarterfinals last week. After a first-round bye, he improved to 44-0 in matches on clay following a loss on the surface.

Perhaps more importantly, Nadal regained some confidence as he works his way back from a rib stress fracture that kept him out for six weeks before the tournament in Madrid.

While he would clearly love to add to his record total of 10 Italian Open titles, Nadal’s bigger objective is regaining his top form in time for the French Open, which starts in less than two weeks. Nadal has won 13 of his 21 Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros.

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When the match finished, Nadal headed straight to the practice court to hit more balls. He explained that he’s a “bit in a rush” to find his best form “as soon as possible.”

“I need to work as much as I can,” Nadal said. “The match today was not that demanding physically.”

It was essentially decided during one brief stretch.

Nadal struggled on his serve at 3-3 in the first set, missing a forehand into the net then double-faulting to set up break points for Isner. But the American made unforced errors on both of his break-point chances and Nadal eventually held.

In the following game, Nadal broke Isner’s serve when the 6-foot-10 American missed a comfortable forehand volley into the net. Nadal then held at love to close out the first set and broke Isner’s serve in the opening game of the second.

“I finished better than I started — without a doubt,” Nadal said. “He had some chances on the returns. I was in his hands in that moment. Lucky that he missed those shots.”

Nadal improved to 19-0 versus Americans on clay, having been forced to a deciding set only twice — both times by Isner, who pushed Nadal to five sets at the 2011 French Open and three sets at the 2015 Monte Carlo Masters.

Up next, Nadal meets Denis Shapovalov, the Canadian he beat at the same stage last year in a grueling three-set comeback triumph in which the Spaniard saved two match points.

“Super lucky,” Nadal said, reflecting back to playing Shapovalov last year. “I know how dangerous he is. I need to play better than today.”

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Jessica Pegula reaches Miami Open semifinals after Paula Badosa retires in first set

Forget three-setters. These days, Jessica Pegula doesn’t even need second sets.

The No. 16 seed has made the semifinals at the Miami Open, benefiting from a second consecutive abrupt ending. She won her quarterfinal versus fifth-seeded Paula Badosa on Wednesday, after the Spaniard retired five games into the first set.

Pegula has played four matches so far in this tournament, needing only 5½ sets to record those victories. She had a first-round bye, won her next two matches in consecutive sets and her fourth-round match ended when unseeded Anhelina Kalinina retired after Pegula won the first set 6-0.

Then came Wednesday, when Badosa bowed out down 4-1. “Of course, it’s not nice to win that way,” Pegula said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever even hit with her at all and I was really looking forward to playing because she’s been having an amazing year.”

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Badosa — who was No. 71 in the world rankings at this time last year — will climb to a career-best No. 3 when the computer numbers are updated on Monday. She would have gone to No. 2 had she beaten Pegula.

Badosa stated she woke up Monday not feeling well and wasn’t even sure she could play that day in a fourth-rounder versus Linda Fruhvirtova.

Badosa battled through, winning that match 6-2, 6-3, but was clearly not herself on Wednesday.

“She’s an incredible competitor,” Pegula said. “I think we all saw that last round where she clearly wasn’t feeling well and she was able to tough it out. I admire that a lot and hopefully next time we can both play when we’re healthy and feeling good and have a great match.”

Pegula will next face No. 2 Iga Swiatek — who becomes No. 1 in the world rankings on Monday — in Thursday night’s semifinals. Swiatek ousted No. 28 Petra Kvitova 6-3, 6-3 in the last women’s quarterfinal.

The other women’s semifinal is Thursday afternoon, when No. 22 Belinda Bencic will face unseeded Naomi Osaka.

Pegula has spent a total of 3 hours, 22 minutes on court in her four matches. That’s only four minutes more than it took for the Buffalo Bills to beat the Miami Dolphins 35-0 at Hard Rock Stadium last September, a game Pegula knows a little something about — since her parents own the Bills.

The Dolphins’ sprawling facility — which will also play host to a Formula One race later this spring — is the home of the Miami Open and the stadium court is inside Hard Rock Stadium. Other courts are built where parking lots around the stadium used to be, but the court where Pegula played Wednesday is a temporary structure constructed atop where the Dolphins’ field usually is.

“I’ve been here before, on this field, in a different scenario,” Pegula said. “But I’m sure we have some Bills fans here, so it’s nice to get another victory in this stadium.”

The quick end of the Pegula-Badosa match meant the stadium court sat empty for nearly two hours, until No. 9 Jannik Sinner — a finalist in Miami last year — faced unseeded Francisco Cerundolo in a men’s quarterfinal.

And after 22 minutes, that match was over — also in just five games. Cerundolo advanced when Sinner, down 4-1, retired with a blister on his right foot. “I couldn’t move. … I tried, but it didn’t work,” Sinner said.

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‘Rusty’ Federer beaten on ATP tour return in Geneva Open

A rusty Roger Federer was defeated 6-4 4-6 6-4 by Spaniard Pablo Andujar on his return to the ATP Tour at the claycourt Geneva Open on Tuesday, but there were still plenty of positives for the Swiss in his performance.

Federer missed nearly the entire 2020 season after twice having knee surgery. He returned to the Tour at the Qatar Open in March, but had not played since losing in the quarter-finals in Doha.

On Tuesday, the 39-year-old went toe-to-toe with Andujar in their first-ever meeting, showing plenty of encouraging signs with his shot-making and on-court movement ahead of the French Open.

After bouncing back in the second set, Federer looked poised to run away with the contest before an uncharacteristic lapse in concentration put paid to his hopes of an extended run at his home tournament.

Andujar, ranked 75th in the world, made a strong start, while Federer struggled to settle into his serving rhythm early on.

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The top seed landed just 40% of his first serves in the first set, but still never looked like being broken until a wobble in his final service game permitted Andujar to capitalize on two consecutive unforced errors and take the opener.

The second set was a different story.

Federer broke early to take a 2-1 lead and, with his serve finally firing, began imposing himself on proceedings, shortening the rallies with his serve-and-volley game and moving his adversary about at will.

Federer earned himself two set points with his first ace of the match and forced the contest into the decider with a powerful crosscourt forehand.

The third set followed a similar pattern to the second.

After both players held their opening service games Federer edged ahead to take a 2-1 lead, earning the break with a glorious passing shot at full stretch.

He held his next two service games to love, but it was Andujar who provided the late twist, breaking back to level the match at 4-4 and then holding to go 5-4 ahead.

Federer, under pressure and serving to stay in the match, handed the Spaniard two match points with a pair of unforced errors. He saved both, but Andujar regained the advantage when Federer struck a forehand wide off the frame of his racket.

The Spaniard sealed the victory when Federer sent another forehand wide, celebrating by clasping his head in his hands, with a stunned look on his face, before running to the net to shake hands with his opponent.

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Rafael Nadal wins 10th Italian Open title with victory over longtime rival Novak Djokovic

Rafa Nadal warmed up for the French Open with a battling 7-5 1-6 6-3 victory over world number one Novak Djokovic as the Spaniard claimed a record-extending 10th Italian Open title in Rome on Sunday in the latest chapter of their rivalry.

After a mid-match wobble, Nadal turned up the heat in the decisive moments of his 57th meeting with top seed Djokovic – the pair’s ninth in Rome – to secure the triumph over the defending champion in two hours and 49 minutes.

“I was lucky in some moments, especially against (Denis) Shapovalov,” Nadal said, referring to the round of 16 match he won in a tiebreak in the decider.

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“And then I think I played a good tournament, I have been playing better and better, finding my rhythm on clay. I had a very positive week and I’m very happy.

“It’s amazing to have this trophy in my hands for the 10th time. It’s something impossible to imagine but it happened so I’m super happy and can’t thank my team enough.”

Nadal broke to go ahead 6-5 in a tight opening set and staved off a late comeback attempt from Djokovic to take the early advantage in the contest with a searing inside-out forehand that caught the Serbian off guard.

But Djokovic, who lost to Nadal in their previous meeting in the Roland Garros final last year, pounced in the second set to race ahead 5-1 as the Spaniard’s intensity dropped and quickly leveled the match at one set apiece.

Second seed Nadal then saved two break points at 2-2 in the decider and fired an emphatic shot down the line to hold, before switching gears to complete the win and match Djokovic’s record of 36 ATP Masters 1000 titles.

Nadal will now target a 14th French Open crown when the claycourt Grand Slam starts on May 30.

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