Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nadal tops Djokovic for Italian Open title

   Some friendly advice for Novak Djokovic: Don't get those Grand Slam hopes too high.
   For Djokovic, who turns 25 today, to have a chance of continuing his quest for the Grand Slam, someone will have to beat Rafael Nadal, arguably the greatest clay-court player ever, in the French Open. The year's second Grand Slam tournament starts Sunday.
   Nadal reaffirmed his status as the French Open favorite with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over the top-ranked Djokovic on Monday in the final of the Italian Open in Rome. The match was postponed one day by rain.
   "I don't think I played that well," Nadal, who won a record sixth Italian Open and regained the No. 2 ranking, told reporters. "I can do better. When you are not serving 100 percent perfect, then you are in trouble because he returns hard. I am trying to play more aggressive, and I am hitting the ball better than last year."
   Since beating Nadal seven straight times, including in last year's Italian Open final, Djokovic has lost twice in a row to his Spanish rival. Djokovic also fell to Nadal in the Monte Carlo final last month while grieving his grandfather's death.
   "He is always the favorite even if I win against him seven times," Djokovic said. "He is the best player in the world on this surface, and the two (Italian Open titles) I had gave me confidence, and I think that the match today was quite close even if he won in straight sets."
   Nadal has French Open singles titles to Djokovic's none. But the Serb has won the last three Grand Slam crowns, including an epic victory over Nadal in this year's Australian Open final, and four of the last five. Roger Federer beat Djokovic in the semifinals of last year's French Open  before losing to Nadal.
   What about that Grand Slam quest, Nole (Djokovic's nickname)?
   "I cannot say that thought is not present. It's there," he conceded. "I am going and preparing for a Grand Slam as I prepare for any other big event, with more focus. It's two weeks long and the most important tournament, and we always want to deliver our best game. I feel good on the court, and I need to make a few adjustments before Paris, but I'll be in top form."
   World Team Cup in Dusseldorf, Germany -- Christopher Kas and Florian Mayer nipped Igor Kunitsyn and Dmitry Tursunov, a Sacramento-area resident, 6-4, 3-6, 10-8 tiebreak in Germany's 3-0 victory over Russia in the Power Horse World Team Cup.
   WTA in Brussels --  Australians Casey Dellacqua and Anastasia Rodionova surprised second-seeded Raquel Kops-Jones, a former NCAA doubles champion from Cal, and Abigail Spears of San Diego 7-6 (3), 6-2 in the first round of the Brussels Open.
   NCAA Championships in Athens, Ga. -- The top-ranked USC men will play for their fourth consecutive NCAA title today against No. 2 Virginia in a rematch of last year's final at Stanford. The Trojans (32-1) defeated UCLA 4-1, and the Cavaliers (28-1) downed Pepperdine by the same score.
   The No. 2 Florida women (26-1), meanwhile, will try to win their second straight NCAA crown when they face No. 1 UCLA (26-2). They advanced with 4-3 victories over No. 3 Duke and No. 4 USC, respectively.

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