Monday, September 21, 2020

Djokovic breaks record; Halep breaks through

Novak Djokovic won the Italian Open for his 36th Masters 1000 title, breaking
the record he had shared with Rafael Nadal. 2017 photo by Mal Taam
   The temper is still there, but so is the phenomenal game.
   In his first tournament since being defaulted from the U.S. Open, top-ranked Novak Djokovic defeated eighth-seeded Diego Schwartzman 7-5, 6-3 today for his fifth Italian Open title in Rome.
   Top-seeded Simona Halep won the women's title for the first time, beating second-seeded Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 2-1, retired (left thigh) in a matchup of 28-year-olds and former world No. 1s.
   Djokovic, who received warnings for smashing a racket in anger in the quarterfinals and uttering an obscenity in the semifinals, won his 36th Masters 1000 (the highest level besides the Grand Slams) crown to break a tie with Rafael Nadal for the record.
   The 33-year-old Djokovic, the only player to win all nine Masters 1000 tournaments at least twice and the oldest player to win the Italian Open, passed his idol, Pete Sampras, with 287 weeks at No. 1 for second behind Roger Federer's 310.  
   Djokovic lost only one set in his five matches in Rome but was extended to a tiebreaker in the third round and lost the first three games (two service breaks) against Schwartzman.
   "It was a great week, a very challenging week," Djokovic, who improved to 31-1 this year, said in an on-court interview. "I don't think I played my best tennis throughout the entire week, but I think I found my best tennis when I needed it the most, the decisive moments today, yesterday, practically every match. That makes me definitely very satisfied and proud."
   Djokovic now turns his attention to the French Open, which begins Sunday. A four-time finalist at Roland Garros, he won the 2016 title to complete a career Grand Slam.
   Schwartzman, only 5-foot-7 (1.70 meters) and 141 pounds (64 kilograms), rose two spots to No. 13, two short of his career high in June 2018. The 28-year-old Argentine beat Nadal, a nine-time Italian Open champion, for the first time in 10 matches in the quarterfinals and edged 12th-seeded Denis Shapovalov 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (4) in 3 hours, 15 minutes in the semifinals.
   Halep recorded her 14th consecutive victory and 19th in her last 20 matches. The Rome runner-up in 2017 and 2018, she lost her opening match there last year to Marketa Vondrousova, who was 19 at the time.
   "I've finally won it," Halep, who will turn 29 on Sunday, gushed in an on-court interview. "I love this tournament, and I play well here almost every year – besides last year, of course.
   "I started my rise up the rankings at this tournament in 2013, so I've always dreamed of having this title. I'm really happy that it happened today."
   Halep has reached three French Open finals, winning the first of her two Grand Slam titles in 2018. Pliskova, the runner-up in the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, said she hopes to be ready for Roland Garros.
   WTA Tour — Japan's Nao Hibino, who won the inaugural Stockton (Calif.) Challenger in 2015 at 20, beat eighth-seeded Sloane Stephens, a 27-year-old Fresno product, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 in the first round of the Internationaux de Strasbourg. 
   Stephens, the runner-up to Halep in the 2018 French Open, has lost in the opening round of eight of her 10 tournaments this year.

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