Back on top: Nadal beats Djokovic for 9th Italian Open title

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Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates as he receives his trophy after winning the final against Serbia's Novak Djokovic in the Italian Open in Rome on May 19, 2019. (REUTERS/Matteo Ciambelli)
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Rafael Nadal of Spain (L) is congratulated by Novak Djokovic of Serbia after winning during their ATP Masters tournament final tennis match at the Foro Italico in Rome on May 19, 2019. (AFP / Tiziana Fabi)
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Rafael Nadal of Spain returns to Novak Djokovic of Serbia during their ATP Masters tournament final tennis match at the Foro Italico in Rome on May 19, 2019. (AFP / Tiziana Fabi)
Updated 19 May 2019

Back on top: Nadal beats Djokovic for 9th Italian Open title

  • The Spanish champion lost in the semifinals of 4 straight clay-court tournaments, including the Madrid Open
  • Karolina Pliskova moves up to No. 2 in the rankings after beating Johanna Konta in the women's final

ROME: Rafael Nadal is right back where he wants to be.
After losing in the semifinals of three straight clay-court tournaments, Nadal dominated for stretches against his longtime rival, Novak Djokovic, in a 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 win Sunday for a record-extending ninth Italian Open title.
“You were asking for titles. Finally I have a title,” Nadal told reporters. “Here we are. Important title, important moment.”
It marked the first time in an Open Era-record 54 meetings, and in their 142nd set against each other, that Nadal won a set against Djokovic without conceding a game — otherwise known as a bagel.
In all, Nadal had a career-high four bagel sets in this tournament.
“I played a great first set in all aspects. No mistakes. Playing so aggressive, changing directions,” Nadal said. “It’s not usual and probably will not happen again.”
The timing for Nadal’s return to form could not have been more opportune, as he will seek a record-extending 12th title at the French Open starting next weekend.
“Winning a title is important but for me the most important thing is (to) feel myself competitive, feel myself healthy,” Nadal said. “Then with the feeling that I am improving. I know if I’m able to reach my level you can win, you can lose, but normally I’m going to have my chances — especially on this surface.
“Now is the moment to keep going,” Nadal added.
In the women’s final, Karolina Pliskova captured the biggest clay-court trophy of her career by beating Johanna Konta 6-3, 6-4.
Top-ranked Djokovic, meanwhile, appeared exhausted after spending more than 5 ½ hours on court against Juan Martin del Potro and Diego Schwartzman the previous two days.
Djokovic was also coming off the Madrid Open title last week.
“I don’t want to talk about fatigue or things like that,” Djokovic told the crowd during the post-match ceremony. “Rafa was simply too strong today.”
Speaking to reporters later, Djokovic said, “I was just running out of fuel a little bit today. Just kind of missed that half a step, especially on the backhand side.”
The Foro Italico crowd continually tried to encourage Djokovic with chants of “Vai Nole!” — Go Nole! — but the top-ranked Serb struggled with his overhead and drop shots.
Midway through the second set, Nadal chased down a lob with an over-the-shoulder shot and Djokovic’s ensuing overhead landed in the net to conclude a long point.
Djokovic again netted an overhead in the next game and then kicked the ball in frustration when he missed a drop shot attempt late in the second.
But Djokovic hung around in the second and converted his first set point when a looping forehand from Nadal sailed wide for his first break of the match. As he walked to his chair after winning the second set, Djokovic waved his arms to get the crowd behind him.
However, Djokovic didn’t have much left in the tank.
When Nadal pushed Djokovic deep into the corner in the opening game of the third set and Djokovic’s desperation lob sailed long to hand Nadal a break, Djokovic smashed his racket to the clay three times in frustration and received a warning from the chair umpire.
Djokovic won only 29 percent of the points on his second serve and committed 39 unforced errors to Nadal’s 17. Also, Nadal won 23 of the 31 rallies with nine or more shots.

PLISKOVA NO. 2
Pliskova’s victory will move her up to No. 2 in the rankings and makes her one of the contenders for Roland Garros.
“I just hope to take the tennis I was playing here to Paris,” Pliskova said. “For sure there’s going to be a chance for me if I play this way.”
The 2016 US Open runner-up, Pliskova also reached the Australian Open semifinals and the Miami Open final after opening this season with a title in Brisbane, Australia. But she lost in the second round of her previous two tournaments on clay in Stuttgart, Germany, and Madrid.
“Nobody really gave me chance for this tournament — even me,” Pliskova said. “Before the tournament, I was not super confident, not thinking about the final at all. I was just happy with every match which I played. So it’s little bit like a miracle for me.”
The unseeded Konta appeared nervous at the start, double faulting then landing a backhand into the net to hand Pliskova a break in her opening service game.
In the second set, Pliskova used a swinging forehand volley putaway to break for a 4-3 lead and never looked back.
“It’s always tough playing Karolina,” Konta said. “There’s rarely really a rhythm to the match. She plays with big shots, quite flat, and big serves. It can feel sometimes you’re fighting an uphill battle. That was the case today.”
Pliskova attributed a lot of her success to Conchita Martinez, the four-time Rome champion who she recently named her head coach.
“She loved clay so she knows exactly what I should do,” Pliskova said of Martinez. “There were small differences: movement, maybe to put more topspin on the balls, use drop shots — which I never use, but I start little bit, and to mix also the serves. ... I know she loved this tournament. I think she prayed so I could win today.”


Europe mulls finishing football season at end of year

Updated 28 March 2020

Europe mulls finishing football season at end of year

  • The novel coronavirus has created an existential challenge to the world’s most widely played and watched sport
  • Most European leagues are supposed to start their 2019-20 seasons at the end of August

ROME: Europe’s football bosses have not given up hope of finishing this pandemic-hit season — even if it might have to be done at the start of the next one.
The novel coronavirus has created an existential challenge to the world’s most widely played and watched sport.
Europe’s football leagues are the planet’s richest and can afford to pay the most money to the biggest stars.
But that system could come crumbling down quickly if there is nothing to show on TV.
Cristian Ronaldo has not had a chance to celebrate goals for Juventus for nearly three weeks because Italy’s Serie A had to shut down.
He and other Italian league stars are thinking of giving up millions of euros in salary to help their teams stay solvent.
UEFA boss Aleksander Ceferin told Italy’s La Repubblica daily that he was holding urgent talks with the continent’s biggest leagues to figure out what can be done.
The Slovenian said all options were under consideration in an effort to salvage the season and preserve the sanctity of the beautiful game.
“We could start again in mid-May, in June or even late June,” Ceferin said.
Any time after that and “the season will probably be lost.”
The idea of the entire season simply being canceled stirs panic in fans of clubs such as Liverpool — on the cusp of lifting their first title in 30 years.
Ronaldo’s Juventus would probably not be terribly happy either. The men in the famous black-and-white stripes are edging Lazio by a point in their race for a ninth successive title and are still in the Champions League, which they have not won since 1996.
Ceferin said he opposed the idea of playing games in empty stadiums and would prefer to wait out the pandemic.
He also hinted that some big teams appeared ready to delay the start of next season in ordered to finish out this one.
“There is also a proposal to end this season at the beginning of the next one and then start the next one a little later,” Ceferin said.
Serie A and most other European leagues were originally supposed to have finished in May.
Belarus remain the only European nation still playing football in the face of a pandemic that by Saturday had officially claimed nearly 30,000 lives.
Italy’s world-leading death toll from Friday was 9,134.
But the scheduling is growing tricky and time appears to be running out.
Most European leagues are supposed to start their 2019-20 seasons at the end of August.
Italy still has more than two regular months of matches of the 2018-19 season to play out.
A resumption of the current season at the end of June would probably require a delay to the start of the next one until at least September or October.
It would also mean that players get very little rest and would also create problems for those whose contracts are expiring in June.
Italian Football Federation (FIGC) president Gabriele Gravina sounded fine with that.
“We would all be happy to finish the season on the pitch,” said Gravina told Sky television.
“We are in contact with FIFA for contract extensions if we need to go beyond June 30.”
Gravina did not explain why he was talking to the world football governing body and not the European one headed by Ceferin.
But he did conceded that his earlier hope of restarting Italian matches in early May was now almost certainly dashed.
“I am aware that it is still too early,” said Gravina. “But we must think positively.”