Zverev trounces Djokovic

Alexander Zverev continued his fine form on clay on Sunday as he beat Novak Djokovic in the final of the Italian Open to claim his first ATP Masters 1000 title.

Zverev was quite sensational in this last week. On Sunday he broke his ATP Masters 1000 duck when he steam rolled Djokovic in straight sets – winning 6-4, 6-3.

Zverev’s backhand was as destructive as ever against the former world number one. As soon as Djokovic lacked depth, Zverev punished him and more often than not it was from the left side of the court.

While the Serb will be happy he made the final, he will also be concerned at the ease in which Zverev got past him.

The young German broke Djokovic on three occasions after earning himself five break points.

On the contrary, Djokovic never had one break point.

Speaking afterwards, Zverev admitted he was extremely happy with how clinical and ruthless he was. 

Svitolina soars past Halep to win Italian Open

Elina Svitolina forced her way past Simona Halep in the final of the Italian Open to register her fourth victory of 2017.

Svitolina came back from a set down to win the match 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.

Halep will rue the fact that she rolled her ankle at the end of the first stanza. The Romanian was not the same after the tumble.

 Svitolina sensed her opponent was in trouble and took the match by the scruff of the neck in the second.

She began to move Halep around the back of the court and by the time the decider started, there was only ever going to be one winner. Halep’s movement had become extremely limited and Svitolina was playing her best tennis of the match.

Speaking afterwards, the Ukranian could not hide her delight.

"Every single day, everyone is working very hard," Svitolina said.

"They are waiting for these kind of moments when there is a right moment and the right day.

"I think I can be proud of myself for handling the pressure, because I played some tough matches here.

“Today I needed to show that I am there and I want to win and I'm ready to do it."

Djokovic reflects on 'performance of the year'

Novak Djokovic was beaming from ear to ear following his superlative semi-final performance against Dominic Thiem at the Italian Open on Saturday.

The world number two took giant strides to returning to his best in his straight set demolition of giant killer Thiem, who knocked out Rafael Nadal in the quarters. 

Djokovic faced just two break points but broke the talented Austrian on five occasions as he romped to victory in just an hour in Rome.

"This is undoubtedly my best performance of this year and maybe even longer," quipped the Serb after the match. 

"I'm overjoyed and happy with every minute that I spent on the court today. It was a perfect match. Everything that I intended to do, I have done it and even more.

"There's not much to say except that I am so grateful to experience something like this, because I have been waiting and working for it for a long time."

The win earns Djokovic a place in his first final since the Qatar Open in January, which is hard to believe given he racked up 18 titles in 2015 and 2016 combined.

Waiting for the 12-time grand slam winner in the final is another rising star in the form of Alexander Zverev. The German has impressed this week in Rome, knocking out big servers Milos Raonic and John Isner, as well as defeating home crowd favourite Fabio Fognini. This will be the pair's first meeting on court.

"He's a nice guy and someone that I like," said Djokovic of the 20-year-old.

"I have seen him grow up. I know his older brother. It's amazing to see 10, 12 years ago, when he was only a boy going around with his racquet, and now we are going to play in the final of one of the biggest events in the world.

"It's a great beginning of his professional career he has had so far and he deserves to be in the final, but I'm going to make sure he doesn't get his hands on that trophy tomorrow. I'll at least try."

Ruthless Djokovic dispatches Thiem

Novak Djokovic's impressive week at the Italian Open continued as he brushed Dominic Thiem aside in the semi-finals.

The Serb arrived in Rome on the back of a series of a disappointing results and lacking any real form to speak of, but has been impressive throughout the week.

On Saturday morning, he headed out on court to wrap up a straight sets victory over quarter-final opponent Juan Martin del Potro, after their clash was suspended the previous night due to bad weather.

And he returned later in the day to face Thiem, the young Austrian who claimed a huge upset victory over Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals.

The match was expected to be a very tough one for Djokovic, but to everyone's surprise he coasted to victory in just over an hour.

Clearly unable to recover from his giant-killing heroics over Nadal the night before, Thiem was never in the contest against Djokovic, winning just 13 of 37 points on serve.

Djokovic had to save a couple of break points while leading 4-0 in the second set, but other than that it was smooth sailing from start to finish. 

He broke twice during the first set and three more times in the second to bring a totally one-sided contest to a close.

Awaiting Djokovic in the final is another talented youngster in Alexander Zverev.

The 20-year-old German was the first to advance after battling past John Isner 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-1.

Zverev will contest his first Masters 1000 final on Sunday - a massive occasion for him.

“I'm into my first final of a Masters, which is great, and especially on clay. It's a very physical game and it's very tough points all the time, long points,” he said.

“Novak, he's one of the greatest players of all time. He is never going to be easy, especially in a final when he already starts to have a rhythm."

Saturday's semi-final results in Rome

Novak Djokovic (Serbia) beat Dominic Thiem (Austria) 6-1 6-0  
Alexander Zverev (Germany) beat John Isner (U.S.) 6-4 6-7(5) 6-1  

Halep to face Svitolina in Rome final

Simona Halep will bid for her second clay court crown in as many weeks when she takes on Elina Svitolina in the final of the Italian Open on Sunday.

The Romanian, fresh from successfully defending her title in Madrid last week, booked her place in yet another final with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Kiki Bertens.

Halep was in top form throughout the contest, hitting only nine unforced errors throughout - and just one in the final set.

Assessing her current form after the match, Halep said: “Sometimes a win over a top player gives you confidence. Sometimes the work you do before the tournaments gives you confidence that you are ready to go. Sometimes just winning some matches, tough ones, even if in three sets, those are the most important matches.

“Sometimes you just feel good and you feel that let's play. I have this feeling now. I think gives me power to go on court and to believe that I can win.”

Halep broke Bertens first up as she won the first six points of the game - although the Dutchwoman showed a lot of fight during the first set.

She twice fought back from a break down to get back on level terms - the second time after fending off no less than five set points during a marathon ninth game.

But for all her fighting spirit, a couple of errors at the worst time saw her hand Halep a third break for a 6-5 lead, and this time the Romanian was able to convert a set point on her own serve.

That appeared to knock most of the fight out of Bertens, who rolled over tamely in the second set, losing her serve three times as Halep - now brimming with confidence and hardly putting a foot wrong - raced to victory.

Awaiting Halep in the final is Elina Svitolina, who advanced after her semi-final opponent Garbine Muguruza was forced to retire in the first set while trailing 4-1.

After relinquishing an early break and looking second best to Svitolina, Muguruza called her trainer out. A lengthy discussion followed before they decided she could not carry on, citing a neck injury.

“I just want to wish a fast recovery to Garbiñe, she has such a big tournament ahead in Roland Garros which is very tough as she’s the defending champion,” Svitolina told the crowd afterwards. “It’s going to be very tough for her and hopefully she will recover quickly.”

Djokovic rumbles into Rome semis

Second seed Novak Djokovic eased past Juan Martin Del Potro to reach the semi-finals of the Italian Open on Saturday.

The world number two defeated the Argentine 6-1, 6-4 in a continuation of Friday's weather affected quarter-final on the clay courts of Rome. 

Djokovic seemed to take another step back to being his best, putting on a masterclass of returning as he defeated del Potro for the 14th time in his career.

The Serb was broken in the very first service game on Friday, but showed the mark of a champion by rallying back to break the former world number four no less then three times to take the opening set.  

Djokovic was on serve with Del Potro leading the second set 2-1 when the heavens opened up on Friday. When the pair resumed, Djokovic was quick to pounce, holding serve to love then breaking the former US Open winner to take a 4-2 lead, after which he served out the match.

Waiting for the 12-time grand slam winner in the final four is rising star Dominic Thiem, who knocked out Rafael Nadal on Friday.  

The talented Austrian has never beaten Djokovic in four attempts, with the most recent being a two sets to one loss at the ATP World Tour finals in November.

Nadal blames playing schedule for loss

Rafael Nadal has blamed a hectic playing schedule for his shock loss to Dominic Thiem at the Italian Open on Friday.

The Spaniard was knocked out in straight sets on the red clay of Rome, ending a streak of 17 unbeaten matches with two of those wins being over the Austrian in finals.

Nadal has featured in four clay tournaments in the last four weeks - in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and now Rome - and while the travel around Europe has not been an issue, the number matches has worn him out a touch.

"I've been playing a lot," confirmed Nadal after his loss to Thiem.

"It's difficult, every day. Madrid, then Rome back-to-back, after Barcelona. It's not easy playing every day for the last four weeks."

However, Nadal did credit Thiem - who broke the King of Clay's serve four times - during the press conference after saying he wasn't at his best.     

"I didn't play very well," admitted Nadal. 

"I want to congratulate him because he was better than me this afternoon. Great, in all aspects. He played long, he played very aggressive, hitting the ball very strong with high intensity.

"In general, I was not able to push him back. He got a lot of points, maximum, more times than me. And that's the key of this game. It's obvious I didn't play my best match."

While the loss stings Nadal, he revealed that he would enjoy a deserved break as he prepares for the upcoming French Open, where he wants to be at his best both physically and mentally.

"Tomorrow I'll be in Mallorca fishing or playing golf, or another thing...I'm going to rest a little bit, I think I deserve it," said the 14-time grand slam winner.

"Then from Monday and Tuesday I will start to prepare for Roland Garros. It's an important event for me.

"If you do things well, you have more chances in Roland Garros. I hope to play my best tennis in Roland Garros."

Huge upset in Rome as Thiem shocks Nadal

Rafael Nadal's incredible clay-court winning streak came to an end on Friday, as he went down in straight sets to Dominic Thiem at the Italian Open.

The Spaniard has been unbeatable on clay all season, claiming three successive titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, but Thiem finally found a way past his impregnable defences.

The 23-year-old Austrian was impressive throughout the quarter-final clash as he won 6-4, 6-3 in one hour and 51 minutes, gaining his revenge on Nadal for two recent defeats on clay.

Thiem got off to the best possible start, bossing the baseline rallies with his impressive groundstrokes to earn breaks in the first and fifth games.

That left Nadal in a deep hole, 1-5 down, and though he would show some fight in the eighth game to regain one of his lost breaks, it wasn't enough to stop Thiem from serving out for the first set.

Thiem continued to prosper with his attacking approach in the second set, taking the game to Nadal by moving up to meet his shots early and return them with interest.

Nadal withstood the pressure for a while but eventually wilted, surrendering two more late breaks to hand Thiem a famous victory.

"I came in with a very aggressive game style, because I knew that if I wanted to have a chance, then I would have to do something different and be more aggressive," said Thiem.

"I knew that if it goes in, everything, maybe I have a chance. If not, maybe I also lose easy. But today was one of these days where I really felt the ball great on the racquet, and a lot of risky shots went in.

"It was a very, very good performance and I think probably one of my best matches."

Thiem awaits the winner of the match between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro.

Djokovic took the first set 6-1 shortly before play was suspended due to thunder showers. 

Play was eventually called off for the night and the match will resume tomorrow.

The second semi-final sees young German Alexander Zverev take on big-hitting American John Isner.

Friday's quarter-final results in Rome

Dominic Thiem (Austria) beat Rafa Nadal (Spain) 6-4 6-3           
Alexander Zverev (Germany) beat Milos Raonic (Canada) 7-6(4) 6-1 
John Isner (U.S.) beat Marin Cilic (Croatia) 7-6(3) 2-6 7-6(2)   
Novak Djokovic (Serbia) vs Juan Martin del Potro (Argentina) 6-1, 1*-2 (suspended) 

Svitolina stuns Pliskova in Rome

Elina Svitolina was responsible for a big upset at the Italian Open on Friday, defeating second seed Karolina Pliskova in straight sets.

Svitolina had lost all four of her previous matches against Pliskova, but bucked the trend in fine style with a 6-3, 7-6 (11-9) victory.

The Ukrainian produced a masterclass defensive display that neutralised Pliskova's attacking options and put her under constant pressure.

Pliskova was only able to hold serve once during the first set, and quickly found herself a set and 0-2 down.

But she showed great spirit from there, hitting back with two breaks of her own to take a 5-4 lead and give herself a chance of leveling the scores at a set apiece.

But it was clearly Svitolina's day. The 22-year-old found another break when she needed it and then saved three set points during the tie-break to clinch victory by the narrowest of margins.

“I was a little bit unlucky, especially in the second set with all the set points,” Pliskova told WTA Insider afterwards. “But this happens - it’s tennis and it’s normal.

“I would say I’ve had three good matches here, which is better than all the other tournaments where I was playing on clay. It’s definitely an improvement, and there’s still Paris in front of me.”

Svitolina moves on the semi-finals where she will face Garbine Muguruza, who defeated Venus Williams 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.

The second semi-final sees Madrid champion Simona Halep take on Kiki Bertens.

Friday's quarter-final results in Rome

Garbine Muguruza Blanco (Spain) beat Venus Williams (U.S.) 6-2 3-6 6-2       
Elina Svitolina (Ukraine) beat Karolina Pliskova (Czech Republic) 6-2 7-6(9) 
Kiki Bertens (Netherlands) beat Daria Gavrilova (Australia) 6-3 6-3           
Simona Halep (Romania) beat Anett Kontaveit (Estonia) 6-2 6-4

Sharapova won't pursue Wimbledon wildcard

Maria Sharapova will take part in the Wimbledon qualifying tournament rather than request a main-draw wildcard.

The Russian was denied a wildcard for the French Open by tournament officials, who argued that while concessions can be made for injuries, the same can not be said for doping suspensions.

Sharapova is also unlikely to have received a wildcard from Wimbledon officials, and so her decision to not even request one is probably a shrewd one.

She will have to win through three qualifying rounds to earn a spot in Wimbledon's 128-strong main draw.

"Because of my improved ranking after the first three tournaments of my return, I will also be playing the qualifying of Wimbledon in Roehampton, and will not be requesting a wildcard into the main draw," said Sharapova in a statement on her website.

One thing is clear, though, Sharapova is as determined as ever and is more than willing to fight her way back to the top.

"If this is what it takes to rise up again, then I am in it all the way, everyday," she wrote after news broke of the French Open's decision.

"No words, games, or actions will ever stop me reaching my own dreams."

The WTA was critical of the French Open's decision, saying there are "no grounds to penalise any player beyond the sanctions set forth in the final decisions resolving these matters".