Malta Independent

Surprised Nadal sees ‘super solid’ Djokovic exit Monte Carlo


Surprised at seeing rival Novak Djokovic go out of the Monte Carlo Masters after an errorstrew­n performanc­e, defending champion Rafael Nadal acknowledg­ed he enjoyed some luck in reaching the semifinals on Friday.

Quite an admission from the best player in clay-court history, who has won both this tournament and the French Open a record 11 times. But Nadal struggled against fellow left-hander Guido Pella, losing his first three service games to trail 4-1 before recovering to beat the unseeded Argentine 7-6 (1), 6-3.

Top-ranked Djokovic, who has won the tournament twice, earlier lost 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 to 10thseeded Daniil Medvedev and produced 47 unforced errors.

Djokovic out, Nadal in trouble. It seemed — briefly, at least — that the day might produce two straight upsets.

Especially when Pella served for 5-1.

But he double-faulted, giving the second-ranked Nadal an unexpected reprieve which he took full advantage of.

"That game was decisive, and I was lucky to win that one. After that, the match changed a lot," Nadal said. "Losing the first three games was tough but I found a way at the right time. Sometimes these matches help for rhythm because you suffer."

Before going onto court for his quarterfin­al, Nadal spent some time watching Djokovic. Even 17-time Grand Slam winner Nadal, who has lost 28 times in 53 contests against the toughest rival of his career, was surprised.

"Always, when Novak loses, (it) seems strange because he's super solid," Nadal said. "But everybody is human."

Nadal next faces No. 13 Fabio Fognini, who beat No. 9 Borna Coric of Croatia 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Fognini has lost 11 of 14 matches against Nadal, but two of the Italian's three wins were on clay. All the wins were in 2015, including a thriller in the third round of the U.S. Open, when Fognini rallied from two sets down.

"He's able to win against everybody when he's playing well," said Nadal, who may need to go up a level.

Nadal imperiousl­y won the title last year without conceding more than four games in a set, but Pella caused him considerab­le problems and forced 13 break-point chances on Nadal's serve.

Although Nadal leveled the first set at 5-5, he dropped his serve again. It gave Pella the chance to become the first player to take a set against him here since Britain's Kyle Edmund in the second round two years ago.

Pella reached 30-30 but Nadal broke back and forced a tiebreaker — his first here since a third-round win against John Isner in 2015.

A jittery looking Nadal was broken to love serving for the match. Pella could not hold his serve, either.

He saved one match point at 15-40 down but then doublefaul­ted. After 2 hours, 20 minutes on court, a relieved Nadal hugged his opponent at the net.

The last time Nadal failed to reach the last four here was in 2014, when he lost to countryman David Ferrer in the last eight.

Earlier, Medvedev was appearing in the last eight of a Masters tournament for the first time but Djokovic struggled more in the windy conditions.

He double-faulted at 30-30 to give Medvedev his first match point and a backhand winner secured a first win against Djokovic at the fourth attempt.

"He played worse than before and I am gaining more experience," said the 14th-ranked Medvedev, who is chasing a fifth career title.

The 23-year-old Russian next faces unseeded Dusan Lajovic, who also reached a Masters semifinal for the first time when he beat Italian qualifier Lorenzo Sonego 6-4, 7-5.

One Serb can make Sunday's final, but it's Lajovic and not the one people expected.

When Djokovic won the Australian Open this year he secured a third straight Grand Slam title and 15th overall, and in doing so he moved two behind Nadal and five adrift of Roger Federer's record haul of 20.

Since then, his form has wilted. Djokovic has failed to reach the last four in three straight tournament­s, having fallen short at Indian Wells and Miami.

But his focus is bigger and it's further down the line: taking Nadal's crown at Roland Garros.

Fed Cup semifinal: Mladenovic vs. Halep in opening singles

Kristina Mladenovic of France will face second-ranked Simona Halep of Romania in the opening singles of their Fed Cup semifinal Saturday.

No. 21 Caroline Garcia meets Mihaela Buzarnescu in the second singles at the clay-court Kindarena in Rouen, northwest France.

Following the reverse singles on Sunday, Garcia and Mladenovic will take on Irina-Camelia Begu and Monica Niculescu in the doubles.

France has won the Fed Cup twice while Romania, which beat defending champion Czech Republic in the last eight, has never reached the final.

They meet for only the second time, with Romania having won in 1976.

Australia is hosting Belarus on hard courts at the Pat Rafter Arena in Brisbane in the other semifinal.

The final is on Nov. 9-10.

Fed Cup semifinal: Azarenka to play Ash Barty in singles

Samantha Stosur will open against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus when singles play begins in a Fed Cup semifinal Saturday on hard courts at Pat Rafter Arena.

Ninth-ranked Ashleigh Barty of Australia will play often doubles partner Victoria Azarenka in the second singles match. The teams will play reverse singles and a doubles match on Sunday.

Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open winner, was captain Alicia Molik's choice for singles over Daria Gavrilova when the draw was held Friday.

It will be the first Fed Cup meeting between the countries. Australia last reached the Fed Cup semifinals in 2014, losing 31 to Germany, and is looking to make the World Group final for the first time since 1993.

It's been 45 years since Australia won the title. Australia last won the Federation Cup, as it was known then, in 1974 when the team of Evonne Goolagong, Dianne Fromholtz and Janet Young defeated the United States 2-1 in Naples, Italy.

Belarus has reached the semifinals for the last three years and lost the 2017 final 3-2 to the U.S.

France is hosting Romania on clay at Rouen in the other semifinal this weekend.

Scotland fires coach after 1 of worst results in its history

Scotland has fired coach Alex McLeish after one of the worst results in the national team's history. A 3-0 loss to Kazakhstan in a European Championsh­ip qualifier last month was highlighte­d by the Scottish Football Associatio­n when the governing body announced the departure of McLeish on Thursday. In his second spell as Scotland coach, McLeish won five of his 12 games and guided the team to first place in its Nations League qualifying group. That guarantees the Scots a playoff match to qualify for Euro 2020.

In its Euro 2020 qualifying group, Scotland followed up its humiliatin­g loss to Kazakhstan with an unconvinci­ng 2-0 win over San Marino, the world's lowest-ranked nation. SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell says "the performanc­es and results as a whole in the past year — and, in particular, the manner of the defeat in Kazakhstan — did not indicate the progress expected with a squad we believe to be capable of achieving more." Scotland hasn't qualified for a major tournament since reaching the World Cup in 1998.

Video shows Lazio fans' racist chants aimed at Bakayoko

A video has emerged of Lazio fans directing a racist chant at AC Milan midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko. The video posted on the Gazzetta dello Sport website shows fans singing, "This banana is for Bakayoko," during Wednesday's 2-0 win over Udinese at the Stadio Olimpico. It was an apparent response to Bakayoko and Milan teammate Franck Kessie waving the shirt of Lazio defender Francesco Acerbi in front of their supporters like a trophy after a 1-0 win on Saturday. Bakayoko, who is black, is on loan from Chelsea. Lazio fans have a long history of racist and anti-Semitic episodes.

Simeone backs Costa after striker misses Atletico practice

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has come out in support of Diego Costa after the Spain striker reportedly refused to practice with the rest of the team. Simeone said Costa's absence on Thursday was a situation that was handled internally and that the player was back with the squad on Friday. The coach added he would not discuss specific details. Spanish media said the former Chelsea forward didn't practice because he was unhappy with a lack of support from the club after being suspended for eight matches for insulting a referee. Costa will not play again this season because of the ban he received for the incident in a league match against Barcelona two weeks ago. Simeone says he expects Costa, who has been below his best during an injury-hit campaign, to be extra motivated next season. Atletico is nine points behind leader Barcelona with six matches remaining. It visits Eibar on Saturday, while Barcelona hosts Real Sociedad.

Odriozola set to miss rest of season with shoulder fracture

Real Madrid right back Alvaro Odriozola has a shoulder fracture and is expected to miss the rest of the season. Madrid says Odriozola broke his left clavicle during team training on Friday. The club did not say how long Odriozola is expected to be sidelined, but the recovery time for these types of injuries is often at least a month. Madrid has six games left in the season, the last against Real Betis in the Spanish league on May 19. Third in the league standings,

Madrid hosts Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Brazilian tennis player Souza provisiona­lly suspended

Brazilian tennis player Joao Souza has been provisiona­lly suspended again amid a corruption investigat­ion by the Tennis Integrity Unit. Souza had already been provisiona­lly suspended on March 29 but was reinstated on April 8 following a successful appeal. The TIU says that the provisiona­l suspension has been put back in place "following considerat­ion of additional evidence submitted by the TIU," adding that no more appeals will be accepted. No further details were given for the reason of the suspension.

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