Rafael Nadal ended a run of three straight losses to Alexander Zverev with a convincing 6-3, 6-4 win over the German on Friday to reach the Italian Open semifinals.
Zverev had beaten Nadal in straight sets at the same stage in Madrid a week ago but their latest meeting went the Spaniard’s way from the start. Aiming for a record-extending 10th Rome title, Nadal raced to a 4-0 lead in the first set and saved all eight break points he faced in the second.
Nadal’s semifinal opponent will be big-serving American Reilly Opelka, who reached his first Masters semifinal with a 7-5, 7-6 (2) win over Argentine qualifier Federico Delbonis. The 6-foot-11 Opelka, not previously known for his clay-court tennis, overwhelmed Delbonis with 18 aces to record his fourth straight-set win of the week.
In the women’s tournament, 2019 Rome champion Karolina Pliskova rallied past 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (1) to set up a semifinal against Petra Martic. Martic eliminated Jessica Pegula 7-5, 6-4 for her biggest result since recently hiring former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone as her coach.
The only real moment of concern for Nadal came when he tripped over the service line while running down a drop shot when he was serving for the first set. The crowd of about 2,500 let out a collective gasp as Nadal tumbled onto the clay and rolled over onto his back wincing in apparent pain.
After putting Nadal’s reply away for an easy winner — the Spaniard still managed to get the ball over the net — Zverev hopped over the net to check on the 20-time Grand Slam champion. Nadal got up, though, dusted himself off and served out the set with his back and even headband still covered in clay.
MICKELSON GETS EXEMPTION: Phil Mickelson is assured at least one more crack at the major that has given him the most heartache. He accepted a special exemption Friday to play the U.S. Open.
Mickelson becomes the first player since Vijay Singh in 2010 to receive an exemption without having won the U.S. Open, and he’s not without merit. He has won five majors – all of them except the U.S. Open – to go along with his 44 victories on the PGA Tour. He has been eligible for every U.S. Open dating to 1994, but the 50-year-old Mickelson has fallen out of the top 100 in the world ranking.
He had said in February 2020, a month before golf shut down because of the pandemic, that he would not accept an exemption even if the USGA offered him one. He was prepared to go through 36-hole qualifying on June 7, a week before the U.S. Open returns to Torrey Pines in his hometown of San Diego.
“Winning the U.S. Open has been a lifelong and elusive dream, and I’ve come close so many times,” Mickelson said. “You can’t win if you don’t play. I’m honored and appreciative of the USGA for the opportunity and look forward to playing in my hometown on a golf course I grew up on.”
No one has suffered more in the U.S. Open than Mickelson, who holds the U.S. Open record with six runner-up finishes.
NASCAR: Justin Haley will miss this weekend’s NASCAR races at Dover because of COVID-19 protocols.
Josh Berry will make his Cup Series debut for Spire Motorsports driving for Haley in Sunday’s Cup race at Dover International Speedway. Berry has one win this season in the second-tier Xfinity Series. Zane Smith will drive the No. 11 Chevrolet at Dover in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. Haley has six top-10 finishes in nine races this season. Smith will race in NASCAR’s second-tier series for the first time this season. Smith, a regular in the Truck Series, last made an Xfinity start in 2019.
FORMULA ONE: The Turkish Grand Prix scheduled for next month was called off Friday because of coronavirus travel restrictions and will be replaced by a second Formula One race in Austria. Travel restrictions in several countries where teams are based forced F1 organizers to take the June 13 race out of Istanbul.
Instead, the French GP will move forward by one week to June 20 and Austria will get a second race – just like it did last year. The Styrian GP on June 27 will be followed by the Austrian GP on July 4, with both races at the Red Bull Ring track in Spielberg.
The Champions League final was also taken out of Istanbul this week and moved to Porto, Portugal. French GP spectators can use their original tickets or get a refund.
INDYCAR: The IndyCar race in Toronto has been canceled for the second consecutive year because of the pandemic. The event was scheduled for July 9-11 but can’t take place because of restrictions in Canada. The race has been on the IndyCar schedule since 1986, and Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles called its cancellation “heartbreaking.”
Miles has previously said IndyCar would likely schedule a second race at another venue already on the IndyCar calendar if Toronto were canceled. The current mid-summer portion of the schedule is set to resume Aug. 8 for the inaugural Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville. That is the first of three races on consecutive weekends for IndyCar.
• Colton Herta is not going to drive in Formula One or for Roger Penske or Chip Ganassi or anywhere but Andretti Autosport for now. Andretti announced a two-year contract extension with the young American driver Friday that begins with the 2022 season. Gainbridge, the sponsor that shifted its funding this season to be paired with Herta within the Andretti camp, also extended its deal with the organization.
Herta in 2019 became the youngest winner in IndyCar Series history when he won in his third career start just shy of his 19th birthday. Now in his third season, he is a championship contender and led all but three laps in a dominating victory on the street course at St. Petersburg last month.
The 21-year-old has been mentioned as possible American hope for Formula One, a series dominated by European drivers. Herta spent time in Europe as a teenager hoping to move through the ranks but moved back to the United States in 2017 and has been in the IndyCar ladder system since.
• British driver Max Chilton will not race in Saturday’s Indy Grand Prix because he couldn’t travel back to the United States from England. The team remains hopeful Chilton will drive in the Indianapolis 500 on May 30.
Chilton started the first two races of the IndyCar season, finishing 20th at Alabama and 24th at St. Petersburg in the No. 59 Chevrolet. Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 winner, had the fastest car in Friday’s first practice session.
GIRO D’ITALIA: Australian cyclist Caleb Ewan claimed his second sprint victory in the Giro d’Italia and Attila Valter kept the pink jersey after the seventh stage on Friday. Ewan, who rides for the Lotto Soudal team, closed a gap to Fernando Gaviria with about 100 meters remaining and finished just ahead of Davide Cimolai and Tim Merlier.
Ewan, who also won Stage 5, took his fifth career win at the Giro and 50th overall in his career. Ewan took nearly five hours over the mostly flat 181-kilometer (112-mile) leg from Notaresco to Termoli.
Valter remained 11 seconds ahead of Remco Evenepoel overall and 16 seconds ahead of Egan Bernal. The overall standings could be shaken up in Stage 8 on Saturday, a 170-kilometer (106-mile) leg from Foggia to Sanframondi featuring one second-category climb and an uphill finish.