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STARS

Maria Sharapova beat Li Na 4-6 6-4 7-6 (5) to win the women’s singles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, Italy

Lucie Safarova beat Klara Zakopalova 6-3 7-5 to win the Sparta Prague Open in Prague, Czech Republic

Martin Klizan beat Teymuraz Gabashvili 7-5 6-3 to win the BNP Paribas Primrose Bordeaux in Bordeaux, France

SAYING

“It was a crazy match. Either one of us could have won it. There really is no loser.” – Maria Sharapova, after defeating Li Na to win the Italian Open.

“I still have many positive things from this match. Playing a tough match like that showed me I’m strong, and physically I felt great. I can take a lot of positive things away from this week and I think I’m ready for the French Open.” – Li Na, following her loss to Maria Sharapova.

“This was a different, very special victory for us, to win here in Rome. I think the secret to our success is we are such good friends, too.” – Roberta Vinci, after she teamed with Sara Errani to win the Italian Open doubles.

“I thought he played very, very well. He’s not the number one in the world for no reason.” – Roger Federer, after losing to top-ranked Novak Djokovic.

“I’m not worried about the forehands or the backhands, it’s finishing the matches that is my problem. There is not one player out there who gives up in a match. Everyone is playing at such a high level. That’s my problem – I need to win easier. It’s a big problem for me to close out the matches.” – Li Na, after seeing a 5-2 second-set lead disappear before winning her quarterfinal match in Rome.

SUNSHINE NEEDED

The Italian Open men’s singles final between top-ranked Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was postponed until Monday because of heavy rain. The match had been scheduled for Sunday afternoon, but was delayed for a day when heavy rain fell most of the afternoon in Rome and delayed the ending of the women’s final for two hours. Spectators in Foro Italico tossed plastic water bottles onto the court when the announcement of the postponement was made. Besides the weather, police and officials worried about tennis fans mixing with thousands of soccer fans who were heading to Sunday night’s Italian Cup final between Juventus and Napoli, which was held at Olympic Stadium just a few hundred meters away from Foro Italico.

SHARAPOVA VICTORIOUS

Maria Sharapova fends off Na Li for Rome title (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

It wasn’t easy nor was it pretty, but Maria Sharapova won the 26th WTA title of her career and her second straight Italian Open, outlasting defending French Open champion Li Na 4-6 6-4 7-6 (5). “This is a great win for me going into Roland Garros,” Sharapova said. “I know the level she played there last year and the level she can play on clay, the way she defends and moves around and gets herself back into position. She’s just a great player on any surface really. So this gives me a lot of confidence.” Li jumped out to a 6-4 4-0 lead only to have her Russian opponent win eight straight games and 10 of the next 11 to capture the second set and take a 4-1 lead in the third. That’s when Li found her game again and reeled off a four-game string to grab the lead 5-4. With Sharapova serving, Li reached match point, only to have Sharapova hold serve. As the pair prepared to play the tiebreak, they left the court for two hours because of rain. “It was really difficult with so many swings,” Sharapova said. “It was tough having to wait two hours. It’s difficult to have a loser and a winner, but I’m happy.” Besides the rain, the players had to deal with hovering helicopters, exploding fireworks and groups of chanting soccer fans outside the stadium. “The match was a joke, it was like playing a football match in the rain,” Li said. “Even when we were sent off court, you had to still concentrate for every second. It was tiring for both players. You could not relax. It was tense. When we came back out, she was the tougher player.”

SAFE AT HOME

Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci became the first all-Italian team to win the Italian Open since Sandra Cecchini and Raffaella Reggi did it in 1985. Seeded third, the Italians captured the title without dropping a set, beating Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 6-2 7-5 in the championship match. “We played well this week and have been playing very well overall,” Errani said. “We’re very happy we could win this and we hope to continue playing like this.” It was their 10th doubles title together and a WTA-leading fifth of this season. They both have won 12 WTA doubles titles in their careers. Makarova and Vesnina also had not lost a set going into the final. And they led 4-2 in the second set before Errani and Vinci took five of the last six games of the match. “It was tough to play them at home, but they played very good tennis today, much better than in Madrid last week,” Makarova said. “They had a lot of motivation to win this tournament at home and all credit to them today.” The Italians beat Makarova and Vesnina in the doubles final in Madrid a week ago.

SPANISH REIGN

Spaniards Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez won their first ATP World Tour doubles title at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, downing Lukasz Kubot and Janko Tipsarevic 6-3 6-2. “To win the doubles with Marc is very special,” Granollers said. “He’s one of my best friends, so to win with him is very nice. This year, with Marc, I think we are playing very good. We are very confident now, we are playing very good.” Both teams were undefeated and had giant-killing runs to the final. Granollers and Lopez upset third-seeded Michael Llodra and Nenad Zimonjic, while Kubot and Tipsarevic shocked the second-seeded team of Bob and Mike Bryan. The Spanish duo had lost their four previous finals together, including this year in Acapulco, Mexico, and Barcelona, Spain.

SUFFERING

A lower back injury sent Serena Williams to the sidelines, forcing her to withdraw from the Italian Open semifinals. The American said the injury also affected her earlier in the week, but the withdrawal was mainly precautionary. “It was feeling a little stiff and I don’t think this is the right moment to force (it),” she said. “I just want to relax and get ready for the next few months.” The withdrawal snapped Williams’ clay-court match winning streak at 17. She had won her last two tournaments – at Charleston, South Carolina, and Madrid, Spain – along with two Fed Cup matches.

Serena Williams is not the only player carrying an injury into the season’s second Grand Slam tournament.

Andy Murray also has been suffering with a back injury. The problem caused him to skip the Madrid Open, and the Scot said it was still affecting him in his third-round loss to Richard Gasquet at Rome.

Victoria Azarenka withdrew from the Italian Open with a bad right shoulder. The world’s top-ranked woman pulled out after crushing Shahar Peer 6-1 6-2 in a second-round match.

After losing in the quarterfinals, reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova said she was bothered by an abdominal injury. And Italy’s Flavia Pennetta retired with a right wrist injury after losing the first four games of her match against Serena Williams.

SWITCH

South Africa will play its Davis Cup playoff tie in Canada. South Africa was awarded choice of ground for the September 14-16 competition, but asked to play in Canada for financial reasons. The International Tennis Federation’s Davis Cup Committee approved the request. The site of the tie will be announced later.

STIMULANT BAN

A Bulgarian tennis player has been banned for two years after testing positive for a banned stimulant. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) said 24-year-old Dimitar Kutrovsky tested positive for methylhexaneamine in February while competing at the SAP Open in San Jose, California, USA. Denying he was trying to enhance his performance, Kutrovsky told the ITF that the drug got into his system when he ingested the supplement Jack3d. The ban dates back to February 14 and he must forfeit any ranking points and prize money since then. Besides the SAP Open, where he reached the quarterfinals, Kutrovsky lost in the second round of a USD $15,000 Futures event in Brownsville, Texas, USA.

SHARKO STATS

The top three players – Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – lead the rankings for a reason. Since 2007, the three have reached the semifinals together on 24 occasions, including 10 Grand Slam tournaments. Greg Sharko, the statistics and information guru for the ATP, notes that the three players have won 27 of the last 28 Grand Slam tournament titles, going back to the 2005 Roland Garros, with only Juan Martin del Potro breaking through to capture the US Open in 2009.

STRAIGHT IN

Australians Lleyton Hewitt and Ashleigh Barty have been awarded wild cards into the main draw of the French Open. Their spots came through a reciprocal agreement between the French Tennis Federation and Tennis Australia that allows the latter to select two Australian players for the French Open, which starts at Roland Garros on May 22.

SEEKING HOST CITY

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is seeking a place to hold its year-ending championships. The season finale, which features the world’s top eight singles players and top four doubles teams, is currently being held in Istanbul, Turkey. “Based on the significant demand by numerous cities around the world to invest in women’s tennis and host our year-end WTA Championships, we decided to launch an international bidding process to select a host city for 2014 and beyond,” said Stacey Allaster, WTA chairman and CEO. “It’s a chance for some city somewhere to step up on the world stage.”

SELECTED

Kris Dent has been appointed the International Tennis Association’s Executive Director of Professional Tennis. Dent’s job, which begins in mid-June, will have him oversee the three ITF departments within the professional game: Davis Cup and Fed Cup, professional tournaments and officiating. He will be responsible for the management of both the regulatory and operational activities of Davis Cup and Fed Cup, and will also oversee the ITF Pro Circuit, beach tennis and the ITF’s officiating program. Olympic operations will be included in his portfolio following the completion of the 2012 Olympic tennis. Dent will report to ITF Executive Vice President Juan Margets. Dent has 15 years experience in the sports industry working for governing bodies, agencies and as an independent consultant in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States.

SPARKING THE SPORT

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) joined with a number of other national government bodies for sport and First Lady Michelle Obama in an effort to get more than 1.7 million American children to become active as part of her Let’s Move! initiative. Mrs. Obama, who will lead the Presidential Delegation to the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London this summer, is trying to use the inspiration of the Olympic and Paralympic Games into getting more kids healthy and active in order to solve the problem of childhood obesity.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Bordeaux: Martin Klizan and Igor Zelenay beat Olivier Charron and Jonathan Marray 7-6 (5) 4-6 10-4 (match tiebreak)

Prague: Alize Cornet and Virginie Razzano beat Akgul Amanmuradova and Casey Dellacqua 6-2 6-3

Rome (men): Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez beat Lukasz Kubot and Janko Tipsarevic 6-3 6-2

Rome (women): Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci beat Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 6-2 7-5

SURFING

Düesseldorf: www.world-team-cup.com

Nice: www.opennicecotedazur.com

Brussels: www.wta-brusselsopen.com

Strasbourg: www.internationaux-strasbourg.fr

Paris: www.rolandgarros.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

MEN

$1,035,519 Power Horse World Team Cup, Düesseldorf, Germany, clay
$512,905 Open de Nice Côte d’Azur, Nice, France, clay

WOMEN

$637,000 Brussels Open, Brussels, Belgium, clay
$220,000 Internationaux de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, France, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

MEN and WOMEN

Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay (first week)



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About Bob Greene
Bob Greene, the esteemed former Associated Press tennis writer, wraps up the week that was in international tennis with his “Monday’s With Bob Greene” column – a revival of his popular weekly feature at the AP.

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