Halep extends her perfect record in tennis’ restart to 7-0

Sports

Romania’s Simona Halep reacts during her match with Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska during their Italian Open tennis tournament match, in Rome, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. (Alfredo Falcone/LaPresse via AP)

ROME (AP) — Top-seeded Simona Halep improved to 7-0 in tennis’ restart with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Dayana Yastremska on Friday to reach the Italian Open quarterfinals.

Halep, who is actually on an 11-0 run overall stretching back to February, recovered an early break in the opening set and then overpowered her 29th-ranked opponent the rest of the way.

“After I lost the first three games, I had just to focus a little bit better and to stop giving her the ball that she likes,” Halep said. “So I tried to change a little bit, to make her move, a little bit up high. … I found some solutions that were good to win.

“It gives me confidence that even in these conditions with a big hitter I could win in two sets.”

After winning a title in Dubai before the coronavirus pandemic, Halep marked her return after tennis’ five-month break with another trophy in Prague last month. She then skipped the U.S. Open because of health and travel concerns amid the pandemic.

Halep, who lost two straight finals in Rome to Elina Svitolina in 2017 and 2018, will next face 10th-seeded Elena Rybakina, who overcame Yulia Putintseva 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-2.

“I know I have the game to win this tournament,” Halep said.

Also on the red clay courts of the Foro Italico, defending champion Karolina Pliskova defeated Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova 6-4, 6-3 and will next play 11th-seeded Elise Mertens, who eliminated Montenegrin qualifier Danka Kovinic 6-4, 6-4.

In men’s action, 15th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov ended the run of 19-year-old Jannik Sinner with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win.

Sinner, the Italian who had beaten third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas in the previous round, missed an easy overhead smash into the net on Dimitrov’s fifth match point.

“A loss like that hurts. But I’ll try to take the positive aspects out of it,” Sinner said. “That wasn’t the end I wanted.”

Dimitrov’s quarterfinal opponent will be Denis Shapovalov, who rallied past Ugo Humbert 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4. Shapovalov, who reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals in both singles and doubles, is aiming to do even better in both events this week.

Matteo Berrettini, the big-serving Roman who reached last year’s U.S. Open semifinals, beat Stefano Travaglia 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1) in a match where both players had the same amount of winners (17) and unforced errors (28).

Berrettini will next meet Casper Ruud, who defeated Marin Cilic 6-2, 7-6 (6).

The tournament has been played without fans so far because of the pandemic, although the Italian government said Friday that up to 1,000 spectators will be allowed in to watch the semifinals and finals.

“Starting with the semifinals and finals of the (Italian Open), up to 1,000 spectators can watch all sports competitions that are held outdoors and which scrupulously respect the rules in terms of social distancing, masks and reserved seating,” Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said. “It’s a first, but significant, step toward the return of normalcy in sports.”

The semifinals and finals for both men and women are scheduled for Sunday and Monday.

“It comes as a bit of surprise midway through,” Dimitrov said. “But there is a lot of things that we have control of and some things that we just got to go along with.”

The tournament was rescheduled from its usual slot in May because of the pandemic.

“I would have preferred to have fans from the start or at least tomorrow. But 1,000 people isn’t a small number and they will make themselves heard,” Berrettini said. “It’s positive not just for me but for the tournament in general.”

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More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

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