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Nishikori wins Barcelona Open

AP

Kei Nishikori beat Colombia’s Santiago Giraldo 6-2, 6-2 to win the Barcelona Open on Sunday for his first career title on clay.

Giraldo started well with an early break but an argument with the chair umpire about a line call seemed to rattle the unseeded player. Shortly afterward, Giraldo failed to reach Nishikori’s drop shot before hitting a costly double-fault to cede back his serve.

The fourth-seeded Nishikori went on to win eight straight games to claim the first set and take control of the match. He ended up converting five of seven break chances while Giraldo committed five double faults.

Nishikori said he hopes his maiden win on clay will carry over to upcoming tournaments and the French Open.

“This title and (my showing in) Miami helped my confidence, especially this week on clay,” said Nishikori. “There are three big tournaments coming up in Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros so I hope I can do well and increase my (ranking) points. My next goal is to get to the top 10.”

It was Nishikori’s fifth career title on all surfaces and his second of the year.

Nishikori was playing on clay for the first time under new coach and former French Open champion Michael Chang.

This is the first time a non-Spaniard has won the tournament at the Real Club de Tenis since 1996. Rafael Nadal won the tournament eight times during that period.

“I always love to come to Barcelona and it is a pleasure and honor to be here,” Nishikori said.

“Thank you to my team, Dante (Bottini) and Michael, and I hope I come back next year and defend this title.

“It is not easy to win this title with all the Spanish players that play here. It is one of the most difficult ATP 500 tournaments, and I am very happy to win.”

Giraldo is hopeful that his run in the Catalan capital can spur him on for the rest of the season.

“I hope that this week can be a new stage in my tennis at the highest level,” he said.

“I want to thank my team and with them keep on improving.”

Top seed and eight-time champion Nadal was knocked out by Spanish compatriot Nicolas Almagro in the quarterfinals.

Sharapova defends title

Stuttgart Germany AFP-JIJI

Maria Sharapova claimed a hat trick of Stuttgart titles after coming from behind to win a three-set battle royal against Ana Ivanovic in Sunday’s final.

Having won the 2012 and 2013 titles, the 27-year-old Sharapova had to work hard for her 13th consecutive win on Stuttgart’s clay courts but outlasted Ivanovic to claim a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory in just over two hours.

“That was a tough bit of work,” said Sharapova.

“I have always believed in my chances and the fighting spirit is something that comes from within me.”

This was the first time Sharapova has claimed a third title at an individual tournament and comes on the back of last year’s shoulder injury.

“This time around it’s been extremely tough, that’s why this win is so special,” admitted Sharapova.