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Kei Nishikori downs Grigor Dimitrov in Italian Open battle


Kei Nishikori defeated world No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov in three sets on Wednesday to advance to the third round of the Italian Open.

Nishikori, ranked 24th in the world, lost the first set in a tie break before coming back to beat the third seed 6-7(4-7), 7-5, 6-4 in 2 hours, 55 minutes. With the second set even at 5-5, Nishikori fired his only ace of the match to hold serve and then broke the Bulgarian to even the match at one set apiece.

Earlier, an out-of-sorts Naomi Osaka offered little resistance to world No. 1 Simona Halep, lasting just 59 minutes in a 6-1, 6-0 second-round drubbing.

The 26-year-old Romanian, who fell to eventual champion Osaka in the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open in March, lost the opening game of the match before reeling off the next 12 to take revenge in emphatic fashion.

In what was clearly an off day for world No. 21, Osaka had 29 unforced errors while managing just 10 winners. Halep, meanwhile, committed only 14 unforced errors and took 80 percent of points from Osaka’s second serve.

Down 5-1 and facing three set points, Osaka threw her racket to the ground in frustration. The 20-year-old then barely moved her feet as Halep hit a backhand winner at 15-40 to wrap up the first set in just over half an hour.

The second set was an even briefer affair, with Osaka appearing to capitulate before quickly exiting the court.

“It was one of those helpless feelings,” conceded Osaka, who could be heard saying “I want to cry” courtside.

In other men’s action, Fabio Fognini got the home crowd fired up with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 win over sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem to reach the third round Wednesday.

Italy’s top player came out wearing a black shirt with a red lightning bolt design down his chest and he was energized from the start, grazing the flower beds lining the court to return Thiem’s high-bouncing topspin serves and frustrating the Austrian with well-placed lobs and touch volleys.

Nadal, a seven-time Rome champion, and four-time champion Novak Djokovic also advanced. Nadal routed 31st-ranked Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 6-0, while Djokovic beat Georgian qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-2.

“It was important after a loss in Madrid to come back strong. And that’s what I did today,” Nadal said.

In other women’s play, Rome champion Maria Sharapova came back to beat Dominika Cibulkova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Maria Sakkari of Greece rallied past sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

At 5-5 in the third, Pliskova got engaged in a lengthy argument after she had an overhead smash called out. The chair umpire acknowledged that the Czech “lost” the ball mark and therefore said the point should be awarded to Sakkari. On the next point, Sakkari converted a break then served it out.

After the match, Pliskova didn’t shake hands with the chair umpire and struck the chair several times with her racket.