Monday, April 23, 2018
Sports

Nadal calling the shots

PARIS — It was about time Rafael Nadal faced some sort of test at the French Open.

Not that this one lasted all that long or was all that taxing.

Still, after dropping a total of 19 games through his first four matches — the fewest at Roland Garros in 30 years — Nadal finally found himself in an even-as-can-be set at the outset of his quarterfinal against 12th-seeded Nicolas Almagro.

While Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have been forced to come back from two-set deficits in Paris, this qualified as a tight spot for Nadal. They went to a tiebreaker, and when Almagro's backhand return of a 121 mph serve landed out to cede the set, Nadal leaned forward and yelled, "Come on!"

Maybe it signaled excitement. This much was clear: Nadal can summon his best play when he needs it. Moving closer to a record seventh French Open championship, Nadal reached the semifinals by beating Almagro 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 6-3 to improve to 50-1 at the claycourt Grand Slam tournament.

"I played well. I applied my strategy. I tried to do my best," Almagro said. "But he was at such a high level."

As he always is at Roland Garros. This year, though, Nadal's level has been even higher than usual.

Not only has he won all 15 sets he has played, he has won 60 of his 61 service games, 54 in a row since getting broken in the second set of his first-round victory. He has saved 16 of 17 break points, including going 4-for-4 against Almagro.

"If I'd not lost any set and not lost my serve, it would have been a miracle," the second-seeded Nadal said. "It's just impossible to achieve that."

The next player who will try to stop him is No. 6 David Ferrer. He reached his third major semifinal but first at the French by eliminating No. 4 Andy Murray 6-4, 6-7 (7-3), 6-3, 6-2 in a match interrupted by a half-hour rain delay early in the third set.

"Winning a match against Rafa is almost impossible," Ferrer said of his fellow Spaniard. "He is in such good shape."

Ferrer and Federer are both 30 — the last two of the record 37 thirtysomethings who were in the draw — and it's the first time two French Open semifinalists were at least that old since Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall in 1969.

Against Murray, Ferrer was the picture of perpetual motion, chasing down shots to extend points time after time.

Maria Sharapova moved another step closer to filling in the last piece of the career Grand Slam, defeating Kaia Kanepi 6-2, 6-3 to reach the semifinals.

Second-seeded Sharapova rolled through her 23rd-seeded opponent in 74 minutes, a much different scene than the three-set win over Klara Zakopalova in the fourth round that took more than three hours.

"I'm happy with the way I improved in this match," Sharapova said.

Her next opponent is fourth-seeded Petra Kvitova, the Wimbledon champion who ended 142nd-ranked qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova's upset-filled run with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory.

Kvitova reached the semi­finals for the third time over the past four Grand Slams.

Sharapova made the semifinals at the French for the third time. She lost at that stage last year and in 2007.

"I love coming back here, love challenging myself to get further every year, and I hope this is this year," she said.

In today's other semifinal, Tampa resident and No. 6 Sam Stosur faces No. 21 Sara Errani, who is winless against Stosur, the U.S. Open champion, in five tries.

Comments
Alex Cobb and Logan Morrison have ex-Ray vision. Here’s what they see.

Alex Cobb and Logan Morrison have ex-Ray vision. Here’s what they see.

ST. PETERSBURG — Absolutely, Alex Cobb was saying over the phone, it's going to be weird pitching Tuesday against the Rays.The organization that he owes so much for rearing him since high school, standing by him through assorted injuries, enabl...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
The key to the Lightning’s success

The key to the Lightning’s success

This is quite the run the Lightning is on over the past five years.A playoff appearance in 2014. A trip to the Stanley Cup final in 2015. A return to the Eastern Conference final in 2016. A near-miss of the postseason last season. And now back in the...
Updated: 3 hours ago
HomeTeam Hot Shot winners: Brooke Blankenship and Luca Tresh

HomeTeam Hot Shot winners: Brooke Blankenship and Luca Tresh

Brooke Blankenship, Academy at the LakesAcademy at the Lakes knew it would be difficult to manufacture runs during last week's anticipated matchup with Land O'Lakes and Gators ace Callie Turner.So the Wildcats decided to steal a run.This wasn't any h...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Shaquem Griffin on TODAY show: ‘I’m not limited to nothing’

Shaquem Griffin on TODAY show: ‘I’m not limited to nothing’

Shaquem Griffin's ability to play football without a left hand has made him the talk of the NFL draft. But the former Lakewood High and UCF star is determined to silence such talk with his play."It gets tiring," Griffin said today...
Updated: 6 hours ago
HomeTeam 25: Softball rankings for Tampa Bay

HomeTeam 25: Softball rankings for Tampa Bay

1. Sunlake (22-1)Up next: Wednesday vs. Clearwater-Northeast winner (7A-10 semifinals)The buzz: The Seahawks beat Anclote, Gulf and Zephyrhills last week to extend their win streak to 16, currently the longest in the area. Sunlake has been dominant, ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Polly want a sacker: Bucs’ 4th-round draft pick to be delivered by parrot

Polly want a sacker: Bucs’ 4th-round draft pick to be delivered by parrot

Late-round NFL draft picks are often made on a wing and a prayer.The Bucs' fourth-round pick Saturday will be no different. The team announced Monday that as part of the NFL draft TV broadcast, the team's fourth-round pick will be delivered to an ann...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Projecting where USF’s prospects will get drafted

Projecting where USF’s prospects will get drafted

For all the analyses and hypotheses, all the Mels and McShays, all the pro days and private workouts, the NFL draft remains a crap shoot at its core.But just for kicks, we're rolling the dice anyway.As a prelude to what could — could — be...
Updated: 9 hours ago
USF baseball cracks top 25

USF baseball cracks top 25

For the first time this season, USF's baseball team has cracked the national rankings.The Bulls (26-14, 9-6), coming off series wins against UCF and No. 7 East Carolina, are No. 20 in the latest Baseball America weekly poll. USF, winner of five of it...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Swimmer Michael Phelps to headline Crystal Lagoon grand opening Saturday

Swimmer Michael Phelps to headline Crystal Lagoon grand opening Saturday

WESLEY CHAPEL — Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps will splash down Saturday at the Crystal Lagoon in Wesley Chapel’s Epperson development.Phelps, a global ambassador for Crystal Lagoons, will appear at the grand opening of the first Crystal Lagoon...
Updated: 10 hours ago
How Deon Cain went from lifelong quarterback to NFL-bound receiver

How Deon Cain went from lifelong quarterback to NFL-bound receiver

TAMPA — Ricky Sailor thought his colleague had lost his mind.Sailor's Unsigned Preps 7-on-7 team had one of the area's most promising young quarterbacks, Deon Cain. So why would one of his coaches, Carlos Blake, want to risk injury and burn bri...
Updated: 11 hours ago