Fognini fires up Foro Italico crowd with win over Thiem

ROME — Fabio Fognini got the Foro Italico crowd fired up Wednesday with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 win over sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem in the second round of the Italian Open.

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.

“I played very well today,” said Thiem, who beat Rafael Nadal in the Madrid Open semifinals last week. “It was just him, he was very pumped playing at home.”

Nadal, a seven-time Rome champion, routed 31st-ranked Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 6-0.

While Fognini drop-kicked his racket onto the court after a miss early in the third set, it was Thiem who ultimately lost his cool. In the final game, Thiem smashed his racket into a mangled wreck and handed it to a befuddled fan in the front row.

When Thiem netted a service return two points later to end it, the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army was blasted over the stadium sound system and the crowd began singing along in an atmosphere that more closely resembled a soccer game than a tennis match.

“We’re finally connecting and I think that’s the most beautiful thing,” Fognini said of the crowd, which whistled him off the court following an erratic performance a few years ago. “They finally understand me.

“I beat a top clay-courter,” Fognini added. “I think I deserved it at the end. … I ruined a few flowers but I think the federation can afford to buy some new ones.”

Thiem was already looking ahead to the French Open, which starts on May 27.

“It’s a loss which is not too painful, which is just motivating me for the next weeks,” the Austrian said.

Also on the red clay of the Foro Italico, Albert Ramos-Vinolas rallied to beat eighth-seeded John Isner 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5).

In women’s action, Simona Halep routed Naomi Osaka 6-1, 6-0 for the first of two wins she needs this week to hold on to the No. 1 ranking.

Halep needs to reach at least the quarterfinals or risk losing the top spot to Caroline Wozniacki.

It was a sharp turnaround for Halep from when Osaka lost only three games against her in the Indian Wells semifinals in March — when Osaka went on to win her first career title.

Osaka wasted four break points and a chance to take a 2-0 lead in the first set, then lost 11 straight games.

“For some reason, I couldn’t get a ball in the court after that, on my backhand side,” Osaka said. “And she was playing very solid. And I knew she knew I couldn’t hit a backhand, so we were just having backhand rallies.

On Halep’s first match point, the 21st-ranked Osaka didn’t even make a move for Halep’s return of her second serve.

Last year in Rome, Halep rolled her ankle in the final and lost a lead and the championship to Elina Svitolina.

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 she “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.

Also, U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens held off a comeback from Estonian qualifier Kaia Kanepi in a 6-0, 5-7, 6-4 victory; seventh-seeded Caroline Garcia defeated Timea Babos 6-3, 6-4; and 14th-seeded Daria Kasatkina eliminated American qualifier Danielle Collins 6-2, 6-3.

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More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

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

Andrew Dampf, The Associated Press

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