Nadal eases past Shapovalov and into Rome last eight

ROME — Rafael Nadal brushed aside the challenge of Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov with a 6-4, 6-1 victory to reach the Italian Open quarterfinals on Thursday.

The 31-year-old will face Italian Fabio Fognini in the last eight as he looks to retake the world number one ranking from Roger Federer by winning an eighth Rome title this week.

Nadal has already won his 11th titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona during the current clay-court season, but has lost in the quarterfinals in each of the last three years in Italy.

He was far too strong for Shapovalov, taking the opening set with a break in the seventh game before racing through the second to gain a measure of revenge for his shock defeat by the 19-year-old in Montreal last year.

Home hope Fognini reached the quarter-finals for the first time with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Peter Gojowiczyk. Fognini was 4-2 down after a break in the first but won four games in a row against the German.

Germany's Alexander Zverev kept his Italian Open title defense on track but needed eight match points to get past Briton Kyle Edmund and reach the quarterfinals. Zverev won through 7-5, 7-6 (13-11) and will play Belgian David Goffin for a place in the last four.

Ninth seed Goffin advanced after Argentine fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro retired while trailing 6-2, 4-5 with a groin injury. For 21-year-old Zverev it was an 11th consecutive win after back-to-back title runs at Munich and Madrid.

Fourth seeded Croatian Marin Cilic breezed past Frenchman Benoît Paire 6-3, 6-4 into the quarterfinals, but tenth seeded Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta was made to toil by Slovak Aljaz Bedene for his 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2 victory en route to the last eight.

Halep on track to retain No.1

spot, Venus tripped up again

Simona Halep boosted her bid to retain her world No. 1 ranking as the top seed advanced to the quarterfinals of the Italian Open after American Madison Keys withdrew injured on Thursday.

The Romanian, a finalist in Rome last year, is on her way to holding her top ranking as she next plays France's Caroline Garcia or American Sloane Stephens.

Halep needed to reach at least the last eight and go further than world No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki to retain the top-ranking going into the French Open. Wozniacki plays her third round match later on Thursday.

Keys, the 2016 runner-up in Rome, withdrew from both singles and doubles, in which she was partnering Venus Williams. "I felt my rib in my match yesterday and after trying to warm up this morning it was still painful," Keys said.

Venus Williams fell to her second defeat in a week to Estonia's Anett Kontaveit losing in the third round match in straight sets in 1hr 19min. The 22-year-old Kontaveit won through 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) against her 37-year-old American rival who was seeded eighth in a tournament she won nearly two decades ago to 1999.

Kontaveit, who also beat Williams last week in Madrid, next plays either second seed Wozniacki or Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova for a place in the semi-finals.

Defending champion Elina Svitolina of the Ukraine fought back from a first set wipeout against Darya Kasatkina to win 0-6, 6-3, 6-2. Fifth seed Jelena Ostapenko also needed three sets to get past Britain's Johanna Konta 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, with Germany's Angelique Kerber, seeded 11th, ending the hopes of Greece's Maria Sakkari 6-1, 6-1. Also Maria Sharapova of Russia beat Daria Gavrilova of Australia 6-3, 6-4, in a battle of unseeded players.

Cornet pulls out of Strasbourg,

hopeful for French Open

France's Alize Cornet has pulled out of the Strasbourg International tournament because of a groin injury but hopes to be ready for the French Open. Cornet, who was cleared of an anti-doping violation on Tuesday after a charge against her for missing three out-of-competition drug tests was dismissed, picked up the injury last week in Madrid, where she was beaten in the first round by Svitolina.

"I am very disappointed that I cannot take part in the Strasbourg tournament but unfortunately I have not fully recovered from an adductor muscle injury," the world No. 32 said on Twitter on Thursday. "I am going to do everything to be ready for the French Open."

Cornet, who won the Strasbourg tournament in 2013, reached the last 16 at Roland Garros last year. The French Open runs from May 27-June 10. — AFP