Thiem sends Murray packing

Thiem sends Murray packing

Andy Murray (L) of Britain congratulates Dominic Thiem of Austria at the ATP Barcelona Open
Andy Murray (L) of Britain congratulates Dominic Thiem of Austria at the ATP Barcelona Open "Conde de Godo" Tennis Tournament in Barcelona Saturday. — AFP

BARCELONA — Rafael Nadal reached the final of the Barcelona Open by dispatching Argentine Horacio Zeballos 6-3, 6-4 Saturday to book his place in Sunday’s showpiece against Dominic Thiem where he will be looking to win the tournament for a 10th time.

Thiem knocked out world No. 1 Andy Murray 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 for the first time in his career, becoming the first Austrian since Thomas Muster in 1996 to reach the final of the claycourt tournament.

Nadal struck the first blow by breaking the unseeded Zeballos in the fourth game and the difference in quality between the two players soon began to show.

Zeballos earned two break points in the fourth game of the second set but 14-time grand-slam winner Nadal recovered to hold his serve and wrapped up his victory in 94 minutes, setting up a re-match with Thiem, who beat him last year on clay in the Argentina Open semifinals.

Just as in Friday’s grueling quarterfinal with Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Murray got off to a bad start.

The Briton relied on his serve to recover the second set but could not sustain the level and bowed out.

Mladenovic ends Sharapova run

Former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova crashed out of the Stuttgart Grand Prix semifinal in her first event back after a 15-month doping suspension, losing to France’s Kristina Mladenovic 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 Saturday.

Wildcard entrant Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner, squandered a 6-3, 2-0 lead as Mladenovic clawed her way back into the game to win after two hours and 38 minutes.

Sharapova had not lost a set in the previous three matches of her comeback this week.

Her defeat means she will finish outside the top 200 when the rankings are released Monday, ruling out a qualifier spot for the French Open.

Sharapova, who was banned for using meldonium after testing positive at the 2016 Australian Open, has also received wildcards for forthcoming tournaments in Madrid and Rome. — Agencies