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Rafael Nadal wins 13th Slam title

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– Hard to believe this is the same Rafael Nadal who was home during the US Open a year ago, nursing a bad left knee.

Hard to believe this is the guy sent packing in the first round of Wimbledon in June, losing against someone ranked 135th.
Looking fit as can be and maybe even better than ever, the No. 2-ranked Nadal pulled away from No. 1 Novak Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 on Monday in a taut, tense US Open final for his 13th Grand Slam title.

“This is probably the most emotional one in my career,” Nadal said. “I know I had to be almost perfect to win.”

They started in sunlight and finished at night, a 3-hour, 21-minute miniseries of cliffhangers and plot twists and a pair of protagonists who inspired standing ovations in the middle of games.

“Probably nobody brings my game to the limit like Novak,” said Nadal, who collected $3.6 million in prize money, including a $1 million bonus for results during the North American hard-court circuit.

There was no quit in either of them, during points that lasted 15, 25, even more than 50 strokes. Those rallies went so long, rarely over when they appeared to be, and spectators often shouted out during the course of play, prompting Nadal to complain to the chair umpire.

This was their 37th match against each other, the most between any two men in the Open era, and Nadal has won 22. It also was their third head-to-head US Open final in the last four years. Nadal beat Djokovic for the 2010 title, and Djokovic won their rematch in 2011.

They know each other’s games so well, and play such similar hustle-to-every-ball styles, but in the end, it was Nadal who was superior.

“He was too good. He definitely deserved to win this match today and this trophy,” Djokovic said. “Obviously disappointing to lose a match like this.”

Nadal improved to 22-0 on hard courts and 60-3 overall in 2013 with 10 titles, including at the French Open, which made him the first man with at least one Grand Slam trophy in nine consecutive seasons. The 27-year-old Spaniard’s total of 13 major championships ranks third in the history of men’s tennis, behind only Roger Federer’s 17 and Pete Sampras’ 14.

Nadal has won a record eight titles at the French Open, two each at the US Open and Wimbledon, and one at the Australian Open.

“Thirteen Grand Slams for a guy who is 27 years old is incredible,” said Djokovic, who owns six himself. “Whatever he achieved so far in his career, everybody should respect, no question about it.” Nadal no longer wears the strips of white tape he once did to bolster his left knee, and the way he covered the court against Djokovic — switching from defense to offense in a blink — proved that while he says he still feels pain in that leg, he definitely does not have problems moving around.

He was off the tour for about seven months, missing the London Olympics and US Open last year, and the Australian Open this year.

“The hardest part is the pain, always,” Toni Nadal, Rafael’s uncle and coach, told The Associated Press. “You have pain, and you play. But the problem is you never know if you can run so fast, like before, or if you can play against the best players. From one day to (the next), it’s difficult, always.”

Nadal sure has managed to hide it well. He improved to 8-3 against Djokovic in Grand Slam matches, including a thriller of a semifinal at the French Open, which Nadal won 9-7 in the fifth set after trailing.

These two also played the longest Grand Slam final in history, a nearly six-hour struggle that left both needing to sit in chairs during the ceremony after Djokovic’s victory at the 2012 Australian Open.

This time, when it ended with a forehand into the net by Djokovic, Nadal dropped to his back on the court, saluted by an Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd that included the Queen of Spain.

Nadal was relentless from shot to shot, yes, and from point to point, too, but what might have been most impressive was the way he stayed steady when Djokovic recovered from a rough start and began asserting himself.

At the outset, Djokovic was his own worst enemy on many points, a touch or two off the mark. Nadal claimed 12 of the last 14 points in the first set, with Djokovic looking almost bored.

The world saw this sort of listless, lackluster Djokovic two months ago in the final at Wimbledon, where Nadal had exited a Grand Slam tournament in the opening round for the only time in his career. That time, Djokovic went through a difficult semifinal — at 4:43, the longest in Wimbledon history — and barely put up much resistance in a straight-set loss to Andy Murray two days later.

In New York, Djokovic was coming off another four-hour semifinal victory, and the key stat in the first set Monday was that he made 14 unforced errors, 10 more than Nadal.There were no surprising or innovative tactics from Nadal. In the simplest of terms, he reached nearly every ball Djokovic delivered, and Nadal’s replies nearly never missed the intended spot, accented by his huge uppercut of a swing and loud grunts of “Aaaah!” By match’s end, Djokovic had made 53 unforced errors, Nadal only 20.

“Credit to my opponent. He was making me run,” said Djokovic, who won the Australian Open in January and will remain No. 1 in the rankings despite Monday’s loss. “I had my ups and downs.”

The Serb’s biggest ups came in the second set. Nadal was broken a grand total of once through his first six matches in the tournament — a string that reached 88 games by early in the final’s second set. But with Djokovic raising his level, and gaining control of more of the many extended exchanges, he broke Nadal three times in a row.

“When Novak plays (at) that level,” Nadal said, “I’m not sure if (anybody can) stop him.”

The first came for a 4-2 lead in the second set, thanks to the crescendo of the longest point of these two weeks, which ended when Nadal’s backhand found the net on the 55th stroke. Djokovic used superb defense to elongate the point, tossing his body around to bail himself out repeatedly by blunting Nadal’s violent strokes. When the memorable point ended, Djokovic bellowed and raised both arms, and thousands of fans rose to their feet, chanting his nickname, “No-le! No-le!”

Now Djokovic was energized, and Nadal was suddenly in a tad of trouble.

“Djokovic was so good in the second set and the third. But Rafael was always there, there, there. And in the end, he won,” Toni Nadal said. “He was so strong in his mind. That was the difference.”

The final momentum shift came with Nadal serving at 4-all in the third set. Djokovic earned three break points, thanks in part to a tremendous lob-volley and another point when Nadal slipped and tumbled to his backside.

But a quick forehand winner by Nadal, a forehand into the net by Djokovic on a 22-stroke point, and a 125 mph ace — Nadal’s only one of the evening, it drew shouts of “Vamos!” from Uncle Toni — helped avoid another break.

“I didn’t do anything I felt (was) wrong in these few points,” Djokovic said. “He didn’t make a mistake.”

In the very next game, Nadal broke Djokovic’s serve and, apparently, his will. When that set ended with Djokovic pushing a forehand long on a 19-shot point, Nadal screamed as he knelt down at the baseline, his racket on the court and his left fist pumping over and over and over.

“A really important set,” Nadal called it later, “and a really special one.”

Djokovic made one last serious stand, holding break points in the fourth set’s first game, but Nadal saved those, then immediately broke to go ahead 2-0.

Once again, Nadal withstood Djokovic’s best and was on his way to another Grand Slam celebration.

“It’s what we do when we play against each other, always pushing each other to the limit,” Djokovic said. “That’s the beauty of our matches and our rivalry, I guess, in the end.”

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Serena Williams into third round

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Only a few spots separate them in the seedings. Still, the considerable gulf between No. 1 Serena Williams and No. 4 Sara Errani was hard to ignore in their back-to-back matches Thursday at the US Open.

Williams, seeking her 17th Grand Slam title and second straight at Flushing Meadows, brushed off an ungainly slide onto her backside en route to a typically easy second-round victory, 6-3, 6-0 over Galina Voskoboeva in half-full Arthur Ashe Stadium, and later collected a doubles win with sister Venus.Barely worth talking about by Williams’ standards: “I’ll have to think about it and see what I can do better, but it was OK,” she said.

Only an hour before on the same court, a much different scene: Errani imploded in a 6-3, 6-1 loss to her Italian teammate, 83rd-ranked Flavia Pennetta. Then, while tears welled up in her eyes, Errani conceded that she’s struggling to handle her high ranking and the high expectations that have come with that.

“My problem isn’t that I lost. I’ve lost a million times in my life,” Errani said. “My problem is trying to find the desire to fight and be on the court ready to fight. For a few weeks, I haven’t felt like I wanted to be on the court. That’s the problem.”

That concession was the most unexpected development on Day 4 of the U.S. Open, where the tournament got back on track after a rainy Wednesday that postponed eight women’s matches and shuffled the lineups.

American Christina McHale won a three-setter over Elina Svitolina, while another U.S. player, 81st-ranked Allison Riske, had an easier time in a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Mona Barthel.

“You never know at these things,” Riske said after making the third round of her second straight Grand Slam tournament. “Anything can happen. That’s kind of the beauty of tennis in general. Ranking is kind of just a number.”

But Victoria Duval, the 296th-ranked, 17-year-old American who earned her first victory in a Grand Slam tournament Tuesday, couldn’t keep the magic going. She fell 6-2, 6-3, to 30-year-old Daniela Hantuchova.

“I think today I couldn’t quite get myself going,” Duval said. “But I’ve had a great experience this whole tournament.”

Williams was pushed only briefly against Voskoboeva, ranked 77th from Kazakhstan.

Serving at game point trailing 5-3, Voskoboeva drew Williams to the net, and as Williams reached for the ball, her feet slid out from under her and she fell hard onto her backside, her racket slamming to the ground. Before she fell, however, she reached the shot to win the point. Two points later, she closed out the set.

The second set took all of 27 minutes. When it was over, Williams was sitting at the same table where Errani had cried earlier, being asked how she would advise the Italian, who said she was “destroyed by the pressure” of returning to the French Open this year, where she followed up her 2012 appearance in the final with a run to the semifinals.

“I really wouldn’t know what to say,” Williams said. “I can only say that I think she’s doing a good job. I mean, sometimes you have a tough day at the office, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t handle the pressure well.”She is 5-foot-4½ with energy to spare, but with loopy, unthreatening groundstrokes and a serve that maxes out at around 85 mph. It has been, even by her account, heart and grit that helped her get to the 2012 French Open final, then follow that with a trip to the US Open semifinal, where she lost 6-1, 6-2 to Williams.

Those results, plus a tournament win and three second-place finishes on tour this year, made her the highest-seeded Italian woman ever in a major for this trip to Flushing Meadows.

But after a 6-0, 6-0 victory over a 152nd-ranked “lucky loser” in the opening round, Errani previewed what was to come, saying then that her tension was “through the roof” knowing that “everyone expects me to win 6-0, 6-0, or thinks that I can only lose against three other women in this tournament.”

Then, after the loss to Pennetta, Errani tearfully acknowledged she couldn’t handle the strain.

“For a couple of weeks now, I haven’t been well,” she said. “There’s too much pressure. …I don’t know why, but I’m not enjoying going on the courts, and that is the worst thing a player can have.”

It didn’t help, of course, that she was playing an opponent with nothing to lose, the way many players react when they face someone in the top-5. Last year, Pennetta missed the US Open and the entire end of the season while she recovered from surgery on her bad right wrist.

Going against a player she’s familiar with, Pennetta went for it and hit 33 winners to only 12 for Errani. Pennetta broke serve in the very first game and never looked back.

“I tried to play aggressive from the very beginning and I was perfect today, I think,” Pennetta said.

As for her friend’s woes — well, Pennetta certainly didn’t see them through the same lens as Errani.

“It’s nothing tragic for her,” Pennetta said. “One match is one match.”

Williams continued her winning ways Thursday night, rallying from down a set and from down a break in the third with sister Venus to win their first-round doubles match.

A day after Venus was eliminated in singles in the second round, the sisters beat Spaniards Silvia Soler-Espinosa and Carla Suarez Navarro 6-7 (5), 6-0, 6-3.

The sisters have won 13 Grand Slam doubles titles together, though they didn’t enter the French Open or Wimbledon this year. They are unseeded at Flushing Meadows.

Second-seeded Victoria Azarenka overcame some shaky serving and uncharacteristic mistakes to easily beat an opponent who struggled even more.

Azarenka defeated Aleksandra Wozniak 6-3, 6-1. Azarenka had more unforced errors than winners (19 to 16), but Wozniak made 35 unforced errors.

Wozniak had missed most of the last year because of a right shoulder injury. She got into the US Open on a special ranking of No. 41. The Canadian won just one of her eight service games.

Azarenka, the two-time Australian Open champ, will next face 26th-seeded Alize Cornet. Azarenka lost to Williams in last year’s final but defeated Williams for the second time this year in the Cincinnati final earlier this month.

Elsewhere in early play around Flushing Meadows, Errani’s doubles partner, No. 10 Roberta Vinci, defeated Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, while this year’s Wimbledon runner-up, 16th-seeded Sabine Lisicki, defeated Paula Ormaechea of Argentina 6-2, 6-3.

Other winners included No. 9 Jelena Jankovic, No. 25 Kaia Kanepi and No. 27 Svetlana Kuznetsova, who, besides Williams, is the only player left in the women’s field to have won the US Open.

Sixth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki beat Chanelle Scheepers 6-1, 6-2 to open the night session.

No. 8 Angelique Kerber withstood a tough fight from teenager Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, winning 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

Kerber, who has spent the past year in the top 10, says she embraces the expectations that come with the ranking.

“Of course I feel the pressure, but right now I’m not thinking about this,” she said. “I just try to give my best and play my tennis and feel good.”

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Venus Williams out in 2nd round

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NEW YORK — After her latest early Grand Slam exit, Venus Williams was asked what the future holds for her at the U.S. Open.

In one breath, Williams brushed aside the unspoken reference to retirement, saying, “I definitely want to come back for the atmosphere.”

And in the next, she added, “I mean, next year’s Open is so far away right now.”At 33, slowed the past couple of years by an autoimmune disease that saps energy, and hampered much of this season by a bad back, Williams knows by now that such queries are going to arrive, particularly after results such as her 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (5) loss to 56th-ranked Zheng Jie of China on a wet Wednesday at Flushing Meadows. It is the third year in a row that the two-time champion is out of the U.S. Open after two rounds.

“If I didn’t think I had anything in the tank, I wouldn’t be here,” said Williams, who was ranked No. 1 in 2002 and is currently 60th. “I feel like I do, and that’s why I’m here.”

The American acquitted herself well for stretches, erasing deficits over and over again, until she simply ran out of solutions against Zheng, a former top-15 player and twice a major semifinalist.

“I just kept trying to fight today,” Williams said.

In what she took as an encouraging sign, Williams was out there for 3 hours, 2 minutes, tying for the fifth-longest women’s match since 1970 at the U.S. Open. The third set alone lasted 1½ hours.

“I was like, ‘Wow, this is a marathon,'” Williams said.

Near the finish line, she faltered. On the final two points, Williams missed a volley, then a return. She wound up with 44 unforced errors in all, half on forehands, in part because Zheng kept scrambling along the baseline to get to balls and block them back, making Williams hit extra shots.

During her on-court interview, Zheng addressed the partisan crowd that was raucously pulling for Williams in Louis Armstrong Stadium, saying: “First, I want to say, ‘Sorry, guys.'”

Rain began falling in the early afternoon, jumbling the schedule, and eight women’s singles matches were postponed entirely, including Williams’ younger sister Serena against Galina Voskoboeva.

Other women’s winners included 2011 French Open champion Li Na, 2012 Wimbledon runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska and 30th-seeded Laura Robson of Britain. Robson beat Li last year in New York, and now they’ll have a rematch.”I remember being so nervous when I walked on court,” the 19-year-old Robson said. “She made a lot of mistakes in the first set, which helped quite a lot. Hopefully she’ll do that again.”

Venus Williams and Zheng played all of two points before being interrupted by showers. When they resumed two hours later, Williams kept making mistakes.

“I couldn’t pray a ball in,” she said.

But in the second set, Williams more like someone who won the U.S. Open in 2000 and 2001, and five Wimbledon titles.

Every point she won, it seemed, drew clapping and screaming from on-their-feet spectators.

“I love that. I wish I could play some more for that,” Williams said. “I want to come back here just for that, at this point.”

A drizzle halted action elsewhere, but Williams and Zheng continued.

Zheng led 4-1 in the tiebreaker, before Williams made one last stand. But at 5-all, Williams put a backhand volley into the net as she lost her footing.

“I should have made the shot,” Williams said. “I was just rushing.”

That gave Zheng her first match point, and Williams’ backhand return missed, ending her stay in the singles draw.

As she pointed out more than once during her news conference, there’s still doubles to play with her sister.

The older Williams hasn’t been ranked in the top 10 in 2½ years. The last time she made it beyond the third round at a major tournament was a fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon in 2011.

At the 2011 U.S. Open, Williams withdrew before her second-round match, announcing she had Sjogren’s syndrome, an illness that causes joint pain and fatigue.

She lost a three-setter in the second round in New York last year.

Two of her previous four trips to major tournaments ended in the first round, including at the French Open in May. Because of her back, Williams sat out Wimbledon for the only time in her career in June.

But she is not ready to say goodbye.

“I’ve had a tough set of circumstances to work through, too, especially this year, last year, and the year before. I’ve been dealt some cards that aren’t as easy to deal with, but I have to play with them. The last few months haven’t been easy, coming back from the back injury,” Williams said.

“I feel like it’s definitely affected my game, but I’m working on it,” she added. “I’m a fighter.”

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Rafael Nadal upset in 1st round

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LONDON — In one of Wimbledon’s greatest upsets, an ailing Rafael Nadal was knocked out in straight sets Monday by a player ranked 135th — the Spaniard’s first loss in the opening round of a Grand Slam event.
Steve Darcis of Belgium stunned the two-time champion 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 6-4. He ended Nadal’s 22-match winning streak and eliminated one of the Big Four of men’s tennis on the first day of the grass-court Grand Slam.

In other first-round matches, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and John Isner all advanced.

Nadal was sidelined for seven months with a left knee injury after losing in the second round of Wimbledon last year. He seemed to be struggling physically. He was unable to turn on the speed or use his legs to spring into his groundstrokes, limping and failing to run for some shots.

Darcis was as surprised as everyone else with the result.

“Rafa Nadal didn’t play his best tennis today,” the 29-year-old Belgian said. “The first match on grass is always difficult. It’s his first one. Of course, it’s a big win. I tried to come to the net as soon as I could, not play too far from the baseline. I think it worked pretty good today.”

Nadal was coming off his eighth championship at the French Open last month, but on this day, he never looked like the player who has won 12 Grand Slam titles and established himself as one of the greatest players of his generation.

It’s the second straight early Wimbledon exit for Nadal, who was ousted in the second round last year by 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol.

After that loss, Nadal took the rest of the year off to recover from the knee problem. Since returning to action this year, he had made it to the finals of all nine tournaments he entered, winning seven.

After winning the French Open, Nadal pulled out of a grass-court tuneup in Halle, Germany. He came to Wimbledon without any serious grass-court preparation.

Nadal declined to blame any injury and gave full credit to Darcis, who had never beaten a top-5 player before and has yet to go beyond the third round of any Grand Slam.

“I don’t … talk about my knee this afternoon,” Nadal said. “Only thing that can say today is congratulate Steve Darcis. He played a fantastic match. Everything that I will say today about my knee is an excuse, and I don’t like to put any excuse when I’m losing a match like I lost today.”

Darcis is the lowest-ranked player to beat Nadal at any tournament since Joachim Johansson — ranked No. 690 — defeated the Spaniard in 2006 in Stockholm.

Gustavo Kuerten, in 1997, was the last reigning French Open champion to lose in the first round at Wimbledon.

“The opponent played well,” Nadal said. “I had my chances. I didn’t make it. So in grass (it’s) difficult to adapt yourself, to adapt your game. When you don’t have the chance to play before, I didn’t have that chance this year, is tougher. I didn’t find my rhythm.”

Darcis, who had won only one previous match at Wimbledon, played the match of his life Monday, going for his shots and moving Nadal from corner to corner. Darcis amassed a total of 53 winners, compared with 32 for Nadal.

Darcis finished the match in style, serving an ace down the middle — his 13th — as Nadal failed to chase after the ball.

“Nobody was expecting me to win,” he said. “So I had to play a good match, relax, and enjoy the game. That’s what I did.”

Earlier, Federer began his bid for a record eighth title at the All England Club with the same dominance that has defined his grass-court greatness.

Ten years after his first Wimbledon championship, Federer opened the tournament on Centre Court as defending champion and looked right at home as he dismantled Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-3, 6-2, 6-0.

This was a grass-court clinic from Federer that lasted 68 minutes. He had 32 winners, seven aces and just six unforced errors.

He won 90 percent of the points when he put his first serve in. When his serve is clicking, Federer usually is unbeatable. On this day, he won his first 15 service points and 24 out of the first 25.

“I’m happy to get out of there early and quickly,” Federer said. “So it was a perfect day.”

Second-seeded Murray of Britain defeated Benjamin Becker of Germany 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

Murray lost to Federer in last year’s final. He is bidding again to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. Murray broke his opponent five times and served 11 aces.

“It was a tough start for me. He is a very good grass player,” Murray said. “I was ready and to win in three sets was a good start. There’s always nerves at the start of a Grand Slam and I’m glad to get it out of the way and hopefully I can improve as it goes on.”

Sixth-seeded Tsonga of France eased into the second round with a 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-3 win over David Goffin of Belgium.
Tsonga served 18 aces and hit 48 winners on Court 2.

Marathon man Isner finished a quick Grand Slam match for a change, beating 66th-ranked Evgeny Donskoy of Russia 6-1, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2).

The 6-foot-9 Isner, who is seeded 18th, had 22 aces with just one double-fault. He didn’t face a break point.

The match took only 1 hour, 43 minutes — a far cry from Isner’s record-breaking 11-plus-hour, 70-68 fifth-set victory over Nicolas Mahut in the first round at the All England Club in 2010.

Isner has left each of his past five Grand Slam tournaments with five-set defeats, including at the French Open on June 1, when he saved 12 match points against Tommy Haas before losing the 13th.

A year after stunning Nadal at Wimbledon, Rosol lost his first-round match against a qualifier ranked 121st.

Rosol, who came in ranked 35th, was beaten 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 Monday by Germany’s Julian Reister.

The Rosol-Reister match was on tiny Court 19, a short walk from Centre Court, where the then-100th-ranked Rosol pulled off a surprising five-set victory over two-time Wimbledon champion Nadal in 2012’s second round.

Against Reister, Rosol played the same sort of high-risk game he used so successfully against Nadal. This time, Rosol was not nearly as accurate, accumulating 74 unforced errors, 30 more than Reister.

Last year, Federer equaled Pete Sampras and William Renshaw with seven Wimbledon titles. He is contending to become the first man to win the tournament eight times, which would bring his total of Grand Slam titles to 18.
In an upset of a smaller scale Monday, former champion Lleyton Hewitt ousted 11th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.

Playing his 15th consecutive Wimbledon and his 57th Grand Slam overall, Hewitt made the most of his opponent’s mistakes to progress. Wawrinka had 44 unforced errors and exited the tournament in the first round for the fifth time.

Hewitt won the title at the All England Club in 2002.

In keeping with tradition, Federer had the honor of playing the first match on the sport’s biggest stage as the reigning men’s champion. This was the seventh time he strode out first on Centre Court.

“It’s slightly different,” he said. “Nine years ago when I came out the first time, it was the most special thing in the world. It still feels amazing. It was an absolute pleasure playing on Centre Court.”

Federer came out wearing a white collared jacket with orange trim, then quickly got down to business. He never faced a break point and broke six times.

Federer has a habit of making things look easy. And so it was in the opening game when, stranded at the net, he reached behind him for a reflex forehand volley that landed in for a winner. In the third set, Federer lifted a perfect backhand lob over the 6-foot-6 Hanescu for a break and a 5-0 lead.

Also advancing among the men were No. 10 Marin Cilic and No. 15 Nicolas Almagro. Janko Tipsarevic, seeded No. 14, lost to fellow Serb Viktor Troicki, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (5).

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Maria to Serena: Don’t get personal

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LONDON — Maria Sharapova took quite a shot at Serena Williams — and it was nowhere near a tennis court.

At her pre-Wimbledon news conference Saturday, Sharapova was asked about a recent Rolling Stone article where the author surmised that critical comments directed at an unnamed player by Williams were referring to Sharapova.

“At the end of the day, we have a tremendous amount of respect for what we do on the court. I just think she should be talking about her accomplishments, her achievements, rather than everything else that’s just getting attention and controversy,” Sharapova said.
“If she wants to talk about something personal, maybe she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids,” Sharapova continued. “Talk about other things, but not draw attention to other things. She has so much in her life, many positives, and I think that’s what it should be about.”

Williams has been linked to coach Patrick Mouratoglou, but neither has confirmed their relationship extends beyond the court. When Mouratoglou was asked about the topic at the French Open this month, he smiled and replied: “Sorry. I don’t understand the question.”

According to the Rolling Stone story, posted online Tuesday, Williams spoke about what the reporter described as “a top-five player who is now in love.”

Williams is quoted as saying: “She begins every interview with `I’m so happy. I’m so lucky’ — it’s so boring. She’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it.”

That is followed by these words in parentheses from the author of the piece, Stephen Rodrick: “An educated guess is she’s talking about Sharapova, who is now dating Grigor Dimitrov, one of Serena’s rumored exes.”

Sharapova beat Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final. But Williams has won their past 13 matches in a row, including in the French Open final two weeks ago.

At Wimbledon, where play begins Monday, Williams is the defending champion and seeded No. 1. Sharapova is seeded No. 3. They only could face each other in the final.

Williams is scheduled to hold a pre-tournament news conference at Wimbledon on Sunday.

The Rolling Stone article, which was about 4,000 words, drew widespread attention mostly for a one-paragraph reference to the Steubenville rape case. Williams is quoted as saying the teenage victim “shouldn’t have put herself in that position.”

Two players from the Steubenville, Ohio, high school football team were convicted in March of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl; one of the boys was ordered to serve an additional year for photographing the girl naked. The case gained widespread attention in part because of the callousness with which other students used social media to gossip about it.

A day after the story was posted, Williams issued a statement in which she said she was “reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written.”

Williams’ statement continued: “What was written — what I supposedly said — is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame.”

Said Sharapova on Saturday: “I was definitely sad to hear what she had to say about the whole case.”

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Serena Williams takes 16th Slam title

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PARIS — Two hours before her French Open final, Serena Williams practiced on center court, the stands deserted as she whacked one winner after another to the distant sounds of a brass band playing on the plaza.

When the music stopped, the seats filled and the match began, Williams went on defense, relentlessly chasing down one shot after another to defeat familiar foil Maria Sharapova. With a 6-4, 6-4 victory, the No. 1-ranked Williams won her first French Open championship since 2002.
“Eleven years,” Williams said in French during the trophy ceremony. “I think it’s unbelievable. Now I have 16 Grand Slam titles. It’s difficult for me to speak because I’m so excited.”

Then the national anthem played for the first American singles champion at Roland Garros since Williams’ previous title.

Williams whacked 10 aces, including three in the final game, and the last came on match point at 123 mph — her hardest serve of the day. She then sank to her knees, screamed at the sky and buried her face in the clay.

The victory completed her rebound from a shocking loss to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano in the first round at the French Open a year ago. Since that defeat she’s 74-3, including titles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the London Olympics and the season-ending WTA Championships.

Both finalists swung with their typical aggressiveness from the baseline, but Williams’ superior serve and defense proved the difference. She silently ran side to side whipping groundstrokes with little apparent strain, while Sharapova often found herself lunging after the ball to stay in the point, with each shot accompanied by her familiar shriek.

When Williams once summoned a grunt herself to match Sharapova’s volume and pound a winner, the crowd responded with a laugh.
Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam by winning Roland Garros last year, but she’s still looking for a breakthrough against Williams, who has won their past 13 meetings since 2004.

“I played a great tournament and I ran into a really tough champion today,” Sharapova said.

Lately Williams beats everyone. She extended her career-best winning streak to 31 matches.

At 31, she became the oldest woman to win a major title since Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon in 1990 at age 33. Her 11-year gap between Roland Garros titles is the longest for any woman.

Williams, who has a home in Paris, is already thinking about winning again next year.

“I love Paris,” she said. “I spend a lot of time here. I live here. I practice here. I think I am a Parisian.”

Williams also congratulated Sharapova during the ceremony.

“She played a beautiful final,” Williams said in French. “She’s a great champion. I hope to be with her again next year.”

“Merci beaucoup,” Sharapova responded with a laugh.

In an all-Spanish final Sunday, Rafael Nadal will try to become the first man to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event when he plays first-time major finalist David Ferrer.

The women’s final, the first between No. 1 and No. 2 at a Grand Slam tournament since 2004, wasn’t as close as their rankings. It has been 12 years since the most recent three-set women’s title match at Roland Garros.

Playing in hazy, warm weather, the finalists took ferocious swings from the start. With fans perhaps fearful that Williams would win quickly, they began shouting encouragement toward Sharapova after she lost the first two points.

She overcame four break points to hold in the opening game and led 2-0 before Williams began to assert herself. It took Williams 17 minutes to win a game, but then she swept four in a row.

After Sharapova took the next two for 4-all, Williams surged at the end of the set, taking the lead for good by winning eight of the final 10 points.

Sharapova had to dig in again to hold at the start of the second set, fending off five break points, and it was all downhill for her from there. Williams easily held serve all the way to the finish.

She improved to 16-4 in Grand Slam finals. She leads all active women with her 16 major titles and is sixth on the all-time list. Margaret Court holds the record with 24.

Williams improved to 43-2 this year, including 23-0 on clay. Now comes the switch to grass, and she’ll be a heavy favorite to win Wimbledon for the sixth time.

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Maria Sharapova, Serena advance

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PARIS — As Maria Sharapova celebrated her return to the French Open final, she let loose one last scream — this one a happy holler.

Serena Williams won more quietly and quickly, and she’ll play Sharapova for the title Saturday.

Sharapova, the defending champion, overcame 11 double-faults to win a semifinal shriekfest against Victoria Azarenka, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4. Williams then advanced to her first French Open final since 2002 by dispatching Sara Errani 6-0, 6-1 in 46 minutes of astounding power and precision.

Williams’ win was the most lopsided women’s semifinal at Roland Garros since 1984, when Chris Evert beat Camille Benjamin 6-0, 6-0.

Sharapova beat Errani in the final last year to complete a career Grand Slam, but she faces a tougher test this time. She’s 2-13 against Williams, who has been on a mission after more than a decade of disappointment in Paris.

“Obviously whatever I did in the past hasn’t worked,” Sharapova said. “So I’ll have to try to do something different and hopefully it will.”

The top-ranked Williams, a 15-time Grand Slam champion, won her only Roland Garros title 11 years ago by beating her sister Venus in the final.

“I’m very happy to be back in the French Open final 11 years later,” Williams told the crowd in French. “I’m still here 11 years later. It’s so wonderful for me.”

While Williams easily won her semifinal, Sharapova advanced past Azarenka with a clamor. The two most notorious grunters in tennis wailed on nearly every swing, matching pitch and volume as they swapped powerful shots from the baseline. They sounded as if they were pushing a stalled Peugeot across lanes of traffic in the Arc de Triomphe.

“Come on, Monica,” a spectator yelled at Sharapova, referring to one of the game’s great grunters, Monica Seles.

The aggressive swings resulted in a seesaw semifinal. Sharapova whacked 12 aces but was erratic with her second serve, and her groundstrokes were also unpredictable.

She needed five match points to seal the victory. Serving for the victory for the second time, she held at love and finished with an ace.

“Those last few points are the toughest,” Sharapova said. “I’m so happy that I regrouped and came out at 5-4 and served it out really well.”

Following a 35-minute rain delay before the third set, Sharapova hit four double-faults in a single game, the last of them on break point, to make it 2-all. She struggled again with her serve at 5-2, losing a tense, sloppy 12-minute game when she squandered four match points and double-faulted on the final two points.

She was steadier at the end, however, and after accepting a cursory congratulatory handshake from Azarenka, Sharapova screamed through a grin.

“To come back as the defending champion, it’s extremely special to get back on that stage where it comes down to the last two players of the tournament,” Sharapova said.

She improved her record at Roland Garros to 43-9, best among active women. That includes victories in her past 13 French Open matches.

Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, was playing in her first Roland Garros semifinal. She still believes she can win a clay-court Grand Slam title.

“Oh, sure,” she said. “Not this year.”

Williams took control against Errani by winning 26 of 34 points in the opening set. The match was 37 minutes old before Errani won a game, and the crowd responded with a roar as the Italian raised her arms in mock jubilation.

Williams was undeterred and raced to the finish line. She won 28 of 33 points on her serve and had a 40-2 advantage in winners while losing only 16 points.

“I had to win this match,” Williams said. “So I told myself, ‘Serena, be focused today.'”

The result extended her career-best winning streak to 30 consecutive matches. She improved to 20-3 in major semifinals, and she’s 6-0 against Errani.

“What she did today is unbelievable,” Errani said. “She’s very strong. She’s an unbelievable player. She had great day.”

Sharapova, who lost her opening set in the quarterfinals 6-0, started slowly again against Azarenka. Sharapova double-faulted twice in the first game and was broken at love.

But this time she quickly righted herself, temporarily finding the range with her serve and cracking ferocious returns. She won 22 of the final 26 points in the first set and closed it out with an ace.

“The serve is definitely something that you never know what to expect,” Azarenka said.

Then Sharapova began to misfire while Azarenka found her timing. Consistently stepping into the court and smacking groundstrokes close to the baseline, Azarenka swept the final four games of the second set to even the match.

Next came rain, and when the match resumed both players struggled to find any rhythm. The tennis was louder than the crowd in the third set when subdued fans quietly endured a flurry of errors — forced and unforced — by the two big hitters.

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Novak Djokovic beats Guido Pella

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PARIS — Top-ranked Novak Djokovic easily beat Argentina’s Guido Pella 6-2, 6-0, 6-2 at the French Open on Thursday to set up a third-round match against rising star Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria.
Djokovic has won every Grand Slam title except the French Open and has made this year’s tournament his priority. The Serb lost last year’s rain-interrupted final at Roland Garros to Spaniard Rafael Nadal.

The match on center court was delayed and interrupted by afternoon rain. It had little effect on Djokovic’s concentration, though, as he swept aside Pella in 1 hour, 26 minutes.

“It’s like deja vu from two days ago, you know, coming in and out and warming up five times, but it is the way it is,” Djokovic said. “I’m just glad that I finished the match today.”

He had 30 winners, broke Pella’s serve six times and did not face a single break point on his serve, clinching victory on his third match point when Pella double-faulted.

No. 16 Philipp Kohlschreiber moved into the men’s third round when Yen-hsun Lu withdrew because of a right ankle injury. Victor Hanescu also advanced when Dmitry Tursunov retired with a strained left thigh muscle trailing 6-4, 6-6 (3).

Shortly after play resumed following the second rain delay, No. 26 Grigor Dimitrov swept wild card Lucas Pouille 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-1.

Earlier this month, Dimitrov stunned Djokovic in the second round of the Madrid Open, beating him 7-6 (6), 6-7 (8), 6-3 for the biggest win of his career. He also took a set off Rafael Nadal in quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters last month.

“I think he got more confident as he was getting big wins in last few months, and so he’s a tough player now to beat now,” Djokovic said. “Even though maybe his style of the game could be better on the hard court or faster surfaces, he’s showing that he can play equally well on clay. He pushed Nadal to a tough three sets in Monaco. He beat me in Madrid. ”

But Djokovic is confident he can handle Dimitrov in a five-set match.

“It’s going to be very physical,” he said. “All the hard work that I put into in preparations for this tournament hopefully will play into my advantage and will pay off on the court.”

Ten singles matches were postponed, including seven-time champion Rafael Nadal against Martin Klizan, and the all-American encounter between John Isner and Ryan Harrison.

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Serena rolls in opener; Venus falls

THE WILLIAMS SISTERS OF THE U.S. EMBRACE AT THE NET AFTER SERENA  WILLIAMS VICTORY IN THE WOMEN’S FINAL AT THE WIMBLEDON TENNI

PARIS — Grimacing after some poor shots, leaning forward with hands on knees while catching her breath after others, Venus Williams left the French Open after the first round for the first time since 2001.

Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1-ranked player seeded 30th at Roland Garros, felt hampered by a bad back, had problems with her serve — all sorts of strokes, actually — and lost 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 Sunday to 40th-ranked Urszula Radwanska of Poland, who never has been past the second round of a major tournament.
Inflammation in her lower back limited Williams to two matches over the previous 1½ months, preparation she called, with a chuckle, “extremely un-ideal.”

“I can’t really serve very hard. It’s painful when I do that. But I’m getting better. I just, you know, ran out of time to get better for this tournament,” said Williams, broken 11 of the 17 times she served Sunday. “My strategy was more or less to put the ball in, and that’s very difficult for me, too, because that’s not who I am. But that’s all I had.”

Her quick exit came a year after she lost in the second round at Roland Garros to Radwanska’s older sister, Agnieszka, the 2012 Wimbledon runner-up.

“Yeah, of course, I was talking with Aga about Venus,” Urszula said. “I was well-prepared for this match, and I knew she was a great fighter, so I should be focused the whole match.”

Williams, naturally, also knows a thing or two about having a more successful tennis-playing sibling, and her short stay in Paris comes a year after younger sister Serena, who owns 15 Grand Slam titles, was upset in the first round at Roland Garros. Serena made a fluent return to the clay-court tournament in the early afternoon Sunday, overwhelming 74th-ranked Anna Tatishvili 6-0, 6-1 — and then addressing an appreciative audience at Court Philippe Chatrier in the local language.

Magnifique!

“I have been speaking French for years and years, but I don’t really have a lot of confidence,” Serena said later, in English. “It’s way, way more nerve-racking than playing tennis.”

On this day, for her, absolutely.

With shadows creeping across the court in the early evening, Venus had a much tougher time against Urszula, who is far less accomplished than Agnieszka, the French Open’s fourth seed.

Truth be told, this result really was not nearly as stunning as Serena’s French Open loss last year to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano, who also won Sunday. That remains Serena’s only first-round departure in 51 appearances at Grand Slams, and she rebounded by winning Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the London Olympics.

Venus, 32 and still learning to live with an energy-sapping autoimmune disease, now has two first-round losses in the past four Grand Slam tournaments. Her defeat at Wimbledon last June was the first time she’d left a major championship that early since she lost in the first round of the Australian Open 6½ years earlier.
“With what I’ve gone through, it’s not easy. But I’m strong and I’m a fighter. You know, I don’t think I’m just playing for me now. I think I’m playing for a lot of people who haven’t felt well,” Venus said. “I think for me today it’s a positive to be able to play three hours. I’m constantly finding ways to get better and to feel better.”

The only other seeded player to lose on Day 1 was No. 11 Nadia Petrova of Russia, who was defeated by Monica Puig of Puerto Rico 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.

The Williams sisters completely changed the way women’s tennis was played in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with 120 mph serves, stinging forehands and fantastic court coverage. They faced each other in eight Grand Slam finals, including the 2002 French Open, which Serena won.

Neither Williams has enjoyed much success in Paris after that championship match, where the clay tends to dull the strength of their swings and the footing can give them problems. Venus hasn’t been past the quarterfinals since 2002, while Serena hasn’t since 2003.

“I just keep trying, and it hasn’t been working out for me,” Serena, who is ranked and seeded No. 1, said after stretching her career-best winning streak to 25 matches. “I may have gotten nervous in the past or may have basically choked a few matches away.”

She won the first nine games against Tatishvili, and 30 of the first 37 points. On her serve, the final count was 28 of 33 points, bolstered by eight aces.

“I’ve played a lot of players who have very good serves, but hers is consistently good, so you always feel pressure when you’re returning,” Tatishvili said. “I wasn’t really surprised, because I’ve watched her so much, you know? It’s Serena Williams; you watch her always on TV or at tournaments. But it’s the first time I felt what I had seen.”

She probably saw plenty of Venus on television, too, but the older Williams is no longer the same player.

In a sign of the way things would develop, Venus was broken at love in the very first game. With Serena and their mother, Oracene Price, sitting in the stands — both occasionally placing chin on hand, looking glum — Venus kept missing the mark, finishing with 66 unforced errors to 40 for Urszula.

The match lasted 3 hours, 19 minutes, but it appeared ready to end much sooner, because Urszula took a 4-0 lead in the second-set tiebreaker, three points from victory.

Perhaps feeling some nerves, Urszula started missing more, and Venus sprinkled in the occasional winner, reeling off seven points in a row to even the match at a set apiece. But Urszula broke Venus to open the third set and moved out to a 4-0 edge. Venus made one last stand, getting within 5-4 — a handful of fans in the nearly empty Court Suzanne Lenglen stands started a clap-accompanied chant of “Let’s go, Venus, let’s go!” — she couldn’t manage to pull even.

The match ended, fittingly, with one last miscue by Venus, a backhand she dumped into the net.

“I’m still shaking. Just a long match,” Urszula told the crowd afterward. “It’s an amazing feeling to beat her.”

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Serena Williams rolls into Rome final

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ROME — A week out from the French Open, Serena Williams is only one victory away from winning her fourth consecutive title this year.

The top-ranked American overcame an early break of her serve to ease past Romanian qualifier Simona Halep 6-3, 6-0 Saturday and reach the Italian Open final, extending her career-best winning run to 23 matches.

Williams is coming off consecutive titles in Miami; Charleston, S.C.; and Madrid last week.
In Sunday’s final, Williams will face either third-seeded Victoria Azarenka or seventh-seeded Sara Errani, who were up next on center court on a day mixed between sun and rain at the Foro Italico.

In the men’s semifinals, six-time champion Rafael Nadal will face sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer plays 36th-ranked Benoit Paire of France.

Williams’ only title at this clay-court event came in 2002, when she beat Justine Henin in the final. That was also the year she won her only French Open title. Last year in Paris, Williams lost in the opening round of a major for the first time, falling to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano of France.

The tournament at Roland Garros starts next Sunday.

“I love the clay. I haven’t had many wins at Roland Garros but I do love it. I love to slide,” Williams said. “My goal is just to win a match there this year.”

Williams has twice won 21 in a row before, although both of those runs came a decade ago, in 2002 and 2003.

Martina Navratilova established the longest women’s win run in the Open Era at 74 matches in 1984.

At 31, Williams is back at the top of her game after missing 11 months in 2010 and 2011 with a right foot injury and a pulmonary embolism.

The 64th-ranked Halep entered with an impressive run herself, having beaten former top-10 player Daniela Hantuchova to qualify, then 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round. That was followed in succession with wins over fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanksa, 13th-seeded Roberta Vinci and two-time Rome winner Jelena Jankovic.

Solid off both sides and an agile mover, the 2008 French Open girls champion took a set off Williams in their only previous meeting in the second round of Wimbledon two years ago. Halep tested Williams again at the start of this match, angling baseline shots to the corners to force the 15-time Grand Slam winner into errors.

Halep broke to take a 2-1 lead in the first set, but Williams broke right back and cruised from there as she gained the measure of her opponent and began to win the longer rallies.

Williams went directly to the practice court after winning.

“I was unhappy with some things today,” she said. “I want to do well here as well as (in Paris).”

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