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Nadal overcomes Monfils to win 9th Monte Carlo Masters title

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MONACO (AP) Rafael Nadal overcame a sloppy performance on his serve to beat Frenchman Gael Monfils 7-5, 5-7, 6-0 on Sunday and win the Monte Carlo Masters for the ninth time.

This was the Spaniard’s first tournament win in Monte Carlo since winning the last of his eight straight titles there in 2012. It is also the record-equaling 28th Masters title for Nadal, bringing him alongside top-ranked Novak Djokovic.

Nadal sank to his knees after sealing victory with a brilliant forehand winner. It took him 2 hours, 46 minutes to finally see off Monfils, who had never won a set against Nadal on clay and lost 11 of their 13 previous matches.

The fifth-seeded Nadal dropped his serve five times against the 13th-seeded Monfils in a topsy-turvy encounter in which they conceded 34 break-point chances between them.

Playing in his 100th career final, Nadal clinched his 68th title, his first this year and his first since winning on clay at Hamburg last August. It was his first Masters win since the Madrid Masters in 2014 and his biggest trophy success since his last French Open title later the same year.

Nadal’s previous final was in January, where he was routed by Djokovic in Doha.

But with Djokovic a surprise second-round loser here, Nadal’s toughest opponent was out of the way and, in a contest between two 29-year-olds with differing career trajectories, Monfils was rank outsider here.

Since they first played each other 11 years ago, Nadal has won 14 Grand Slams and Monfils has never even won a Masters title.

In their previous four contests on clay, Monfils had lost in straight sets and never taken more than three games off Nadal, dating back to their first-ever career encounter here in the second round in 2005.

That was the year of Nadal’s first win and, coming into this match, he had only lost a total of five sets in nine previous finals – two of those in losing to Djokovic three years ago.

At times it seemed Monfils could cause a big upset, hitting some superb winners from sometimes incredible angles and with brutal strength.

But instead it was a 19th defeat in 24 finals and a third in a Masters final, having lost twice in Paris.

He will regret his 51 unforced errors, considering Nadal made 36 and double-faulted four times.

But Monfils double-faulted seven times and collapsed completely in the third set, with Nadal breaking him three further times to make it eight overall in the match.

After his brilliant winning shot on his first match point, Nadal slid on his knees, leant back and soaked up the win for several moments.

With six weeks to go until the French Open in Paris, Nadal will already have one eye on a 10th title at Roland Garros.

But he will need to sort out his serve.

Even in the third round against Austrian Dominic Thiem, Nadal faced 17 break points, saving 15, and he won only 29 percent of points on his second serve against Monfils – including a dismal 17 percent in the second set.

Better opponents would have made Nadal pay.

After the end of the second set, Nadal looked haggard, sweat pouring off his face despite considerably cooler conditions than during the rest of the sun-drenched week. But he was never pushed in a third set lasting just 30 minutes.

Nadal missed a chance to serve out the first set at 5-3 up but double-faulted as Monfils pulled back before holding for 5-5 in the next game – which featured one staggering 33-shot rally.

A rare comfortable hold from Nadal put him 6-5 up, leaving Monfils serving to stay in the set. Instead, he was on the back foot, saving four sets points before a double fault gave Nadal the opener.

Monfils broke Nadal to lead 2-1 in the second set when Nadal sent another errant forehand into the net and then rallied from 0-40 down to hold for 3-1.

Playing with great athleticism, Monfils hit an incredible leaping forehand down the line to force another chance on Nadal’s serve.

But Nadal held and broke Monfils to love in the next game to level at 3-3.

Monfils broke him again with a brilliant forehand winner that landed right on the line for 4-3, only for Nadal to break him for 4-4.

That second set of hugely entertaining yet erratic tennis eventually went to Monfis, but the effort spent clawing his way back had sapped his strength.

Tennis star Bouchard testifies about slip, fall at US Open

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NEW YORK (AP) Tennis star Eugenie Bouchard has taken the witness stand at a New York City trial to accuse the United States Tennis Association of negligence that led to her slipping on a locker room floor and hurting her head.

Bouchard testified Wednesday a wet floor caused her to slip and fall inside a locker room at the 2015 U.S. Open.

Her lawsuit contends the USTA should have done more to warn her the area had just been cleaned. The defense says she shouldn’t have entered without being accompanied by tournament personnel.

The lawsuit says the fall left Bouchard with a concussion and “serious head injury.”

Bouchard says she was forced to withdraw from the U.S. Open and tournaments in China and Japan. She’s seeking unspecified damages.

The 23-year-old Canadian player is ranked 116th in the world.

Serena Williams champions issues on, off court

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Moments after Serena Williams won her seventh Wimbledon title, she proudly raised her fist in a black power salute.

It caused a bit of frenzy at the All-England Club in 2016, but Williams’ action shouldn’t have surprised anyone: She’d already been one of the most vocal supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. She was one of the first major athletes to decry the failure to indict a white officer in the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – while also condemning violence against police.

“What caused me to speak out? Just life,” Williams said. “That’s just who I am. I always believe in the greater good and doing what’s right.”

Williams isn’t alone in her activism. Female athletes – especially black women – have long been out there pushing for social change. Wilma Rudolph’s victory parade celebrating her three gold medals from the 1960 Olympics in Rome was the first integrated event in Clarksville, Tennessee.

But despite their efforts on the field and off, women athletes have to struggle to get the same attention as men despite having as much to say, said Harry Edwards, a scholar of race and sports who has worked as a consultant for several U.S. pro teams.

“We have this twisted, almost-demented obsession with women’s second-class status with their physical inferiority,” he said. “It prevents us from appreciating the great athletes that they are … but it also means that it shuts down a potential forum that these great athletes would have where they’re valued for their athletic prowess in the same way that Muhammad Ali was, that Bill Russell was, that Tommy Smith and John Carlos were, that Arthur Ashe was, that Curt Flood was, so that when they speak, people listen.”

While Williams has long been an advocate of Black Lives Matter, it was only after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the 2016 season that the country really began to pay attention to black athlete activism. Kaepernick added his voice to a growing national movement, enveloping the entire league and starting an ongoing conversation that ventured outside football arenas.

Similarly, few people acknowledge that after the 2016 deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and the killing of Dallas police officers, dozens of WNBA players wore shirts with the men’s names and kneeled for the national anthem.

It was a black woman, Knox College basketball player Ariyana Smith, who started the wave of athletic protest about the deaths of black men at the hands of police.

On Nov. 29, 2014, Smith made the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture during the national anthem before a game at Fontbonne University in Clayton, Missouri, before walking toward the American flag and laying prone on the floor for 4 1/2 minutes to symbolize the 4 + hours Brown lay in the streets of nearby Ferguson.

“We as black women are often invisible, so we don’t get that credit,” said Akilah Francique, a former athlete who cofounded the Sista to Sista program to foster a sense of connectedness among black female collegiate athletes.

Williams has been a presence on and off the tennis court, not shying away from opponents en route to winning 23 Grand Slam titles or social and political issues.

She spoke up in 2015, encouraging Black Lives Matter activists not to get discouraged: “To those of you involved in equality movements like Black Lives Matter, I say this: Keep it up. Don’t let those trolls stop you. We’ve been through so much for so many centuries, and we shall overcome this too,” she wrote in Wired magazine.

Since then, Williams has become the symbol for other causes affecting people of color, including medical issues. In February, she told Vogue that she dealt with a medical scare after the birth of her daughter. She had to insist on getting extra medical tests, overruling her nurse, before her doctors discovered several small blood clots in her lungs.

Women around the country related to her story, talking about similar difficulties in getting proper medical attention.

Female-led activism can also look different than men’s, Francique said, because of the unique positions and pressures women face in sports and in life. She pointed to the criticism black women athletes have to overcome about their body shapes, training regimens, skin color, clothing and even hair when they compete in sports – criticism that Williams has endured.

“For many of them just by merely being there and having a presence is activism,” Francique said.

Williams’ older sister, Venus, who has advocated for equal pay for professional tennis while winning seven Grand Slam titles, believes it is important to have a voice on these issues.

“I think more than anything, we see ourselves as Americans, and that’s what we want to be able to see ourselves as, regardless of color,” said Venus Williams. “I think that’s what everyone is fighting for, that one day we don’t have to see that anymore.”