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Wawrinka trails on odds to repeat as French Open champion

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After failing to get past the quarterfinals in each of his last five tournament appearances, Stan Wawrinka defends his French Open crown this week sporting +1600 odds to win the tournament at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Wawrinka opens this year’s French Open at Stade Roland Garros in Paris looking to rebound from a disappointing early exit at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome a week ago, falling to Juan Monaco in three sets in the Round of 16 after getting swept in straight sets by Aussie Nick Kyrgios in the Round of 32 at the Madrid Open earlier this month.

Those losses have done nothing for the 31-year-old Swiss native’s French Open odds, which had climbed as high as +650 despite getting knocked out of this year’s Australian Open in the fourth round by Canadian Milos Raonic.

Meanwhile, the world’s top-ranked player, Novak Djokovic, sits atop the French Open odds at the sportsbooks as a heavy -125 betting favorite.

Djokovic has been a dominating force at Grand Slam tournaments, winning five of the past seven, but victory has eluded him on the clay at Roland Garros where he has reached the final in three of the past four years but never emerged as champion.

Arriving in Paris on the heels of a loss to Andy Murray in the finals in Rome, Djokovic is enjoying another strong season with five tournament wins, including a record sixth Australian Open victory, topping Murray in the final in straight sets.

Murray, who owns a pair of Grand Slam titles, is a +400 bet to win his first French Open championship, closely trailing nine-time champion Rafael Nadal at +350.

With Roger Federer pulling out of the tournament late last week Kei Nishikori sits next at +2200, while Raonic and Kyrgios, who heads into the event in top form, sit well back of the favorites at +6600 odds.

On the women’s side, Serena Williams will be looking to bounce back from a surprising loss to Angelique Kerber in the Australian Open and claim her third French Open title in four years when she takes the court at Roland Garros as a strong +225 betting favorite.

The three-time French Open champ has now come up empty in her past two Grand Slam tournaments after winning four straight, but claimed victory last week in Rome in just her fourth event of the season.

Victoria Azarenka has reached the semifinals just once in nine French Open appearances but sports solid +500 odds to win the French Open, followed by Simona Halep at +600, Garbine Muguruza at +1000, and Kerber at +1600.

2-time Wimbledon champ Kvitova wins return from knife attack

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PARIS — Sweat-soaked and still wearing her match outfit, Petra Kvitova was looking for someone to hug as she wandered into the players’ lounge in the French Open’s main stadium shortly after leaving the court Sunday.

She found her father, Jiri, and her brother, also Jiri, who greeted her with warm embraces and joyous kisses on the cheek. Kvitova’s family members rarely attend her tournaments, but this was different – “special” was the word she, and others, kept using.

Less than six months after a knife attack at her home, two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova was back competing, winning the first match of her comeback 6-3, 6-2 at Roland Garros against 86th-ranked Julia Boserup of the United States.

“I’m happy with the game, of course,” Kvitova said, “but I mean, it wasn’t really about the game today.”

Indeed, just being there under a cloud-filled sky at Court Philippe Chatrier was a triumph of sorts for Kvitova, who needed surgery on her left hand – the one she uses to hold her racket – after being stabbed by an intruder in the Czech Republic in late December. She was undecided until late last week whether to even try to play in the French Open.

“For us, it’s amazing. It’s miracle. Not even me or Petra thought she could be ready to come back so soon,” said her coach, Jiri Novak. “The prognosis was, let’s just say, not optimistic.”

During her on-court interview, Kvitova addressed Novak, her family and others in her guest box, saying: “Thank you for everything you helped me through (in) this difficult time.”

Several members of her entourage wore black T-shirts with white capital letters on the front that read, “Courage. Belief. Pojd.” That last word, which is the Czech equivalent of “Come on!” and was spelled with a red heart instead of the “O,” is often yelled by Kvitova to celebrate particularly good shots.

“The belief and the mind, the heart, it’s really important,” Kvitova said afterward. “So that’s … what we try to show everyone. I hope that it will be kind of inspiration for other people, as well.”

There were plenty of opportunities for her to clench a fist and scream “Pojd!” on Sunday against Boserup, who was making her debut in the French Open’s main draw and facing a lefty for the first time.

“She’s one of the nicest girls, and we are all really happy to see her back. After what she went through, it’s incredible,” Boserup said. “So it’s a victory for her to be back on court. It was really special.”

Kvitova began things with a quick forehand winner on the opening point.

“Amazing,” she said. “I surprised myself.”

Kvitova wound up compiling the match’s first 10 winners and finished with a 31-9 edge in that category. She took 15 of the first 20 points en route to a 3-0 lead and never really faced a whole lot of resistance, other than when she saved three break points – the only ones she had to deal with in the match – while ahead 3-1.

When it was over, Kvitova dropped her racket near the baseline and removed her blue headband. As she walked to the net for a handshake, her eyes welled with tears.

“We are happy that she is healthy. The hand is good – and also the head,” her brother Jiri said. “Mentally, she is back.”

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Venus Williams eases into French Open’s second round after beating Qiang Wang

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In a record 20th appearance at the French Open, Venus Williams eased into the second round with a straight sets victory over Qiang Wang of China.

Williams, who is seeded 10th, saved two set points to win 6-4, 7-6 (3).

The 36-year-old American will play Kurumi Nara of Japan in the next round.