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Kyrgios shout causes stir on soaked French Open Day 1

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PARIS — It all started with what Nick Kyrgios insisted was an innocuous, if admittedly loud, directive to a ball kid to retrieve a towel between points – shouted above the din of spectators at the French Open’s cozy Court 1.

Chair umpire Carlos Ramos considered Kyrgios’ bark during a first-set tiebreaker Sunday too forceful and assessed a code violation warning for unsportsmanlike conduct. That led to a long-running, and occasionally curse-filled, argument from the 21-year-old Australian, who at one point said the official was “unbelievably biased.”

Much as the 17th-seeded Kyrgios made of the disagreement at the time – he could have been docked a point for his colorful language – he managed to set it aside eventually and worked his way through a 7-6 (6), 7-6 (6), 6-4 victory over 124th-ranked Marco Cecchinato of Italy with the help of 16 aces, providing a bit of a spark on an otherwise dreary, drenched Day 1 at Roland Garros.

“It didn’t put me off too much,” Kyrgios said of his flap with Ramos. “With someone like me that’s pretty emotional, it can frustrate me a little bit, but I felt like I dealt with it pretty well.”

Of the 32 matches on Sunday’s schedule, his was one of only nine completed before showers created a rain delay of more than 2 1/2 hours in the afternoon, interrupting matches involving No. 5 Kei Nishikori, No. 23 Jack Sock and others.

Winners included two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who acknowledged feeling “kind of down mentally” and was one game from bowing out against 59th-ranked Danka Kovinic of Montenegro before taking the final three for a 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 escape. Also advancing was No. 19 Benoit Paire of France, who needed five sets to get past 137th-ranked qualifier Radu Albot of Moldova.

Right after the ruling that bothered him, Kyrgios asked whether he was being sanctioned for raising his voice in the direction of the ball kid, explaining that “the crowd was too loud for him to hear me.”

Ramos nodded.

“Really?” Kyrgios asked.

“It’s not that you said, `Towel!’ too loud,” Ramos said. “It’s the way you said it.”

Moments later, Kyrgios raised the topic again, insisting to Ramos, “I did nothing wrong” and referring to an episode this month at the Italian Open, when No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic reached out to grab the arm of an official who had stepped onto the court to examine a disputed ball mark.

“When Djokovic pushed the line umpire out of the way, he gets nothing,” Kyrgios said, punctuating the complaint with a swear word.

At his news conference afterward, Kyrgios was asked about the Djokovic reference and replied: “I mean, I think we all know, in this room, if that was me that did that, it would be an absolute circus. But if he did it, you know, nothing really happened of it. It speaks for itself.”

He also offered a hint of a conciliatory tone, saying “it’s not an easy job out there” for chair umpires and that he “might have to be a bit more patient” with ball kids.

Kyrgios is known for spectacular play – he’s beaten Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer and twice reached Grand Slam quarterfinals – and boorish behavior. He was placed on probation by the ATP last year, with the risk of a 28-day suspension, for comments toward 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka during a match in Montreal.

Not everything came easily against Cecchinato. Kyrgios converted just 1 of 11 break points. He slipped on the damp court in the sixth game and tumbled into the net, staying down until Cecchinato offered a hand. And Kyrgios was forced to save two set points in the second tiebreaker.

Still, he played well enough to eliminate Cecchinato, who is 0-4 in Grand Slam matches and 3-18 at all tour-level tournaments and said he didn’t pay attention to the Kyrgios-Ramos exchanges.

Cecchinato also offered a nuanced defense of Kyrgios’ character.

“I like him, because he’s arrogant and sure of himself. … He knows he’s good,” Cecchinato said. “`Arrogant’ in a good sense – he knows he’s strong and one of the best players in the world. `Arrogant’ not in a pejorative way, but in a positive way.”

 

Venus Williams beats No. 1 Kerber in Miami Open quarters

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Venus Williams moved a step closer to her first Key Biscayne title since 2001 when she beat top-ranked Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-3 Wednesday night in the quarterfinals of the Miami Open.

It was Williams’ 15th career win against a No. 1 player, but her first since 2014. Seeded No. 11, she’s into the tournament’s semifinals for the first time in seven years.

Williams’ opponent Thursday night will be No. 10-seeded Johanna Konta, who became the first British woman to reach a semifinal in the tournament by beating No. 3 Simona Halep 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2. No. 2 Karolina Pliskova will play No. 12 Caroline Wozniacki in the other semifinal.

Williams took charge of her quarterfinal match when Kerber double-faulted on the final two points of the opening set, and broke serve twice more early in the second set. She closed out the victory on her fifth match point with a backhand winner.

It was a matchup of offense against defense, with Williams the more aggressive player, charging the net often. Kerber stayed rooted to the baseline and was on the defensive even when she served, facing 13 break points and losing serve five times.

The German will remain No. 1 next week despite her loss. She reclaimed the top ranking this month after Indian Wells, replacing Serena Williams, who is sidelined by a knee injury.

Venus Williams improved to 61-13 at Key Biscayne, where she is making her 18th appearance. She won the title in 1998, 1999 and 2001 and considers the tournament her hometown event – she lives 90 minutes north in Palm Beach Gardens.

At 36, Williams was the oldest woman to enter the draw, but she hasn’t been taxed physically while winning every set in her four matches.

On the men’s side, Fabio Fognini became the first unseeded player in 10 years to reach the men’s semifinals at Key Biscayne when he beat 2016 runner-up Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-2. Fognini, 29, who matched his best showing in an ATP Masters 1000 event, will next play the winner of Wednesday night’s match between Rafael Nadal and Jack Sock.

Nishikori was seeded No. 2. Fognini improved to 9-44 against top-10 players, and became the first Italian man to reach a semifinal at Key Biscayne.

Historical marker for tennis great Tilden rejected again

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) A Pennsylvania panel once again rejected a historical marker for Philadelphia tennis great Bill Tilden.

Tilden became the first American to win Wimbledon in 1920 and also won seven U.S. championships. In 1950, The Associated Press voted him the greatest player of the first half of the century.

A year ago, a panel of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission that approves historical markers voted 4-1 against recommending approval of a marker at Philadelphia’s Germantown Cricket Club, citing Tilden’s convictions on charges involving teenage boys in the 1940s.

Karen Galle, coordinator of the historical marker program, confirmed Wednesday that the panel again voted 4-1 against approving the marker in February and that recommendation was among 54 approved by the commission at its March 22 meeting.

“While the significance of this athlete’s tennis career and talent are indisputable, his convictions for sexual misconduct with underage boys preclude recognition,” commission spokesman Howard Pollman said.

Lack of a marker doesn’t diminish Tilden’s accomplishments but approval “may be perceived to dishonor victims of sexual abuse,” Pollman said. Officials have cited the climate in the commonwealth following the sex abuse scandal involving another sports figure, Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky.

Tilden was arrested in Beverly Hills, California, in November 1946, after a 14-year-old boy was caught driving the star’s car erratically. Officers reported that when the teen exited the car, his pants zipper was down. Police charged Tilden with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and he served seven months in jail. He was arrested again in 1949 on allegations that he violated probation by being in the company of another teen boy, and that he groped a third teen. He served 10 months at a prison farm.

Tilden, born to a wealthy Philadelphia family, was featured regularly in magazines, newspapers and newsreels during his career. He was friends with Hollywood elite and played at the White House at the invitation of President Warren Harding. He’s credited with urging children of all economic backgrounds to learn tennis, once a sport only for the wealthy, and modern players still value his manuals on how to play.

After his convictions, Tilden’s Germantown membership was revoked, and his portrait was removed. In recent years, the club has begun to embrace Tilden’s memory, and a group of Philadelphians has been lobbying for a historical marker at the site.