Getty Images

Kyrgios shout causes stir on soaked French Open Day 1

Leave a comment

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.”

 

Azarenka aims to come back in time for Wimbledon

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOSCOW — Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka says she is planning to return to competition before Wimbledon.

Azarenka, who was ranked No. 1 for seven months in 2012 and 2013, went on a break last July to have her first child. She had previously been targeting a return at the July 31-Aug. 6 Bank of the West Classic in California.

In a statement on Twitter, the Belarusian says “my training has been progressing well and I feel ready to start competing,” adding that she plans “to play one of the grass court events prior to Wimbledon.”

Wimbledon starts July 3.

Azarenka won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013, and has twice reached the Wimbledon semifinals.

Djokovic announces Agassi will coach him at French Open

Getty Images
Leave a comment

ROME — Novak Djokovic is joining forces with Andre Agassi in an effort to return to No. 1.

Djokovic announced Sunday that Agassi will coach him at the French Open, which starts next Sunday.

“I spoke to Andre the last couple weeks on the phone, and we decided to get together in Paris,” Djokovic said. “So he’s going to be there. We’ll see what (the) future brings.

“We are both excited to work together and see where it takes us. We don’t have any long-term commitment. It’s just us trying to get to know each other in Paris a little bit,” Djokovic added. “He will not stay the whole tournament. He’s going to stay only to a certain time, and then we’ll see after that what’s going to happen.”

The second-ranked Djokovic split with longtime coach Marian Vajda and two other team members – fitness coach Gebhard Phil Gritsch, and physiotherapist Miljan Amanovic – at the start of the month.

Agassi, who retired in 2006, won eight Grand Slam titles.

Djokovic has won 12 Grand Slams.

“Andre is someone that I have tremendous respect for as a person and as a player,” Djokovic said. “He has been through everything that I’m going through. On the court he understands the game amazingly well. I am enjoying every conversation that I have with him.

“But also, on the other hand, he’s someone that nurtures the family values, philanthropy work. He’s a very humble man, is very educated. He’s a person that can contribute to my life on and off the court a lot. I’m very excited to see what is ahead of us.”

The pairing is the latest in a series of top players working with former standouts, from Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya, and Kei Nishikori and Michael Chang.

Djokovic was coached by Boris Becker the last three seasons, but they split last year.

Vajda started working with Djokovic in 2006.

Djokovic lost his No. 1 ranking to Andy Murray last year after a slump in form following his French Open triumph.

He lost in the third round at Wimbledon, his earliest defeat in a Grand Slam in seven years, lost in the first round at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, reached the final of the U.S. Open, and lost early again at the Australian Open.

Djokovic finished 2016 at No. 2, his current ranking. He’s won only one of his last 11 tournaments.

While Agassi has not coached a top player before, Djokovic said his record as a player and spokesman of the game was enough to convince him.

“He’s a legend of our sport,” Djokovic said. “He’s made a mark in this sport forever. He’s won everything there is to win in tennis.

“He was a revolutionary player because he had this charisma, he had this approach to tennis and to life that was quite different from others. That’s why he was so interesting.”

Agassi has already been offering advice on the phone.

“He’s been definitely following up closely all the matches, the big matches, especially on the TV,” Djokovic said. “So he knows players, he knows everyone that I was playing against in (the) last couple of weeks, so we talked before every match.

Djokovic added, “I already feel like we are very kind of close to each other and creating this nice vibe.”