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Sky names strong team for Chris Froome at Tour de France

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PARIS — Defending champion Chris Froome will enjoy the support of a Team Sky squad featuring strong climbers at the Tour de France next month.

Aiming to win cycling’s showpiece race for a third time, Froome will be joined by Sergio Henao, Vasil Kiryienka, Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve, Wout Poels, Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas on the roads of France this summer.

The Tour starts on July 2 and finishes on the Champs-Elysees three weeks later.

“I feel in good shape coming into the race this year and am fortunate to have a strong team around me, both on and off the bike,” said Froome, the 2013 and 2015 champion.

The 3,519-kilometer race features 28 mountain passes this year, as well as two individual time trials, a route that perfectly suits all-rounder Froome.

Among those expected to play a key role in protecting the British rider in the Pyrenees and the Alps are Henao, Landa, Poels, Nieve and Thomas.

Henao helped Froome to success at both Paris-Nice and the Criterium du Dauphine this season and will be making his debut at the Tour. The Colombian was withdrawn from racing by Team Sky in April after concerns over his biological data emerged, but he has since been cleared by the International Cycling Union (UCI).

Landa, who was the Team Sky leader at the Giro d’Italia but was forced to withdraw because of illness, will also compete in his first Tour.

Poels played an important role last year at l’Alpe d’Huez to help Froome resist Nairo Quintana’s attacks while the talented Thomas is widely regarded as a future Grand Tour winner.

“Every Tour is different, so that means choosing the team we believe is best equipped to deal with the many different challenges of this race,” Team Sky director Dave Brailsford said. “We have selected a talented group of riders with Chris as the leader once again. I know they will do everything they can to help him try to win yellow.”

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.