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2 years after cancer diagnosis, Duval is back at Wimbledon

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LONDON – Back at Wimbledon for the first time since she found out two years ago she had cancer, Vicky Duval felt her eyes welling with tears.

The 20-year-old American was moved, yes, by merely being on court once again at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament. And she also was upset by the way she was playing Monday, dropping the first eight games of what would become a 6-0, 7-5 loss to 29th-seeded Daria Kasatkina of Russia.

“More than anything,” Duval said, “today was really hard emotionally.”

Asked to explain the feelings racing through her mind out on Court 4, she said: “Obviously happy that I’m back. But tears of disappointment that I know I can be a lot better than this. So it’s just kind of going to be a process. I’m a little bit impatient right now. I’m expecting it to be a long road back, but I want it sooner than later.”

She has reason to be demanding.

At the 2013 U.S. Open, at only 17, Duval showed her promise by stunning 2011 champion Sam Stosur in the first round.

It was less than a year later, while trying to qualify for Wimbledon, that Duval was diagnosed with the blood cancer Hodgkin lymphoma. She played on, making it to the main draw and then surprisingly beating a seeded player, Sorana Cirstea.

After a yearlong break that included treatment for cancer, Duval returned to playing low-level events. Because of her time away from the main tour, Duval’s ranking is 572nd, but she is allowed to use what’s called a “protected ranking” to automatically get into eight tournaments of her choosing.

Her comeback stalled early this season, though, when she had knee surgery.

At the All England Club, simply setting foot on court was a symbolic step forward.

“The first set, I was just really overwhelmed, more than anything,” Duval said. “I couldn’t really play because, you know, it’s a lot of emotions, of the past and stuff.”

She said she put a towel over her head while being outplayed in the first set “in case something was going to happen – I was like, `I don’t want anyone to see me cry.'”

Then, in the second set, when Duval heard plenty of crowd support and made things more competitive, she said she tried to distract herself by singing Drake’s song “One Dance” in her head.

“The biggest thing was for me to come here and prove to myself that I’m past what happened to me. And even though I didn’t feel that physically I was in tiptop shape to be here, it would have killed me if I didn’t play,” Duval said. “I wanted to, more than anything, prove to myself that I’m strong enough to be back here and be past this.”

Azarenka aims to come back in time for Wimbledon

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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

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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.”