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Defending champ Serena Williams at Wimbledon ready to play

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LONDON – Top-ranked Serena Williams hasn’t won a Grand Slam since Wimbledon a year ago, but the 21-time major champion appeared confident about her chances of retaining the title on the eve of the tournament.

“Honestly, I don’t feel any pressure,” said Williams, keeping her answers short at a pre-tournament news conference Sunday. “I feel good and confident.”

Williams surprised many by failing to win any of the last three Grand Slam tournaments.

She fell to Roberta Vinci of Italy in the 2015 US Open semifinal, Angelique Kerber of Germany in the 2016 Australian Open final and Garbine Muguruza of Spain in the French Open final earlier this month.

Instead of bemoaning those losses, however, Williams prefers to focus on coming back stronger.

“I think it’s important to learn from every loss that you have,” she said. “I think, in particular, throughout my whole career (I) have been able to learn a lot to come back a much better player.”

Williams enters Wimbledon maintaining her No. 1 ranking for what will be an impressive 300th week at the top.

Nevertheless, Muguruza, Kerber, Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep are all positioned to oust Williams from the top spot by the end of Wimbledon.

Williams will play 148th-ranked qualifier Amra Sadikovic of Switzerland, a player she admits knowing nothing about, in the first round on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t matter who I play,” she said. “It doesn’t matter to me.”

When she captured her sixth Wimbledon trophy last year it capped the second time in her career she held all four Grand Slam titles in a non-calendar year. She first achieved that distinction in 2002-03.

“It was a great accomplishment to win four Grand Slams in a row twice in my career,” Williams said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s really awesome.”

Like Williams, two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic arrived at Wimbledon without having played a grass court tune-up tournament.

Where the two don’t agree is in their attitude: Williams insists she feels no pressure to perform this fortnight, while Djokovic believes it’s impossible to escape those expectations.

“It’s always present. Pressure is part of what we do,” he said. “It’s inevitable to face this kind of sensation as a top player, being expected to do well and to go as far as last four at least in the tournament, or finals.”

Djokovic starts his campaign for a fourth Wimbledon trophy by taking on British wildcard James Ward in a first meeting between the two.

As tradition dictates, Djokovic, as the men’s defending champion, will open the Centre Court competition.

“It’s going to be the first match on the untouched grass,” Djokovic said. “That’s probably one of the most special tennis matches that you get to experience as a professional tennis player.”

Djokovic understands the emotions behind simultaneously holding all four Grand Slam titles, which he achieved upon winning his first career French Open title earlier this month.

Last year, Williams had a chance to win a calendar Grand Slam, but came up short at the US Open.

This year, Djokovic remains in contention to be the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to achieve a calendar Grand Slam having already won the Australian and French Opens.

Williams, for one, says Djokovic could be the player to get the deed done.

“He has every opportunity to do it,” she said. “I think he’ll get it easy. So he should be fine.”

That said, Williams is most interested in matches finally getting underway at this year’s edition of the tournament.

“I’m definitely ready to start playing at this point,” Williams said. “I’m kind of over practicing every day for two hours, then going to the gym for some time.”

Venus Williams through to third round at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) It was inevitable after such an energetic performance in her second-round win over Stefanie Voegele at the Australian Open that Venus Williams would get asked about transcending the generations in tennis.

The 36-year-old, seven-time major winner played the first of her record 73 Grand Slam tournaments at the French Open in 1997. Back then, she got to play against the likes of Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova.

In a 6-3, 6-2 win over the 26-year-old Voegele on Wednesday, Williams mixed up her game, clearly not content on relying purely on the kind of power game that helped her make a mark on the sport.

“I have to talk about this every interview,” Williams said in reply to what has become a regular post-match question to the oldest player in the women’s draw here. “I’ve played some of the greats.

“It’s an honor and privilege to start that young,” she added, laughing, “and play this old.”

Venus and Serena Williams withdrew from a scheduled first-round doubles match later Wednesday, citing an injury to Venus’ right elbow. The sisters have won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles together, including four at the Australian Open.

Venus Williams put plenty into her second-round singles match, which lasted 1 hour, 23 minutes.

In the second set, serving and with a game point, she chased the ball like a teenager from one side of the court to the other, and back, trying to finish off. Her forehand landed too long, but her intention was clear. Get through the round ASAP. She won the subsequent two points to hold.

At 15-15 and 5-2 in the second, she was still remonstrating with herself after missing a point. She finished off the match later in the same game, another break, to reach the third round. Williams lost to eventual semifinalist Johanna Konta in the opening round last year.

In the next round she’ll play Duan Yingying, who beat Varvara Lepchenko 6-1, 3-6, 10-8.

Venus is playing her 17th Australian Open, but has never won the title. Her best run was to the final in 2003, when she lost to Serena.

No. 11 Elina Svitolina had a 6-4, 6-1 win over U.S. qualifier Julia Boserup to advance to a third-round match against No. 24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a 6-2, 6-2 winner over fellow Russian Natalia Vikhlyantseva .

In another match, Alison Riske beat No. 20 Zhang Shuai 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-1.

On the men’s side, fifth-ranked Kei Nishikori reached the third round with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win over Jeremy Chardy.

Frances Tiafoe among young Americans coming of age in Australian Open

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 17:  Frances Tiafoe of the USA plays a backhand during his first round match against Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan on day two of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 17, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images)
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) More than 13 years after Andy Roddick won the 2003 U.S. Open, the last time an American man triumphed at a Grand Slam, the future of U.S. men’s tennis appears bright.

The next generation of young players, all aged between 18 and 20, is starting to emerge and showing enough promise at this year’s Australian Open to suggest they may be on the cusp of a breakthrough.

Seven made the main draw at Melbourne Park and three were still in contention after the first round.

Frances Tiafoe, who turns 19 on Friday, defeated Mikhail Kukushkin 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-2 on Tuesday, while 20-year-old Ernesto Escobedo beat Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1. They joined 20-year-old Noah Rubin, who won his opener a day earlier to set up a second-round match against Roger Federer.

The others failed to advance, but not before serving notice to the tour’s old guard.

Reilly Opelka, 19, lost a tight five-setter to 11th-seeded David Goffin, while Jared Donaldson, 20, lost to Brazil’s Rogerio Dutra Silva after leading two sets to none. Taylor Fritz and Michael Mmoh, both 19, each put up good fights in defeats to veterans Gilles Muller and Gilles Simon, respectively.

“We’re all really supportive of each other and happy to see all of us doing so well,” Tiafoe said. “Hopefully we can keep going and not stop now.”

Much has been expected of Tiafoe, the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, since he won the Orange Bowl at age 15, the youngest champion in the prestigious 18-and-under tournament’s history.

Tiafoe just missed out on a career-defining win at last year’s U.S. Open, where as a wild card, he led the long-time top-ranked U.S. player, John Isner, by two sets to none before the match slipped away. It was a heartbreaking loss, but one Tiafoe learned from.

“I was like, the next opportunity I’m definitely going to take it,” he said after his first-round win on Tuesday, flashing a wide grin. “Now, getting through relatively comfortable today means a lot. … I really feel like I belong now.”

He next plays another 19-year-old, his close friend, Alexander Zverev of Germany.

Both Opelka and Donaldson, meanwhile, got their own tastes of Grand Slam agony in Melbourne.

Opelka, a 6-foot-11 (2.11 meter) former Wimbledon junior champion with a booming serve and whip-like forehand, had two break points to go up 4-2 in the fifth set against Goffin, but couldn’t convert either and ultimately lost 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

Opelka had never before played a five-set match and was making his debut in the singles main draw of a Grand Slam. Yet he showed grit – and no hint of nerves – deep into the fifth set against a seasoned pro like Goffin, even as he started to cramp and struggled to move.

“I’ve played some guys in the top 10 before so I wasn’t uncomfortable,” he said. “With the way I play, hopefully it really shouldn’t matter who’s on the other side of the net.”

Donaldson’s loss was less expected. The Rhode Island native made a stunning run to the third round of last year’s U.S. Open, upsetting the 12th-seeded Goffin and Viktor Troicki, a former top-20 player.

And he was well on his way to a commanding win over Dutra Silva before the Brazilian stormed back for a 3-6, 0-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 victory.

“Losses like this really define your character,” he said. “So I can be upset and sulk about it or I can get back on the practice court and keep working hard and get better so matches like that don’t happen again.”