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Willis fairytale is over: Federer beats qualifier in 3 sets

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LONDON — Roger Federer was not about to let this feel-good story spoil his own Wimbledon.

The seven-time champion – perhaps the greatest player of all time – showed little mercy Wednesday against Marcus Willis, a 772nd-ranked British qualifier who had never won a tour-level match until this week and has captivated the home nation with his improbable run.

Putting aside sentimentality and ignoring the carnival-like atmosphere, Federer won the first seven games and sailed to a 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 victory in a second-round match played under the Centre Court roof on another rainy day at the All England Club.

“It was very refreshing to play against an opponent like this,” Federer said. “I always knew it was going to be a completely different match than everything that I’ve played before here at Wimbledon.”

He compared it to the time he walked out to play Pete Sampras on Centre Court in 2001.

“`I remember how nervous I was and how big a deal it was,” Federer said. “You had nothing to lose and you could just go out there and enjoy yourself. Marcus did that wonderfully.”

While Willis savored the moment – smiling, laughing and playing to the raucous crowd throughout the match – there was never much doubt about the outcome.

“I was enjoying it out there,” Willis said. “If I’m playing well and competing with Roger Federer for a couple of sets, I’m doing the right things. I’ve still got a lot to learn, a lot of improving to do.”

“It sounds funny,” he added, “but I’m disappointed to lose. I went out there trying to win.”

Willis, a 25-year-old lefthander, was the lowest-ranked qualifier to reach the second round of a Grand Slam since 1988. He has been giving tennis lessons at a club in central England, and he was only recently talked out of giving up on his goal of making it on the pro tour by his girlfriend.

Willis made the most of his time on the most famous stage in the sport. He celebrated winners by spreading his arms wide, holding up a fist or gesturing to his friends and family.

Willis did give Federer some trouble with his unorthodox game, using a single-handed backhand slice, angled drop shots and lobs. But Federer never got rattled and played his usual grass-court game.

Willis never broke Federer, though he did have two break points. Federer converted five of his 12 break point chances.

Federer enjoyed the moment, too, letting Willis walk onto the court ahead of him, giving him a warm pat and embrace at the net at the end of the match, and walking off side-by-side with him.

“As I was playing, I was thinking about the match,” Federer said. “I was thinking, `This is definitely one of the matches I’ll remember,’ because I start forgetting some. I’ll remember most of the Centre Court matches here at Wimbledon, but this one will stand out because it’s that special and probably not going to happen again for me to play against a guy 770 in the world.”

Earlier, two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic won his 30th straight match at a major tournament, sweeping into the third round with a clinical 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory over Adrian Mannarino.

The win gave Djokovic sole ownership of third place on the all-time list for most consecutive victories in Grand Slam play. Only Rod Laver with 31 and Don Budge with 37 have won more in a row.

Asked whether he was surprised to reach the 30-match mark, Djokovic said: “No, not so much, because I do have lots of expectations for myself.”

“But I’m very grateful obviously for the fact I’m able to play on such a high level consistently in the Grand Slam tournaments that matter the most in our sport,” he added. “Definitely that is a stat that I’m very proud of.”

Djokovic hasn’t lost a Grand Slam match since falling to Stan Wawrinka in the 2015 French Open final. He hasn’t dropped a set so far this week as he bids for a fourth Wimbledon title, fifth straight Grand Slam championship and 13th major overall.

Third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, who reached the women’s final here in 2012, overwhelmed Kateryna Kozlova 6-2, 6-1 in just over an hour to move into the second round.

Radwanska used her clever all-court game to thoroughly dominate the 97th-ranked Ukrainian, who was making her main draw debut at Wimbledon and has never won a Grand Slam match. Radwanska won the first four games and was always in control

 

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.”