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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

 

Serena Williams champions issues on, off court

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Moments after Serena Williams won her seventh Wimbledon title, she proudly raised her fist in a black power salute.

It caused a bit of frenzy at the All-England Club in 2016, but Williams’ action shouldn’t have surprised anyone: She’d already been one of the most vocal supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. She was one of the first major athletes to decry the failure to indict a white officer in the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – while also condemning violence against police.

“What caused me to speak out? Just life,” Williams said. “That’s just who I am. I always believe in the greater good and doing what’s right.”

Williams isn’t alone in her activism. Female athletes – especially black women – have long been out there pushing for social change. Wilma Rudolph’s victory parade celebrating her three gold medals from the 1960 Olympics in Rome was the first integrated event in Clarksville, Tennessee.

But despite their efforts on the field and off, women athletes have to struggle to get the same attention as men despite having as much to say, said Harry Edwards, a scholar of race and sports who has worked as a consultant for several U.S. pro teams.

“We have this twisted, almost-demented obsession with women’s second-class status with their physical inferiority,” he said. “It prevents us from appreciating the great athletes that they are … but it also means that it shuts down a potential forum that these great athletes would have where they’re valued for their athletic prowess in the same way that Muhammad Ali was, that Bill Russell was, that Tommy Smith and John Carlos were, that Arthur Ashe was, that Curt Flood was, so that when they speak, people listen.”

While Williams has long been an advocate of Black Lives Matter, it was only after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the 2016 season that the country really began to pay attention to black athlete activism. Kaepernick added his voice to a growing national movement, enveloping the entire league and starting an ongoing conversation that ventured outside football arenas.

Similarly, few people acknowledge that after the 2016 deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and the killing of Dallas police officers, dozens of WNBA players wore shirts with the men’s names and kneeled for the national anthem.

It was a black woman, Knox College basketball player Ariyana Smith, who started the wave of athletic protest about the deaths of black men at the hands of police.

On Nov. 29, 2014, Smith made the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture during the national anthem before a game at Fontbonne University in Clayton, Missouri, before walking toward the American flag and laying prone on the floor for 4 1/2 minutes to symbolize the 4 + hours Brown lay in the streets of nearby Ferguson.

“We as black women are often invisible, so we don’t get that credit,” said Akilah Francique, a former athlete who cofounded the Sista to Sista program to foster a sense of connectedness among black female collegiate athletes.

Williams has been a presence on and off the tennis court, not shying away from opponents en route to winning 23 Grand Slam titles or social and political issues.

She spoke up in 2015, encouraging Black Lives Matter activists not to get discouraged: “To those of you involved in equality movements like Black Lives Matter, I say this: Keep it up. Don’t let those trolls stop you. We’ve been through so much for so many centuries, and we shall overcome this too,” she wrote in Wired magazine.

Since then, Williams has become the symbol for other causes affecting people of color, including medical issues. In February, she told Vogue that she dealt with a medical scare after the birth of her daughter. She had to insist on getting extra medical tests, overruling her nurse, before her doctors discovered several small blood clots in her lungs.

Women around the country related to her story, talking about similar difficulties in getting proper medical attention.

Female-led activism can also look different than men’s, Francique said, because of the unique positions and pressures women face in sports and in life. She pointed to the criticism black women athletes have to overcome about their body shapes, training regimens, skin color, clothing and even hair when they compete in sports – criticism that Williams has endured.

“For many of them just by merely being there and having a presence is activism,” Francique said.

Williams’ older sister, Venus, who has advocated for equal pay for professional tennis while winning seven Grand Slam titles, believes it is important to have a voice on these issues.

“I think more than anything, we see ourselves as Americans, and that’s what we want to be able to see ourselves as, regardless of color,” said Venus Williams. “I think that’s what everyone is fighting for, that one day we don’t have to see that anymore.”

 

 

Isner wins rematch against Albot at Delray Beach Open

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DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Sixth-seeded John Isner overcame a slow start Tuesday to win his rematch against Radu Albot in the first round of the Delray Beach Open, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4.

Isner lost to Albot last week in the first round of the New York Open, and had been beaten in the opening match of his three previous tournaments this year.

No. 9 Milos Raonic, last year’s runner-up to champion Jack Sock, swept the final five games and beat Taro Daniel 6-1, 7-5.

Ivo Karlovic, the 2015 champion, converted only one of 12 break-point chances and lost to Denis Shapovalov 7-5, 7-6 (4).