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Dynamic doubles duo: Federer, Nadal to team up in Laver Cup

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NEW YORK — Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have faced each other in eight major finals, plan to team up as doubles partners next year during the inaugural Laver Cup.

With a combined 31 Grand Slam titles, Federer and Nadal have committed to the team event, which attempts to create a tennis version of golf’s Ryder Cup.

Named for Australian great Rod Laver, the competition pitting a squad of European men’s players against a group from the rest of the world was first announced in January. On Wednesday, organizers said the first edition would be held in Prague on Sept. 22-24, 2017, indoors at the O2 Arena.

Former rivals Bjorn Borg of Sweden (Europe) and John McEnroe of the U.S. (World team) will serve as captains for the first three years.

Laver, Borg, McEnroe, Federer and Nadal – accounting for 60 major singles titles – gathered at a Manhattan hotel Wednesday for the announcements.

The plan is for the Laver Cup to be held annually, except during Olympic years, two weeks after the U.S. Open, with the location rotating. There will be six men on each team: four based on the rankings after Wimbledon, and two captain’s picks announced after the U.S. Open.

There will be 12 matches played over three days (nine singles and three doubles), with the number of points awarded for victories increasing each day. Each player will take the court once or twice for singles, with at least four of the six taking part in doubles.

All the matches will be best-of-three, but if the first two sets are split, they will go to a 10-point tiebreaker.

Borg hopes that the other half of the “Big Four” – the current top two men in the rankings, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Britain’s Andy Murray – will join Switzerland’s Federer and Spain’s Nadal on the Europe team. McEnroe acknowledged that for now at least, his World squad would be the heavy underdog, though a lot can happen in just over a year.

Beyond the Big Four, Europe boasts 13 of the current top 15 players in the men’s rankings. And active European players have combined for 49 Grand Slam titles; for the rest of the world, it’s just one, by Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro.

Federer’s management company, TEAM8; Brazilian businessman Jorge Paulo Lemann, a former Davis Cup player; and Tennis Australia partnered to create the Laver Cup.

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.”