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US Open top seeds Williams, Djokovic coming off injuries

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NEW YORK (AP) Serena Williams is “starting to feel a little better.” Novak Djokovic is “getting there.”

The U.S. Open’s top seeds in both singles brackets are coming off injuries, and neither has played since an early loss at the Olympics. Friday was the first time either had discussed the health problems that stymied them in Rio de Janeiro and forced them to withdraw from the hard-court warmup at Cincinnati.

For Williams, it’s a sore right shoulder that she revealed started bothering her almost immediately after her Wimbledon victory. She said she practiced for just two days before the Olympics and has spent little time on court since as she undergoes physical therapy.

For Djokovic, it’s a sore left wrist that he revealed he hurt in Rio a few days before his first-round Olympic loss to Juan Martin del Potro, a player who knows plenty about how that injury hinders a righty’s two-handed backhand.

“I’m just hoping that Monday when the tournament starts I’ll be able to get as close to the maximum of executing my backhand shot as possible,” said Djokovic, who sounded a bit more optimistic than Williams on Friday.

Williams acknowledged she’d prefer to have played more coming into the Open – she’s had just three singles matches since Wimbledon – and needs to practice more.

“I’m just now starting to feel a little better,” she said. “Hopefully just every day I will keep going higher.”

It wasn’t a physical problem that burdened Djokovic during his third-round Wimbledon loss to 41st-ranked Sam Querrey, he acknowledged. Asked that day if he was 100 percent healthy, the 12-time major champ replied: “Not really. But it’s not the place and time to talk about it.”

On Friday, Djokovic conceded “it was some other things that I was going through privately.” He wouldn’t elaborate other than to say that now “everything is fine.”

Speaking of left wrist injuries, Rafael Nadal said his keeps getting better but still isn’t 100 percent. Because the 14-time Grand Slam champ is a lefty, his issue is the forehand.

When he first came back, he recalled, “you try to find movements to avoid the pain.” Now he can start to hit his normal forehand again, but it “still needs time to feel that I am more confident in my wrist.”

Both Djokovic and Williams face a former Grand Slam semifinalist in the first round. Williams opens her bid for a record-breaking 23rd major title against Ekaterina Makarova, who’s coming off an Olympic doubles gold medal.

The Russian made two straight major semis – at the 2014 U.S. Open, losing to Williams 6-1, 6-3, and the 2015 Australian Open. With her ranking slipping to 36th, she just missed a seed at Flushing Meadows.

Doing an interview shortly after the draw was set, Djokovic joked he wasn’t “mentally ready” to see his bracket quite yet and wanted to wait until “I’m alone.” What he’ll see is a meeting with Jerzy Janowicz, a 2013 Wimbledon semifinalist who’s been ranked as high as 14th. After struggling in recent years and missing much of this season because of injuries, Janowicz is No. 228 in the world and used a protected ranking to get into the U.S. Open.

Nadal is a potential semifinal opponent for Djokovic, the defending champ, while Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are in the other half of the bracket.

Williams could face fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in the semis, which is also when she could potentially meet sister Venus. Australian Open champ Angelique Kerber and French Open winner Garbine Muguruza are on the other side of the draw.

Earlier in the tournament, Williams could run into opponents who have eliminated her at past majors. In the third round, she could meet Ana Ivanovic, who beat her at the 2014 Australian Open. And in the fourth round, she could face Sam Stosur, who stunned her in the 2011 U.S. Open final.

Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champ, is ranked just 142nd after three left wrist surgeries. Last week, Steve Johnson, the highest-ranked U.S. men’s player, questioned whether the U.S. Tennis Association should award del Potro the wild card he’d need to get in because the Argentine could possibly defeat an American in the first round. That scenario won’t occur – del Petro meets countryman Diego Schwartzman in his opener. But the 19th-seeded Johnson could face the Olympic silver medalist in the second round.

Between Wimbledon and the Rio Games, del Potro defeated three of the U.S. Open’s top four seeds.

Historical marker for tennis great Tilden rejected again

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) A Pennsylvania panel once again rejected a historical marker for Philadelphia tennis great Bill Tilden.

Tilden became the first American to win Wimbledon in 1920 and also won seven U.S. championships. In 1950, The Associated Press voted him the greatest player of the first half of the century.

A year ago, a panel of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission that approves historical markers voted 4-1 against recommending approval of a marker at Philadelphia’s Germantown Cricket Club, citing Tilden’s convictions on charges involving teenage boys in the 1940s.

Karen Galle, coordinator of the historical marker program, confirmed Wednesday that the panel again voted 4-1 against approving the marker in February and that recommendation was among 54 approved by the commission at its March 22 meeting.

“While the significance of this athlete’s tennis career and talent are indisputable, his convictions for sexual misconduct with underage boys preclude recognition,” commission spokesman Howard Pollman said.

Lack of a marker doesn’t diminish Tilden’s accomplishments but approval “may be perceived to dishonor victims of sexual abuse,” Pollman said. Officials have cited the climate in the commonwealth following the sex abuse scandal involving another sports figure, Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky.

Tilden was arrested in Beverly Hills, California, in November 1946, after a 14-year-old boy was caught driving the star’s car erratically. Officers reported that when the teen exited the car, his pants zipper was down. Police charged Tilden with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and he served seven months in jail. He was arrested again in 1949 on allegations that he violated probation by being in the company of another teen boy, and that he groped a third teen. He served 10 months at a prison farm.

Tilden, born to a wealthy Philadelphia family, was featured regularly in magazines, newspapers and newsreels during his career. He was friends with Hollywood elite and played at the White House at the invitation of President Warren Harding. He’s credited with urging children of all economic backgrounds to learn tennis, once a sport only for the wealthy, and modern players still value his manuals on how to play.

After his convictions, Tilden’s Germantown membership was revoked, and his portrait was removed. In recent years, the club has begun to embrace Tilden’s memory, and a group of Philadelphians has been lobbying for a historical marker at the site.

Injured Murray to miss Davis Cup quarterfinals

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LONDON —¬†Andy Murray will miss Britain’s Davis Cup quarterfinal series against France next month because of an elbow injury.

Murray sustained the injury in practice and also recently withdrew from the Miami Open.

Britain captain Leon Davis says “not having Andy in the side is obviously a big loss to our team, but most importantly we all wish him well for a speedy recovery back to full health and fitness.”

Dan Evans, Kyle Edmund, Jamie Murray and Dom Inglot will line up for Britain on clay in Rouen from April 7-9.