Djokovic, Williams set as betting favorites on odds to win U.S. Open

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With Novak Djokovic, there is a question of motivation now that the chance of a calendar-year Grand Slam is long gone.

Djokovic and Serena Williams, respectively, have the top odds on the men’s and women’s champion boards heading into the U.S. Open. The last Grand Slam of the tennis season begins on Monday at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York.

On the men’s board, Djokovic is listed at even odds, with Andy Murray nipping at his heels at +180 by virtue of winning Wimbledon and the Olympic gold medal.

Since his third-round loss at Wimbledon, Djokovic has also had early exits in both singles and doubles at the Olympics. The flip side of that is Djokovic has played only nine singles matches in three months, meaning he should be fresh.

For his part, Murray has a chance to finish the season with appearances in all four major finals, plus the Olympics. The Scottish star might need help against Djokovic, whom he is 1-4 against in their last five matches on hard courts.

Beyond the big two, there is a big drop down to heavy-serving Canadian Milos Raonic at +1200 on the tennis odds. Juan Martin del Potro and Stan Wawrinka are both at +1600, while Marin Cilic and Rafael Nadal are each listed at +2000.

Raonic, whose serve is in a class of its own, is seeded fifth. That creates the possibility of a semifinal showdown against Djokovic, whom he is 0-7 against in his career. Cilic is also an intriguing darkhorse. He won the 2014 title but didn’t encounter Djokovic, and was a 2015 semifinalist.

Williams, at +120, is alone at the top of the women’s champion board, with No. 2 seed Angelique Kerber, No. 3 Garbine Mugurza and No. 5 Simona Halep each listed at +800. Promising young American Madison Keys, who is seeded eighth, is listed at +1400.

Halep is only 1-7 in her career against Williams, but the win was on a hard surface at the Indian Wells tournament. Mugurza is 2-3 against Williams, but each win came on clay. The tournament is Williams’ to lose.

Roberta Vinci, Williams’ nemesis in the 2015 semifinal, is listed at +15000 on the tennis betting lines. That upset came in Vinci’s only trip beyond the fourth round of a major.

2-time Wimbledon champ Kvitova wins return from knife attack

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PARIS — Sweat-soaked and still wearing her match outfit, Petra Kvitova was looking for someone to hug as she wandered into the players’ lounge in the French Open’s main stadium shortly after leaving the court Sunday.

She found her father, Jiri, and her brother, also Jiri, who greeted her with warm embraces and joyous kisses on the cheek. Kvitova’s family members rarely attend her tournaments, but this was different – “special” was the word she, and others, kept using.

Less than six months after a knife attack at her home, two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova was back competing, winning the first match of her comeback 6-3, 6-2 at Roland Garros against 86th-ranked Julia Boserup of the United States.

“I’m happy with the game, of course,” Kvitova said, “but I mean, it wasn’t really about the game today.”

Indeed, just being there under a cloud-filled sky at Court Philippe Chatrier was a triumph of sorts for Kvitova, who needed surgery on her left hand – the one she uses to hold her racket – after being stabbed by an intruder in the Czech Republic in late December. She was undecided until late last week whether to even try to play in the French Open.

“For us, it’s amazing. It’s miracle. Not even me or Petra thought she could be ready to come back so soon,” said her coach, Jiri Novak. “The prognosis was, let’s just say, not optimistic.”

During her on-court interview, Kvitova addressed Novak, her family and others in her guest box, saying: “Thank you for everything you helped me through (in) this difficult time.”

Several members of her entourage wore black T-shirts with white capital letters on the front that read, “Courage. Belief. Pojd.” That last word, which is the Czech equivalent of “Come on!” and was spelled with a red heart instead of the “O,” is often yelled by Kvitova to celebrate particularly good shots.

“The belief and the mind, the heart, it’s really important,” Kvitova said afterward. “So that’s … what we try to show everyone. I hope that it will be kind of inspiration for other people, as well.”

There were plenty of opportunities for her to clench a fist and scream “Pojd!” on Sunday against Boserup, who was making her debut in the French Open’s main draw and facing a lefty for the first time.

“She’s one of the nicest girls, and we are all really happy to see her back. After what she went through, it’s incredible,” Boserup said. “So it’s a victory for her to be back on court. It was really special.”

Kvitova began things with a quick forehand winner on the opening point.

“Amazing,” she said. “I surprised myself.”

Kvitova wound up compiling the match’s first 10 winners and finished with a 31-9 edge in that category. She took 15 of the first 20 points en route to a 3-0 lead and never really faced a whole lot of resistance, other than when she saved three break points – the only ones she had to deal with in the match – while ahead 3-1.

When it was over, Kvitova dropped her racket near the baseline and removed her blue headband. As she walked to the net for a handshake, her eyes welled with tears.

“We are happy that she is healthy. The hand is good – and also the head,” her brother Jiri said. “Mentally, she is back.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Venus Williams eases into French Open’s second round after beating Qiang Wang

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In a record 20th appearance at the French Open, Venus Williams eased into the second round with a straight sets victory over Qiang Wang of China.

Williams, who is seeded 10th, saved two set points to win 6-4, 7-6 (3).

The 36-year-old American will play Kurumi Nara of Japan in the next round.