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No Williams-Williams rematch at Open: Venus out in 4th round

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NEW YORK (AP) — Venus Williams went from down and out to a point from victory, then back again. In the end, she couldn’t quite get past a woman a dozen years younger and never before at this stage of a Grand Slam tournament.

Williams failed to convert a match point and lost 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3) to 10th-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in the fourth round of the U.S. Open on Monday, despite vociferous support from the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd down the stretch.

“I really played the perfect point there,” Williams said about her chance to end things while up 5-4, and Pliskova serving at 30-40, “and she managed to stay alive.”

At 36, Williams would have been the oldest woman to reach the quarterfinals at any major since Martina Navratilova was 37 at Wimbledon in 1994.

Williams made it that far at Flushing Meadows a year ago, before losing to her younger sister Serena. This time, they had been on course for an all-in-the-family showdown in the semifinals; Serena’s fourth-round match against Yaroslava Shvedova followed Venus’ in Ashe.

Instead, though, Pliskova managed, just barely, to make it to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at age 24. Until this tournament, she never had been past the third round in 17 appearances at majors.

“I was prepared that I’m going to play Venus — it’s going to be tough, because all the people are cheering for her,” said Pliskova, who leads the tour in aces in 2016 and produced eight in this match.

It took her a while to finish off this one, despite going up an early break in the third set and leading 4-2. Just as it seemed she would run away with it, Williams turned things around enough to go up 5-4 and hold a match point. But Pliskova erased that with a swinging forehand volley — the sort of shot Williams loves to hit — and followed it up with another aggressive forehand winner.

Then Pliskova broke to lead 6-5 and served for the match, getting three chances to close it at 40-love. After Pliskova frittered away one with a double-fault, Williams steeled herself and stepped up, smacking a volley winner, cross-court backhand winner and two forehand winners to break back for 6-all.

“To be honest,” Pliskova said, “it was really difficult … when I lost my serve.”

Somehow, though, she pulled herself together enough to get through the tiebreaker as Williams faltered.

“In the ‘breaker, I went for a little bit more,” Williams said, “but I didn’t put the ball in enough.”

Now Pliskova will face No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska or Ana Konjuh. Also reaching the quarterfinals with a victory Monday was 2014 French Open runner-up Simona Halep, who eliminated No. 11 Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 7-5.

In men’s action, 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro became the lowest-ranked man in the U.S. Open quarterfinals in 25 years, advancing when No. 8 seed Dominic Thiem stopped in the second set because of an injured right knee.

Del Potro missed 2½ years’ worth of major tournaments because of a trio of operations on his left wrist, so he’s ranked only 142nd. Jimmy Connors was 174th when he made a stirring run to the semifinals in New York at age 39 in 1991.

Del Potro has been playing as well as ever lately, winning a silver medal at the Rio Olympics and picking up victories over Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka.

In the quarterfinals, del Potro’s opponent will be No. 3 Wawrinka, a 6-4, 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-3 winner against Illya Marchenko.

“He will be the favorite to win in that match,” said del Potro, who beat Wawrinka at Wimbledon.

“But,” del Potro added, “anything can happen in this event for me. I got the power from the crowd in every match.”

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.”