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Tennis opens up bidding for hosts of Davis, Fed Cup finals

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LONDON — Cities will bid to stage the finals of the Davis and Fed Cups as part of a revamp of the international team tennis competitions.

The International Tennis Federation will launch a bidding process in December, although the governing body is yet to determine whether the same city will host the men’s and women’s competitions.

Currently one of the finalists, based on the draw, decides the venue. Croatia is now looking for a suitable location for its men to host Argentina in the Davis Cup final in November.

“By having a full year or two to plan we can do more for sponsors and fans with a stadium that’s an appropriate size,” ITF President David Haggerty said the organization’s London headquarters.

Working on the ITF project are consultants from the CSM sports marketing company chaired by Sebastian Coe, president of track and field’s governing body, the IAAF.

The ITF will assess whether to select a host city from an emerging market which can potentially offer higher financial returns or one of the traditional tennis heartlands where the crowds could be larger and more boisterous.

“It’s a balancing act, making sure we get bids from a number of different cities so we can make comparisons,” Haggerty told The Associated Press. “But it’s not all about money. It’s about eyeballs and awareness. Our mission really is to develop, grow and promote tennis around the world. So we will take great caution.”

Haggerty envisages the winning bid staging the finals for two to three years. The challenge in potentially using the same venue for both competition finals at the same time is finding somewhere with enough arenas, practice courts and locker rooms.

European soccer’s Champions League final and the Super Bowl, the showpiece of the NFL season, are being examined as major events that are held at neutral venues.

The proposed Davis and Fed Cup changes must be approved by the ITF’s annual general meeting in August. The ITF anticipates a decision on successful bidding cities next year.

The ITF is also examining whether to condense the finals from three to two days and if best-of-three sets would work better for the Davis Cup rather than the current best-of-five. The Fed Cup world group could also double to 16 teams to match the men’s competition.

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.”