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France bids to upset two-time champ Czechs in Fed Cup final

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STRASBOURG, France — France’s Kristina Mladenovic will open play against world No. 6 Karolina Pliskova in the Fed Cup final, as the hosts look to break the Czech Republic’s stranglehold on the event this weekend.

The Czechs are bidding for a fifth title in six years on an indoor hard court at Rhenus Sport arena in Strasbourg.

They won the most recent tie between the two countries in the semifinals last year, and are the overwhelming favorites to become the first team to win three consecutive Fed Cups since Spain from 1993-95.

Caroline Garcia will take on two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the second singles.

Sunday features the reverse singles and doubles.

France has reached the final for the first time since 2005, and will be bidding for a third title.

Two-time champ Azarenka gets Australian Open wild card

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Two-time former champion Victoria Azarenka has been awarded a wild card for the Australian Open.

Azarenka, who won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013, has been involved in a custody dispute involving her son Leo, who was born last Dec. 19.

She hasn’t competed anywhere since Wimbledon, where she lost to Simona Halep in the fourth round on July 10. The dispute with her former partner started shortly after Wimbledon ended.

Azarenka has played only six matches this year and is ranked 208th.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said on Wednesday that every assistance would be provided to the former No. 1, adding “Vika’s current situation is obviously very difficult for her and we have reached out to offer any support we can.”

The Australian Open starts on Jan. 15.

Nadal, Muguruza win ITF player of the year awards

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LONDON — Rafael Nadal and Garbine Muguruza have won the International Tennis Federation’s player of the year awards.

At 31, Nadal becomes the oldest ITF men’s world champion after a season in which he won a 10th French Open and a third U.S. Open.

The Spaniard also became the oldest player to finish the year at No. 1 since the ATP rankings began in 1973.

Muguruza dropped only one set en route to her first Wimbledon title and finished the year at No. 2 behind Simona Halep.

“Becoming ITF world champion in such a competitive year is amazing for me,” said Muguruza, who is also Spanish. “(Nadal) is a great role model for all of us, so it is a great moment for tennis in Spain.”