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Serena Williams wins opening match in Auckland

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) Serena Williams mixed flashes of form and occasional bouts of frustration as she ended four months on the sidelines with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Pauline Parmentier on Tuesday in the first round of the ASB Classic.

Top-seeded Williams had to wait an extra day to make her first appearance of 2017 because rain forced the postponement of her first-round match on Monday.

It was wind rather than rain that troubled Williams on Tuesday as a swirling breeze on the open-air center court at the Auckland Tennis Center made it difficult to serve.

She took 74 minutes to beat No. 69-ranked Parmentier, serving eight aces – including one on match point – but also prolonging the match with a series of unforced errors, including four double-faults.

“This wind was getting to me,” Williams said. “It’s like every day I’ve practiced here there’s been no wind and today I play and it’s real windy, so it was fun. It wasn’t fun, actually, it was interesting.”

Williams made a shaky start, dropping serve in an opening game before Parmentier held her own serve to love. But she seemed to find some form and confidence in the third game which included a booming winner from a crosscourt forehand.

Williams broke Parmentier’s serve in the sixth and eighth games and held comfortably, serving out the set in only 29 minutes.

There were signs of frustration from Williams as the wind picked up and she struggled to put her first serve in play. When she did, she won 80 percent of first serve points.

She also found herself out of position to play convincing groundstrokes as the wind carried the ball away from her racket. Williams’ backhand especially suffered, though she looked to move around the court freely.

She broke Parmentier in the third game of the second set, then immediately lost her own serve. Williams struggled to hold serve in the sixth game, saving three breakpoints, but she signaled her intention to finish it off quickly with two powerful winners which allowed her to break again in the seventh game.

Only two main draw matches were completed on the rain-interrupted first day. In other matches Tuesday, Venus Williams was set to play New Zealand wildcard Jade Lewis and former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki was against Nicole Gibbs.

Serena Williams champions issues on, off court

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Moments after Serena Williams won her seventh Wimbledon title, she proudly raised her fist in a black power salute.

It caused a bit of frenzy at the All-England Club in 2016, but Williams’ action shouldn’t have surprised anyone: She’d already been one of the most vocal supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. She was one of the first major athletes to decry the failure to indict a white officer in the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – while also condemning violence against police.

“What caused me to speak out? Just life,” Williams said. “That’s just who I am. I always believe in the greater good and doing what’s right.”

Williams isn’t alone in her activism. Female athletes – especially black women – have long been out there pushing for social change. Wilma Rudolph’s victory parade celebrating her three gold medals from the 1960 Olympics in Rome was the first integrated event in Clarksville, Tennessee.

But despite their efforts on the field and off, women athletes have to struggle to get the same attention as men despite having as much to say, said Harry Edwards, a scholar of race and sports who has worked as a consultant for several U.S. pro teams.

“We have this twisted, almost-demented obsession with women’s second-class status with their physical inferiority,” he said. “It prevents us from appreciating the great athletes that they are … but it also means that it shuts down a potential forum that these great athletes would have where they’re valued for their athletic prowess in the same way that Muhammad Ali was, that Bill Russell was, that Tommy Smith and John Carlos were, that Arthur Ashe was, that Curt Flood was, so that when they speak, people listen.”

While Williams has long been an advocate of Black Lives Matter, it was only after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the 2016 season that the country really began to pay attention to black athlete activism. Kaepernick added his voice to a growing national movement, enveloping the entire league and starting an ongoing conversation that ventured outside football arenas.

Similarly, few people acknowledge that after the 2016 deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and the killing of Dallas police officers, dozens of WNBA players wore shirts with the men’s names and kneeled for the national anthem.

It was a black woman, Knox College basketball player Ariyana Smith, who started the wave of athletic protest about the deaths of black men at the hands of police.

On Nov. 29, 2014, Smith made the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture during the national anthem before a game at Fontbonne University in Clayton, Missouri, before walking toward the American flag and laying prone on the floor for 4 1/2 minutes to symbolize the 4 + hours Brown lay in the streets of nearby Ferguson.

“We as black women are often invisible, so we don’t get that credit,” said Akilah Francique, a former athlete who cofounded the Sista to Sista program to foster a sense of connectedness among black female collegiate athletes.

Williams has been a presence on and off the tennis court, not shying away from opponents en route to winning 23 Grand Slam titles or social and political issues.

She spoke up in 2015, encouraging Black Lives Matter activists not to get discouraged: “To those of you involved in equality movements like Black Lives Matter, I say this: Keep it up. Don’t let those trolls stop you. We’ve been through so much for so many centuries, and we shall overcome this too,” she wrote in Wired magazine.

Since then, Williams has become the symbol for other causes affecting people of color, including medical issues. In February, she told Vogue that she dealt with a medical scare after the birth of her daughter. She had to insist on getting extra medical tests, overruling her nurse, before her doctors discovered several small blood clots in her lungs.

Women around the country related to her story, talking about similar difficulties in getting proper medical attention.

Female-led activism can also look different than men’s, Francique said, because of the unique positions and pressures women face in sports and in life. She pointed to the criticism black women athletes have to overcome about their body shapes, training regimens, skin color, clothing and even hair when they compete in sports – criticism that Williams has endured.

“For many of them just by merely being there and having a presence is activism,” Francique said.

Williams’ older sister, Venus, who has advocated for equal pay for professional tennis while winning seven Grand Slam titles, believes it is important to have a voice on these issues.

“I think more than anything, we see ourselves as Americans, and that’s what we want to be able to see ourselves as, regardless of color,” said Venus Williams. “I think that’s what everyone is fighting for, that one day we don’t have to see that anymore.”

 

 

Isner wins rematch against Albot at Delray Beach Open

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DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Sixth-seeded John Isner overcame a slow start Tuesday to win his rematch against Radu Albot in the first round of the Delray Beach Open, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4.

Isner lost to Albot last week in the first round of the New York Open, and had been beaten in the opening match of his three previous tournaments this year.

No. 9 Milos Raonic, last year’s runner-up to champion Jack Sock, swept the final five games and beat Taro Daniel 6-1, 7-5.

Ivo Karlovic, the 2015 champion, converted only one of 12 break-point chances and lost to Denis Shapovalov 7-5, 7-6 (4).