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Fired for Venus Williams remark, ex-commentator sues ESPN

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LOS ANGELES (AP) A tennis commentator dropped by ESPN for a remark about Venus Williams during the Australian Open sued the sports network Tuesday for wrongful termination.

Former tennis pro Doug Adler maintains he was describing Williams’ aggressive style last month as “guerrilla” tactics and not comparing her with a “gorilla.”

He apologized for his poor word choice but was let go from ESPN mid-tournament.

Adler claims “emotional distress” in the filing in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging he was wrongly branded a racist and has lost other TV opportunities because of the controversy.

The lawsuit calls for punitive financial damages, but doesn’t name an amount.

ESPN spokesman Mike Soltys said Tuesday the network hadn’t seen the lawsuit and had no comment.

The suit points out that “Guerrilla Tennis” was the name of a Nike TV ad from the 1990s featuring Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.

“Obviously, (Adler) saw that commercial many times and the phrase became widely used by those who actually understood tennis vernacular and followed the sport closely,” the lawsuit said.

Peter Bodo, senior editor of Tennis magazine, used the term in a 2012 profile of Agnieszka Radwanska, according to court papers.

Adler was doing play-by-play commentary on ESPN for Williams’ Jan. 18 match against Stefanie Voegele, saying Williams was playing more aggressively after Voegele missed serves. When Voegele faulted on a serve, Adler described Williams as moving in and charging with a “gorilla effect” or “guerrilla effect.” Because the words gorilla and guerrilla are pronounced similarly, it’s impossible to say for certain which word Adler spoke.

Offended viewers called for Adler to be fired for comparing Williams, who is African-American, with a gorilla.

At the time Adler said he was speaking about Williams’ tactics and strategy and “simply and inadvertently chose the wrong word to describe her play.”

In a statement emailed in January to The Associated Press, ESPN said it had pulled Adler from broadcasts.

“During an Australian Open stream on ESPN3, Doug Adler should have been more careful in his word selection. He apologized and we have removed him from his remaining assignments,” the statement read.

Adler was an All-American player at the University of Southern California who went on to play on the pro circuit. He was hired by ESPN in 2008 and covered tournaments including the U.S. Open, French Open and Wimbledon

Williams declined to comment on the remark or the ensuing controversy.

Follow Christopher Weber at https://twitter.com/WeberCM

Andy Murray losses to Thiem in Barcelona Open semifinals

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BARCELONA, Spain — World No. 1 Andy Murray lost to Dominic Thiem of Austria 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in the Barcelona Open semifinals on Saturday.

Murray’s defeat came a week after he exited the third round at Monte Carlo. That loss prompted Murray to enter Barcelona to whip up some form for the French Open following a right elbow injury.

Nine-time winner Rafael Nadal played Horacio Zeballaos of Argentina in the other semifinal later Saturday.

Thiem started strong, breaking Murray’s first two service games before adding a third break en route to taking the first set.

The ninth-ranked Thiem had a break point in the second set, but Murray held serve and broke him back to even the match at a set apiece.

Murray was again in trouble at 4-2 down in the decisive set, and folded when he failed to successfully return Thiem’s deep lob on match point.

It was Thiem’s first win in three meetings against Murray.

Sharapova’s return ends in semis at Porsche Grand Prix

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STUTTGART, Germany — Maria Sharapova’s first tournament since her controversial return to tennis is over after losing to Kristina Mladenovic of France in the Porsche Grand Prix semifinals.

Mladenovic beat former top-ranked Sharapova 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 Saturday.

In her fourth match following a 15-month doping ban, the Russian was left to rue missing 13 of her 16 break-point opportunities as Mladenovic rallied to win in 2 hours, 38 minutes.

The 19th-ranked Mladenovic, who ousted two-time defending champion Angelique Kerber on Thursday, next plays the winner of the other semifinal between fourth-seeded Simona Halep and last year’s runner-up Laura Siegemund.

Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova, who tested positive for meldonium at last year’s Australian Open, had been given a wild card to enter the Stuttgart event after losing her ranking because of the ban.