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Sharapova to learn Wimbledon wild card fate on June 20

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LONDON —¬†Maria Sharapova may have to wait until June 20 to see if she will be welcomed back to this year’s tournament at Wimbledon.

Sharapova, the 2004 champion at the All England Club, returned to the WTA Tour last week after serving a 15-month ban for doping and reached the semifinals in Stuttgart, leaving her ranked No. 262.

Sharapova is set to play two more tournaments, in Madrid and Rome, before the deadline for direct entry to Wimbledon qualifying. Deep runs at those events could earn her enough points to make the main draw, while she will also find out on May 16 if she gets a wild card for the French Open.

Wimbledon chief executive Richard Lewis said Wednesday there will be a meeting of the tournament’s tennis sub-committee on June 20, when it will be clear which players have been accepted into the main draw. Wimbledon begins July 3, its latest start since 1895.

Andy Murray, the world’s top-ranked men’s player, said he expects Sharapova to be granted a wild card if she needs one.

“But I’m sure they are hoping they don’t have to make the decision,” Murray said Tuesday at the launch of the Queen’s Club tournament, a warm-up event for Wimbledon. “There’s a good chance that she can get in by right, which I’m sure is what she’s hoping for and that’s what Wimbledon would be hoping for.”

Lewis said qualifying at nearby Roehampton would be a ticketed event for the first time, and that action on one of the courts will be broadcast live. He said this was not linked to the possible appearance of Sharapova, but because of the upsurge in interest in qualifying matches.

Also, All England Club chairman Philip Brook said two-time Wimbledon finalist Ilie Nastase will not be invited to the Royal Box on Centre Court.

The 70-year-old Romanian has been provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Federation following his comments about the skin color of the baby that Serena Williams is expecting and his foul-mouthed outbursts during a recent Fed Cup match between Romania and Britain.

“What he did, we have to say, his actions were not very good and we condemn them,” Brook said.

There will be a 12.5 percent increase in total prize money, up to 31.6 million pounds ($40.80 million).

The winners of the singles titles will each win 2.2 million pounds ($2.85 million), a 10 percent increase from 2016.

First-round losers will receive 35,000 pounds ($45,000), a 16.7 percent increase from 2016, as Wimbledon officials say they are placing a greater emphasis on helping lower-ranked players.

Keys sends U.S. into second straight Fed Cup final

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AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France — Defending champion United States will play in a second consecutive Fed Cup final after defeating France on Sunday.

Madison Keys secured the decisive point for the visiting team by beating Pauline Parmentier 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the second reverse singles. Keys’ victory gave the defending champions an unassailable 3-1 lead over France in their semifinal.

The 13th-ranked Keys, a late replacement for CoCo Vandeweghe, came back from a 4-1 deficit in the first set and made the decisive break in the ninth game of the second set with two consecutive winners.

“The girls did so well, both today and yesterday. We are very fortunate to have such a strong group and now we are looking forward to what is going to be a great final,” U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said.

Parmentier fought hard until the end and saved two set points in the opener, but ultimately surrendered to Keys’ deep groundstrokes. The Frenchwoman had the chance to break back while trailing 5-4 in the second set but Keys used her big serve to win the next three points and seal the match.

The U.S. will play the Czech Republic in the final.

Earlier, Sloane Stephens had given a 2-1 lead to the U.S. with a 6-2, 6-0 thrashing of Kristina Mladenovic.

The U.S. Open champion delivered a ruthless display against the 20th-ranked Mladenovic and prevailed in 54 minutes. Stephens hit 16 winners and converted five of six break chances at the 6,700-capacity Arena Pays d’Aix on indoor clay.

“That was a really good one. You never anticipate a scoreline like the way it turned out but it was really solid,” Stephens said. She also won her first singles match on Saturday.

The Americans extended their winning record to 12-2 against the French.

The Czech Republic qualified for the final by defeating Germany 4-1 in Stuttgart.

Nadal beats Nishikori to win Monte Carlo Masters

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MONACO — Rafael Nadal won a record 31st Masters title after beating Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2 in the Monte Carlo Masters final on Sunday.

Nadal also became the first man in the Open era to win the same title 11 times – 13 years after his first title here – and moved one ahead of rival Novak Djokovic for career Masters titles.

“It’s great to have this trophy in my hands again,” Nadal said.

It gave him a 76th title overall and ensured the Spaniard keeps his top ranking ahead of Roger Federer.

Nishikori was chasing a first Masters title, but the Japanese player took 11 minutes to hold for 1-1.

He got some brief hope, breaking Nadal with a superb passing shot at full stretch to lead 2-1, but meekly surrendered the next four games.

“I knew it was going to be tough even though I was up break,” said Nishikori, who complained of tiredness. “My legs were very heavy today, playing three sets (for) three days in a row (before the final). It wasn’t easy physically.”

The second set was a procession and Nadal won on his first match point with a stinging backhand winner.

Nadal’s celebration was brief and low key. He thrust both hands into the air, and then jogged over to offer Nishikori a sympathetic hug after beating him for the 10th time in 12 meetings.

Nishikori saved a set point with a sharp, angled volley at the net. But Nadal was in relentless mood and sealed it on his next chance with a crisp forehand winner.

“It’s not easy to describe when you are coming back from injury and you start the clay-court season in this way,” Nadal said.

Nishikori is still working his way back to form and full fitness, after missing the 2017 U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open because of a torn tendon in his right wrist.

“It was a great week for me, I had an injury and couldn’t play for a long time,” said Nishikori, whose ranking has slipped to 36.

Nadal has not dropped a set in seven matches since coming back from a recurrence of a right hip injury that forced him to abandon during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

The injury relapse subsequently forced him out of the Mexico Open and Masters tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami, but Nadal now looks back to his ruthless best on clay.

He has his sights firmly set on an 11th title at Barcelona next week and then an 11th French Open title at Roland Garros.