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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.

2-time Wimbledon champ Kvitova wins return from knife attack

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PARIS — Sweat-soaked and still wearing her match outfit, Petra Kvitova was looking for someone to hug as she wandered into the players’ lounge in the French Open’s main stadium shortly after leaving the court Sunday.

She found her father, Jiri, and her brother, also Jiri, who greeted her with warm embraces and joyous kisses on the cheek. Kvitova’s family members rarely attend her tournaments, but this was different – “special” was the word she, and others, kept using.

Less than six months after a knife attack at her home, two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova was back competing, winning the first match of her comeback 6-3, 6-2 at Roland Garros against 86th-ranked Julia Boserup of the United States.

“I’m happy with the game, of course,” Kvitova said, “but I mean, it wasn’t really about the game today.”

Indeed, just being there under a cloud-filled sky at Court Philippe Chatrier was a triumph of sorts for Kvitova, who needed surgery on her left hand – the one she uses to hold her racket – after being stabbed by an intruder in the Czech Republic in late December. She was undecided until late last week whether to even try to play in the French Open.

“For us, it’s amazing. It’s miracle. Not even me or Petra thought she could be ready to come back so soon,” said her coach, Jiri Novak. “The prognosis was, let’s just say, not optimistic.”

During her on-court interview, Kvitova addressed Novak, her family and others in her guest box, saying: “Thank you for everything you helped me through (in) this difficult time.”

Several members of her entourage wore black T-shirts with white capital letters on the front that read, “Courage. Belief. Pojd.” That last word, which is the Czech equivalent of “Come on!” and was spelled with a red heart instead of the “O,” is often yelled by Kvitova to celebrate particularly good shots.

“The belief and the mind, the heart, it’s really important,” Kvitova said afterward. “So that’s … what we try to show everyone. I hope that it will be kind of inspiration for other people, as well.”

There were plenty of opportunities for her to clench a fist and scream “Pojd!” on Sunday against Boserup, who was making her debut in the French Open’s main draw and facing a lefty for the first time.

“She’s one of the nicest girls, and we are all really happy to see her back. After what she went through, it’s incredible,” Boserup said. “So it’s a victory for her to be back on court. It was really special.”

Kvitova began things with a quick forehand winner on the opening point.

“Amazing,” she said. “I surprised myself.”

Kvitova wound up compiling the match’s first 10 winners and finished with a 31-9 edge in that category. She took 15 of the first 20 points en route to a 3-0 lead and never really faced a whole lot of resistance, other than when she saved three break points – the only ones she had to deal with in the match – while ahead 3-1.

When it was over, Kvitova dropped her racket near the baseline and removed her blue headband. As she walked to the net for a handshake, her eyes welled with tears.

“We are happy that she is healthy. The hand is good – and also the head,” her brother Jiri said. “Mentally, she is back.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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Venus Williams eases into French Open’s second round after beating Qiang Wang

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In a record 20th appearance at the French Open, Venus Williams eased into the second round with a straight sets victory over Qiang Wang of China.

Williams, who is seeded 10th, saved two set points to win 6-4, 7-6 (3).

The 36-year-old American will play Kurumi Nara of Japan in the next round.