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At French Open, del Potro gets lost off court, wins on it

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PARIS — Back at the French Open for the first time since 2012, Juan Martin del Potro encountered a bit of trouble navigating the grounds, getting lost a few times as he walked around Roland Garros.

“I never find the place where I have to go,” he joked.

All seemed well once he made it out to Court 6 on Tuesday, though. There was del Potro, pounding those intimidating forehands and big serves and only showing signs of his years of wrist troubles when trying to hit his backhand while advancing to the second round with a 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory over qualifier Guido Pella in an all-Argentine matchup.

“He played better than me,” Pella summed it up.

Simple enough explanation for the result.

Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, is seeded 29th at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament he last entered five years ago, when he reached the quarterfinals.

Against Pella, he finished with 13 aces and nearly twice as many total winners, 33-17.

Of note: Only one of those winners for del Potro came off his backhand wing, the side he has more problems with after multiple operations on his left wrist. He is right-handed but uses both hands for his double-fisted backhands, which often are reduced to slices.

“He has a weakness,” Pella said. “I tried to find that weakness.”

Del Potro missed 2+ years’ worth of major tournaments because of three operations on his left wrist, returning to Grand Slam action at Wimbledon in 2016.

His comeback really showed progress at the Rio Olympics, when he stunned Novak Djokovic in the first round and wound up with a silver medal, losing to Andy Murray in the final.

“I was able to show today that my weak point, which used to be my weak point until recently – my backhand – has got better. I think his strategy was to force me into using the backhand, and he was able to see that it was no longer my weak point and that I was able to use my backhand quite well,” del Potro said about Pella, a Davis Cup teammate.

“But it’s true that sometimes I was a little upset, because I know that my backhand is not quite what it used to be.”

Clay has never been del Potro’s best surface – his power-based game is better suited to faster surfaces, such as hard courts – but he did reach the French Open semifinals in 2009 before losing to Roger Federer.

“That year,” del Potro said, “I thought it was my year.”

Now, at age 28, he takes things slowly, knowing he has room to improve as he tries to return to the upper reaches of his sport.

Del Potro will face Nicolas Almagro in the second round, with a potential matchup against No. 1 Murray in the third.

“I have adopted a sort of wait-and-see attitude. We’ll see,” del Potro said. “I try not to make things too complicated, and I try not to set long-term objectives. I really play match by match.”

 

‘Big 4’ given top 4 seedings at Wimbledon; Kerber also No. 1

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LONDON — The “Big 4” of men’s tennis were given the four highest seedings for this year’s tournament at Wimbledon.

No. 1-ranked Andy Murray, the defending champion, is the top-seeded player, followed by Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Nadal and Djokovic are also in the top four of the ATP rankings, but Federer is No. 5. Third-ranked Stan Wawrinka, who has won the other three Grand Slam titles but not Wimbledon, is seeded fifth.

Milos Raonic, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori and Alexander Zverev round out the top 10 in the seedings.

In the women’s seedings, Angelique Kerber is No. 1 in a list that mirrors the top-10 rankings. The only exception is the absence of No. 4-ranked Serena Williams, who is pregnant and skipping the tournament.

That means fifth-ranked Elina Svitolina is the fourth-seeded player at Wimbledon, behind Kerber, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova.

Caroline Wozniacki, Johanna Konta, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Venus Williams complete the top 10 in the seedings.

Serena bares all in Vanity Fair cover shoot

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After accidentally revealing her pregnancy through Snapchat back in April, Serena Williams has not been shy about sharing her pregnancy with the public. In fact, Williams bares all in the cover of Vanity Fair’s August issue, wearing only the same waist chain she wore in that Snapchat.

The cover photo she tweeted Tuesday shows the tennis star’s full-body profile. Taken by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz, the photographs of Williams’ baby bump are surrounded by earthly hues of grey and burnt orange. Her fiancé, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, stepped in for a couple photos, embracing his future wife.

As carefree as she looks in these pictures, Williams probably hasn’t been having the best week after tennis legend John McEnroe questioned her athleticism when compared to men. McEnroe said in an interview with NPR earlier this week that Williams – a 23-time Grand Slam singles winner –  would rank “like 700” on the men’s tour. When he came on the Dan Patrick Show on Tuesday morning, McEnroe stated his confusion over why his comment on Williams was a big deal: “Why is it always McEnroe that gets caught in the middle of this? It drives me crazy.”

Williams, an active Twitter user, responded to his comments:

Williams’ baby, which she has yet to find out the sex of, is due this fall.