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‘Scared’ a year ago, Federer back at Wimbledon, eyeing No. 8

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LONDON (AP) Write off Roger Federer at your own peril.

The guy’s been considered done by some folks at various times over the years, whether because of age or a bad back or a bum knee or a – gasp! – 4+-season drought without a Grand Slam title.

And yet here he is, about to turn 36 next month, about to tie a record by playing in his 70th major tournament and, lo and behold, back to his old status as a popular pick to take home the title when Wimbledon begins on Monday.

He is seeking an unprecedented eighth men’s championship at the All England Club.

“A player like Roger, as long as he’s playing, you know, he’s going to have a chance to win a Grand Slam. The day he will stop playing, that’s when he will have no chance to win,” said Stan Wawrinka, a three-time major champion who has played much of his career in his Swiss countryman’s considerable shadow.

“We all know as players, we all see on the court, we all see when we practice against him,” said Wawrinka, who is friends with Federer and has teamed with him to win a Davis Cup title and an Olympic gold in doubles.

“For sure, he had some years (that were) a little bit down – with some injury, with some tough results for him. That’s part of a long career.”

The lasting image of Federer at Wimbledon a year ago was of him face-down on the Centre Court turf during the fifth set of a semifinal loss, betrayed by a surgically repaired left knee.

Also tough to forget: The consecutive double-faults in the last game of the fourth set.

He seemed more vulnerable than the tennis world had seen him in more than a decade.

“The fall just really scared me,” Federer said Saturday, fingers clasped as he leaned forward.

Afterward, he recalled, he consulted with several doctors. Federer figured he would need a month off, maybe two. He was told that at least four months off was the proper way to heal. That meant no Olympics, no U.S. Open, no matches at all for the rest of 2016.

All he’s done since coming back this year is go 24-2 with four titles, including a record-extending 18th at a Grand Slam tournament by erasing a fifth-set deficit to beat Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final in January.

That was Federer’s first major championship since Wimbledon in 2012, when he was a mere 30 years old.

Some more time off would come during this season: Federer skipped the clay-court circuit, including the French Open, despite being healthy.

“I was ready to play in Paris,” he said. “I just didn’t feel ready to go yet.”

Federer wanted, he explained, to give himself the best chance to succeed on his best surfaces, grass and hard courts.

“We all felt the same way, that it’s better to save myself and give it all I have for the rest of the season – not just the grass-court season, but looking beyond that, too, all the way to the American summer, staying on a `fast-court tennis’ sort of mindset,” he said.

Leaning back in his chair with arms crossed, he said of missing the French Open: “I kind of never regretted it, even though it hurt.”

He tuned up for Wimbledon by winning a grass-court tournament in Halle, Germany. In the final, he walloped one of the game’s up-and-coming talents – Alexander Zverev, someone 15 years his junior – as if to prove that the kids can wait their turn.

Tennis’ old guard is still in charge of the sport.

Federer, 31-year-old Nadal, and Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, both 30, are the top four seeds at Wimbledon. They’ve combined to win the past 14 titles at the All England Club.

“It’s very even, when we put it all out on the line,” Federer said about the so-called Big 4.

This is Federer’s 19th appearance at Wimbledon, two shy of Jimmy Connors’ record in the Open era. Federer enters with 84 match wins, equal with Connors for the most.

There are concessions to time, Federer acknowledges.

He tried to get through practice Saturday as quickly as possible – “short and sweet, just to get it done” – and then planned to take Sunday off before the grind begins.

The philosophy is the same during matches. An attacking style to shorten points, the occasional serve-and-volley, and the more powerful backhand he displayed in Australia against Nadal all can help save energy.

“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my opponent. I want to take charge, play aggressive myself,” Federer said. “So for that, I need to be fast on my feet and quick in my mind. I just need enough rest so I can play enough inspired tennis.”

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

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Nastase banned from Fed Cup and Davis Cup until 2019

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LONDON — Ilie Nastase has been banned from the Fed Cup and Davis Cup until 2019 because of his foul-mouthed comments and bad behavior as Romania’s captain during a Fed Cup match against Britain.

In addition to the ban, the International Tennis Federation said Friday the 1973 French Open champion will not be able to work in an official capacity for a further two years, until 2021.

The 71-year-old Nastase was also fined $10,000. He has three weeks to appeal the decision.

“Mr. Nastase made a comment about Serena Williams’s unborn child that was highly inappropriate and racially insensitive,” the ITF said.

Nastase also “made advances of a sexual nature towards Anne Keothavong, the captain of the Great Britain team” and “made abusive and threatening comments to the match officials and to members of the Great Britain team.”

Although he will have to sit out ITF events, the ban does not apply to Grand Slam, ATP or WTA tournaments, which are not under the governing body’s jurisdiction.

Nastase was provisionally suspended in April after he speculated about the skin color of the baby that Williams is expecting and for outbursts during a Fed Cup match between Romania and Britain.

He previously acknowledged making mistakes and having shortcomings, but stressed “the cause I fight for is tennis, the sport I really love, which I cannot separate from my life.”

As Fed Cup captain, Nastase hurled abuse at British player Johanna Konta, Keothavong and the umpire. The referee ejected Nastase.

Nastase, a former top-ranked player, was barred from the French Open and was not invited to the Royal Box at Wimbledon, where he was a two-time finalist.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

World Cup of Tennis put on hold for at least a year

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LONDON–The International Tennis Federation is putting off its proposal for a World Cup of Tennis Finals for another year.

The ITF said last month it wanted to combine next year’s Davis Cup and Fed Cup finals into one event to raise the profile of the two national team competitions. But on Thursday, the governing body said it would not put the motion to a vote at its annual general meeting next month in Vietnam.

Other proposals, such as reducing the men’s matches to best-of-three sets and possibly skipping the final match of the series if it is already decided, will still go before member nations for ratification at the Aug. 4 meeting in Ho Chi Minh City.

“We promised change and are already delivering change with a significant series of reforms,” ITF President David Haggerty said in a statement. “Taking another year to build consensus around the World Cup of Tennis Finals will allow us to finalize an even stronger recommendation to the AGM.”

Last month, the ITF said it wanted to start staging the World Cup of Tennis in November 2018 in Geneva. The Swiss city was to host the event for three years at its 18,000-seat Palexpo.

The ITF said then that it had made the announcement of the host city well in advance in an effort to follow the successful model used by the Super Bowl and Champions League final.

But that has now been put on hold as the governing body tries to sell its idea to its voting members.

“This decision shows that we do not act unilaterally,” Haggerty said, “and are working with all our stakeholders to find the best solution for tennis.”

Haggerty also announced the creation of a World Cup of Tennis Finals task force. Board members Katrina Adams and Bernard Giudicelli have been appointed as co-chairs.

“The World Cup of Tennis Finals will unlock considerable new revenue for investing back into the sport through the ITF’s member nations,” Haggerty said. “Investment in the development of the next generation remains the priority of the ITF and its national associations.”