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After injuries, Stephens plays 1st match of ’17 at Wimbledon

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LONDON (AP) Sloane Stephens hadn’t played a competitive match in nearly a year because of an injured left foot, so when she stepped on the grass of Wimbledon on Tuesday, simply being there was significant.

“Just getting on the court, I was relieved, I was happy, excited,” Stephens said. “I mean, all good emotions.”

Less than six months after foot surgery, Stephens returned to action with a 6-2, 7-5 loss to Alison Riske in an all-U.S. matchup in the first round at the All England Club.

Stephens was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon in 2013, back when she appeared to be a rising star in tennis, making at least the fourth round at six consecutive Grand Slam tournaments. She reached the semifinals at the Australian Open earlier that year and climbed to a career-high No. 11 in the WTA rankings.

But she had a stress reaction in her foot last year, something she said was bothering her when she lost in the first round at the Rio Olympics. That was Stephens’ fourth loss in a row – her most recent victory came in the second round of Wimbledon a year ago – and the last time she participated in a tournament until Tuesday.

Stephens wore a walking boot for months after the Olympics, waiting to heal.

“They’re like, `It will get better,’ and whatever. Obviously it didn’t,” she said.

She thought she’d be able to play again at the start of this year and even traveled to Australia, intending to enter a tournament in Sydney. But while Stephens was there, the foot wasn’t feeling right, and an MRI showed that it had worsened: She had a stress fracture and wound up having surgery in January, which alleviated the pain.

During her time off, she did some television work for Tennis Channel.

And about 1+ months ago, she resumed training.

Her ranking now down to 336th, the 24-year-old Stephens had permission from her doctor to get back to tournament play, she said, “So I was like, `Why not?”‘

“I did the best I could. I’m pleased with – I mean, obviously not that I didn’t win – but that I was able to get out there and I was pain-free,” she said. “I played decent.”

Stephens recognizes that it will take time for her to get her game back to where it used to be and to grow accustomed to dealing with match play.

“When they said I was playing her, I thought, `Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know she was coming back.’ So it was a surprise. But obviously she’s been through a lot, so it’s awesome she’s back on the court,” said Riske, who is ranked 46th.

“I thought she did a heck of a job. She was running well. She was hitting solid shots. I mean, I’m sure as time goes on, she’s only going to get closer to where she was, if she’s not there already.”

 

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.”