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McEnroe offers tennis tryouts in Harlem, thoughts on US Open

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NEW YORK (AP) John McEnroe showed his softer side while searching for the next Serena Williams or James Blake during tryouts for his tennis academy.

He offered tips and demonstrated footwork to youngsters ages 6-12 in Harlem at Frederick Johnson Park, named for a former tennis player and coach.

“Use those young legs to get yourself into position for a forehand or a backhand,” McEnroe said this week at the courts. “Give it your best. We’re looking for some young, eager kids to give some scholarships.”

McEnroe recently got flak for his flip remark about Williams, saying the tennis star would rank “like 700” on the men’s tour. The 58-year-old author of the new memoir “But Seriously” was upbeat, despite needing an introduction as a former No. 1 player from Queens.

Since 2012, the Johnny Mac Tennis Project and SPORTIME Randalls Island have given more than 200 academy scholarships to youth who live in the city. About 40 kids were on scholarships among the 600 at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy during the 2016-17 school year.

The tennis lessons from September through May provide a pathway to junior tennis, college scholarships and the rare pro career. It’s the first time his academy has gone to Harlem, instead of having kids come to the academy for tryouts.

“There’s been very few players in the past 30 years that have made it out of New York, and that just seems wrong,” said McEnroe, a ball boy at the U.S. Open in Forest Hills before winning 17 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.

McEnroe trained in nearby Port Washington under the legendary Harry Hopman. Zach David and Reggie Satterfield are longtime tennis instructors at the Harlem park, which offers an eight-week summer program through Columbia University and the city parks department.

Khallid Bey said son Joshua is excelling.

“They learn the game, socialize and have fun,” the elder Bey said. “He’s doing well in school. Tennis gives them discipline.”

McEnroe’s tennis academy opened in 2010 in Manhattan. Two academy members, Noah Ruben and Jamie Loeb, recently turned pro after short stints at Wake Forrest and North Carolina, respectively.

The academy also works with schools in East Harlem and South Bronx, offering transportation and free tennis programs during the day.

McEnroe will host an annual fundraiser for the program with brother Patrick, who works at the academy, and Chris Evert, Mats Wilander and Pat Cash on Saturday in the Hamptons.

“We have a lot of success stories, people whose lives are changed and get college scholarships,” McEnroe said. “Obviously, the icing on the cake is if you get a Serena Williams – when does she come along, once every 50 years?”

Some other opinions from McEnroe, who will be commentating for ESPN when the U.S. Open starts on Monday.

ON ROGER-RAFA

Veterans Roger Federer (Australian Open, Wimbledon winner) and Rafa Nadal (French Open winner) are vying for the final major of the season.

“What Roger’s done, everyone is astounded and amazed, including myself,” McEnroe said. “So you’d have to say that he’s certainly going in the big favorite. Nadal is the other guy.”

With several top 10 men injured, there are “opportunities for people that haven’t stepped up in the past.”

He considers 26-year-old Grigor Dmitrov of Bulgaria, who won last Sunday in Cincinnati, “primed to make a run.” He calls 20-year-old Alexander Zverev of Germany, who recently beat Federer and Novak Djokovic, a future No. 1 player.

ON SHARAPOVA

Maria Sharapova got a wild-card entry into the U.S. Open main draw despite a ranking of No. 147 as a result of a 15-month doping ban that ended in April. She tested positive for a newly banned heart drug at the 2016 Australian Open. The French Open chose not to give her a wild card and she skipped Wimbledon because of a thigh injury.

“Her suspension … was a lot harsher than almost any other suspension that I’ve been aware of in any other sports,” he said. “If (NFL players) get caught red-handed taking steroids, they’re suspended for four games the first time.”

McEnroe says the 2006 U.S. Open champion is one to watch.

“She’s someone who knows how to win,” he said. “I don’t know where she is fitness-wise and emotionally. She’s been through a lot, and obviously, a lot of it was self-imposed. But on a given day, she could beat anyone out there. No question.”

ON CHILD CARE

Serena Williams is due to give birth soon, and Victoria Azarenka isn’t at the U.S. Open because she’s in a custody battle with the father of her 8-month-old son.

Both are former No. 1 players, joining the growing list of mothers or coaches who have children on the WTA tour. The men’s pro tour, however, offers child care while the women’s tour does not.

“That would seem ironic since there’s some moms out there,” he said. “But they didn’t have anything when I had kids. So at least they’re going in the right direction. That should be a no-brainer.”

ON McENROE

Asked where he’d rank on the women’s tour, McEnroe laughed.

“I refuse to answer that on the grounds that it may incriminate me.”

Tennis star Bouchard testifies about slip, fall at US Open

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NEW YORK (AP) Tennis star Eugenie Bouchard has taken the witness stand at a New York City trial to accuse the United States Tennis Association of negligence that led to her slipping on a locker room floor and hurting her head.

Bouchard testified Wednesday a wet floor caused her to slip and fall inside a locker room at the 2015 U.S. Open.

Her lawsuit contends the USTA should have done more to warn her the area had just been cleaned. The defense says she shouldn’t have entered without being accompanied by tournament personnel.

The lawsuit says the fall left Bouchard with a concussion and “serious head injury.”

Bouchard says she was forced to withdraw from the U.S. Open and tournaments in China and Japan. She’s seeking unspecified damages.

The 23-year-old Canadian player is ranked 116th in the world.

Serena Williams champions issues on, off court

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Moments after Serena Williams won her seventh Wimbledon title, she proudly raised her fist in a black power salute.

It caused a bit of frenzy at the All-England Club in 2016, but Williams’ action shouldn’t have surprised anyone: She’d already been one of the most vocal supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. She was one of the first major athletes to decry the failure to indict a white officer in the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – while also condemning violence against police.

“What caused me to speak out? Just life,” Williams said. “That’s just who I am. I always believe in the greater good and doing what’s right.”

Williams isn’t alone in her activism. Female athletes – especially black women – have long been out there pushing for social change. Wilma Rudolph’s victory parade celebrating her three gold medals from the 1960 Olympics in Rome was the first integrated event in Clarksville, Tennessee.

But despite their efforts on the field and off, women athletes have to struggle to get the same attention as men despite having as much to say, said Harry Edwards, a scholar of race and sports who has worked as a consultant for several U.S. pro teams.

“We have this twisted, almost-demented obsession with women’s second-class status with their physical inferiority,” he said. “It prevents us from appreciating the great athletes that they are … but it also means that it shuts down a potential forum that these great athletes would have where they’re valued for their athletic prowess in the same way that Muhammad Ali was, that Bill Russell was, that Tommy Smith and John Carlos were, that Arthur Ashe was, that Curt Flood was, so that when they speak, people listen.”

While Williams has long been an advocate of Black Lives Matter, it was only after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the 2016 season that the country really began to pay attention to black athlete activism. Kaepernick added his voice to a growing national movement, enveloping the entire league and starting an ongoing conversation that ventured outside football arenas.

Similarly, few people acknowledge that after the 2016 deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and the killing of Dallas police officers, dozens of WNBA players wore shirts with the men’s names and kneeled for the national anthem.

It was a black woman, Knox College basketball player Ariyana Smith, who started the wave of athletic protest about the deaths of black men at the hands of police.

On Nov. 29, 2014, Smith made the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture during the national anthem before a game at Fontbonne University in Clayton, Missouri, before walking toward the American flag and laying prone on the floor for 4 1/2 minutes to symbolize the 4 + hours Brown lay in the streets of nearby Ferguson.

“We as black women are often invisible, so we don’t get that credit,” said Akilah Francique, a former athlete who cofounded the Sista to Sista program to foster a sense of connectedness among black female collegiate athletes.

Williams has been a presence on and off the tennis court, not shying away from opponents en route to winning 23 Grand Slam titles or social and political issues.

She spoke up in 2015, encouraging Black Lives Matter activists not to get discouraged: “To those of you involved in equality movements like Black Lives Matter, I say this: Keep it up. Don’t let those trolls stop you. We’ve been through so much for so many centuries, and we shall overcome this too,” she wrote in Wired magazine.

Since then, Williams has become the symbol for other causes affecting people of color, including medical issues. In February, she told Vogue that she dealt with a medical scare after the birth of her daughter. She had to insist on getting extra medical tests, overruling her nurse, before her doctors discovered several small blood clots in her lungs.

Women around the country related to her story, talking about similar difficulties in getting proper medical attention.

Female-led activism can also look different than men’s, Francique said, because of the unique positions and pressures women face in sports and in life. She pointed to the criticism black women athletes have to overcome about their body shapes, training regimens, skin color, clothing and even hair when they compete in sports – criticism that Williams has endured.

“For many of them just by merely being there and having a presence is activism,” Francique said.

Williams’ older sister, Venus, who has advocated for equal pay for professional tennis while winning seven Grand Slam titles, believes it is important to have a voice on these issues.

“I think more than anything, we see ourselves as Americans, and that’s what we want to be able to see ourselves as, regardless of color,” said Venus Williams. “I think that’s what everyone is fighting for, that one day we don’t have to see that anymore.”