AP Photo

Tsonga level for France in Davis Cup semifinals

Leave a comment

LILLE, France (AP) France and Serbia are leveled at 1-1 in their Davis Cup semifinal after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga dispatched 22-year-old debutant Laslo Djere in straight sets on Friday following Lucas Pouille’s shock defeat in the opening singles match.

In the absence of Novak Djokovic, Viktor Troicki and Janko Tipsarevic, the French were expected to enjoy a calm weekend in the northern city of Lille. But Dusan Lajovic made the most of Pouille’s inconsistent display to give Serbia a 1-0 lead on the red clay of the Pierre Mauroy Stadium.

The 80th-ranked Lajovic made a strong start and capitalized on Pouille’s mistakes to prevail 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5). The Frenchman never found the right tempo, made wrong tactical choices, and hit a total of 70 unforced errors.

Playing with the French Davis Cup team for the first time this season, Tsonga made a successful return in the team competition and won 7-6 (2), 6-3, 6-3.

In the other semifinal in Brussels, David Goffin produced a hard-fought win against Australian John Millman to earn the hosts an early lead. Goffin won a tight baseline battle that lasted 3 and 1/2 hours against Millman, triumphing 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (4) to extend his Davis Cup record to 14 wins from 15 matches.

Australia, a 28-time champion, is chasing a spot in the final for the first time since it won the title in 2003, while Belgium is trying to reach the final for only the third time.

“Physically I’m not at my best, but I knew for the team and the fans that I had to leave my heart out on the court,” said Goffin, who has been hampered by a knee injury recently. “To give one point to your country is the best feeling you can have.”

Both semifinals are played on clay.

In Lille, the 22nd-ranked Pouille dropped his serve immediately and looked nervous throughout the first set wrapped up by Lajovic in 25 minutes.

The Serbian took all the risks and reduced Pouille to a spectator’s role with deep groundstrokes and kicked serves that caught his opponent out.

“The biggest advantage for me was to win the first set,” Lajovic said. “It’s always important in Davis Cup.”

Lajovic had cramps in his right foot towards the end of the fourth set and needed some help from Serbia player and captain Nenad Zimonjic to put his shoe back on after hitting an overhead winner for a 5-4 lead in the fourth-set tiebreaker.

“It would have been extremely difficult to play five sets,” Lajovic said.

Pouille was impatient too often, trying to shorten the points instead of making his opponent run. The Frenchman upped his game to level at one set apiece and hit some beautiful points, including an overhead after chasing a drop shot that prompted loud cheers in the stands.

But the relief did not last. The Frenchman’s inconsistent serve came back to haunt him in the last two sets and Lajovic sealed the match at the net with a backhand volley, raising both arms in triumph.

Belgium’s Arthur de Greef and Ruben Bemelmans are expected to team up against Australians John Peers and Jordan Thompson in Saturday’s doubles, with French pair Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut facing Filip Krajinovic and Zimonjic in Lille.

Tennis star Bouchard testifies about slip, fall at US Open

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

AP Photo
Leave a comment

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.”