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Serena Williams won’t play Fed Cup Saturday singles matches

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) Serena Williams’ return to competitive tennis will have to wait one more day.

Williams won’t be playing in either of Saturday’s Fed Cup singles matches as she makes her comeback five months after becoming a mother. Williams teams up with Lauren Davis to face Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands in Sunday’s doubles match.

“It’s definitely the start of a long process,” Williams said. “Physically, I feel good. Every day, I get better and I get stronger. That’s just something I always keep telling myself every day, I have to get better.”

Williams, 36, hasn’t played an official match since winning the 2017 Australian Open. Williams later revealed she was pregnant during that tournament.

Although Williams isn’t scheduled to play any singles matches this weekend, that could change. U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi has the right to change her Sunday lineup after Saturday’s play.

“We’ll wait and see how tomorrow goes and then we’ll make our adjustments, if any,” Rinaldi said Friday.

The U.S. will have Venus Williams take on Arantxa Rus and CoCo Vandeweghe will face Richel Hogerkamp on Saturday as it opens its Fed Cup title defense. Sunday’s scheduled singles matches have Venus Williams facing Hogerkamp and Vandeweghe taking on Rus.

But this weekend’s headline is the return of Serena Williams, who participated in a Dec. 30 exhibition match but otherwise hasn’t played since that 2017 Australian Open.

Williams said Friday she’s unsure about how she will manage her schedule and whether she will play all three remaining Grand Slam events this year. Williams’ 23 Grand Slam singles titles put her one behind the record held by Margaret Court.

“I have long-term goals obviously, but right now my main goal is just to stay in the moment,” Williams said. “It goes unsaid (that) 25 is obviously something that I would love, but I’d hate to limit myself.”

Williams’ daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., was born Sept. 1. Williams who is married to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, said motherhood is “an amazing journey.”

“It’s probably been the most fun of my life,” she said. “It’s a totally new experience. I love motherhood, and I look forward to just being the best mom I can be.”

Williams said she has benefited from having her sister alongside her as she attempts this comeback.

“She’s been really, really positive,” Williams said. “There (are) moments that have just been hard, just getting back out there and doing it every day. You have to get used to that and get in the rhythm of that. I’ve been able to really rely on her for that.”

Venus Williams has been impressed with her younger sister’s parenting skills.

“I think she’s the best mother I ever saw,” Venus Williams said. “She’s amazing. She does everything herself.”

Venus Williams was asked how motherhood had changed her sister.

“She might go out a little less,” Venus said before breaking into a grin. “But she’s definitely remained just very youthful and childlike at heart. I think sometimes motherhood changes people in a way that they become less young and more serious, but that hasn’t affected her.”

Serena Williams acknowledged there have been “a lot of ups and downs” in her comeback as she mentioned “fighting against all odds to be out there and to be competing again.”

She mentioned there are “moments that have just been hard, getting back out there doing it every day.” Williams had told Vogue magazine that she developed several small blood clots in her lungs after her daughter was born.

Williams had opted against trying to defend her Australian Open title this year.

“I think she’s smart to take her time and not to play Australia,” ESPN analyst and 18-time Grand Slam singles champion Chris Evert said last week. “Playing Fed Cup and easing her way back with exhibitions. Maybe she wants to peak for Wimbledon, that would be her best chance at a Grand Slam.”

Williams said the Fed Cup represents an ideal setting for her return. Not only does it allow her to practice alongside a few different players, it also enables her coach and teammates to offer different perspectives on her progress.

“It actually is a really perfect opportunity to try to come back,” Williams said.

AP Sports Writer Melissa Murphy contributed to this report.

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

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.”