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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

Nadal beats Dimitrov, one win from record 31st Masters title

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MONACO (AP) Rafael Nadal remains on course for a record 31st Masters title after beating Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-1 in the Monte Carlo Masters semifinals on Saturday.

The top-ranked Spaniard never looked in trouble as he beat the fourth-seeded Bulgarian for the 11th time in 12 career meetings.

If Nadal wins Sunday’s final, he will earn a 76th career title and also keep his No. 1 ranking. Should he lose, Roger Federer will reclaim the top spot.

Nadal faces either third-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany or Kei Nishikori of Japan, who play later Saturday.

In the opening game, Dimitrov came out firing. He pressured Nadal with two superb lobs, forcing a backhand smash wide from the Spaniard for deuce. But Nadal held a tight first game lasting eight minutes, and then broke Dimitrov for 2-0.

Dimitrov found his range, broke Nadal back and held for 3-3. The next two games were even, with Dimitrov matching Nadal in the rallies.

The 16-time Grand Slam champion held for 5-4 and then Dimitrov cracked, serving consecutive double faults and hitting a wild forehand long to trail 15-40. He saved one set point but Nadal was in ruthless mode and took the next chance.

It appeared that Nadal was gaining his usual momentum on clay – and two consecutive love breaks and three easy holds made it 5-0 to the Spaniard in the second set.

Dimitrov explained his collapse this way.

“I think I played smart against him. I kind of know his pattern a little bit better,” Dimitrov said. “But it was my fault when I got broken. Simple as that. Two double-faults, it’s just definitely not acceptable, especially when you play against him on that surface.”

Dimitrov finally held, drawing polite applause, but Nadal served out the match with ease. He clinched victory on his first match point when Dimitrov patted the ball wide following a brief exchange.

“You see me with a smile. I’m a positive person,” Dimitrov said. “Deep down, I’m hurt. I hate losing. Simple as that.”

Nadal shares the Masters record with Novak Djokovic, whose 30 wins include two here.

Nadal’s victory at Monte Carlo last year made him the first men’s tennis player in the Open era to win the same title 10 times. He then won a 10th title at Barcelona and the French Open.

 

Fed Cup: Stephens to open for US against France in semis

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AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France (AP) U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens will open play for the U.S. against Pauline Parmentier of France in the Fed Cup semifinals.

France No. 1 Kristina Mladenovic and CoCo Vandeweghe will follow on Saturday in the second singles at the new 6,700-capacity Arena Pays d’Aix. France has opted for an indoor clay court.

Mladenovic and Amandine Hesse are set to face Madison Keys and Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the doubles on Sunday following the reverse singles.

France and the United States meet for a 14th time, with the Americans holding an 11-2 winning record. The French won their most recent meeting, in 2014.

Both teams are missing their highest-ranked player: No. 8 Venus Williams for the U.S., and No. 7 Caroline Garcia for France.

Germany is facing the Czech Republic in the other semifinal in Stuttgart.