Original 9, Hewitt, Raymond among nominees for Hall of Fame

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NEWPORT, R.I. — Billie Jean King and the other members of the Original 9 who laid the groundwork for the women’s professional tennis tour are the first group nominated together for the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

They join Jonas Bjorkman, Sergi Bruguera, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Lleyton Hewitt, Lisa Raymond and the late Dennis Van der Meer on the ballot announced Monday for the Hall’s Class of 2021.

Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of when King, elected to the Hall in 1987 for her accomplishments on the court, and eight other players – Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Judy Dalton, Julie Heldman, Kerry Melville Reid, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey and Valerie Ziegenfuss – signed $1 contracts to participate in the first women-only tennis tournament, taking a stand against the disparity in prize money between men and women at the time.

That group and Van der Meer, who advocated for a universal teaching method in tennis, were nominated in the Contributor Category. Van der Meer died last year.

The nominees in the Player Category are Raymond, an American who won 11 Grand Slam titles in doubles or mixed doubles; Hewitt, an Australian who won the U.S. Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002 and was ranked No. 1; Ferrero, a Spaniard who won the 2003 French Open and reached No. 1; Bruguera, a Spaniard who won the French Open in 1993 and 1994; and Bjorkman, a Swede who won nine Grand Slam doubles titles and was ranked No. 1 in doubles.

The full ballot now goes to the official voting group – which includes tennis journalists, historians and Hall of Fame members – and fans can vote online in the Player Category from Oct. 1-25.

Inductees will be announced early next year; the induction ceremony is scheduled for July 17.

Player positive for COVID-19 ahead of French Open qualifying

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PARIS — One woman who was entered in French Open qualifying tested positive for the coronavirus and was dropped from the field Monday.

The French tennis federation did not identify the player, who it said must isolate for seven days.

Women’s qualifying is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

The news comes a day after the federation announced that five other players were withdrawn from qualifying – two who tested positive for COVID-19 and three who were in close contact with a coach who tested positive for the illness.

Matches in the main draw for the 15-day clay-court Grand Slam tournament begin Sunday.

The French Open normally starts in May but was postponed this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While the recently concluded U.S. Open barred fans from attending, the French Open will allow 5,000 spectators per day. That is less than half of the 11,500 the French tennis federation initially announced it was planning for. The number was reduced last week.

Djokovic wins Italian Open: ‘I moved on’ after U.S. Open default

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ROME — For four or five days after being defaulted from the U.S. Open, Novak Djokovic did some serious soul searching.

Then he got back on the tennis court – and since then it’s been fairly straightforward, at least in terms of results.

Dropping only one set all week, Djokovic won his fifth Italian Open title on Monday after beating Diego Schwartzman 7-5, 6-3 in the final, and restored his confidence heading into Roland Garros, which starts in six days.

“I did experience mentally some kind of ups and downs in the first four-five days after that happened. I was in shock,” Djokovic said of the default 15 days ago for unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball in a fit of anger.

“But I moved on and, really, I never had an issue in my life to move on from something. Regardless how difficult it is I try to take the next day and hope for the best and move on. Having a tournament a week after that happened helped a lot … just because I really wanted to get on the court and just get whatever traces of that – if there’s any – out, and I think I had a really good week.”

The only real issue for Djokovic this past week was his behavior again.

He received warnings from the chair umpire for smashing a racket in the quarterfinals and for foul language in the semifinals.

Still, Djokovic improved to 31-1 this year – with his only loss against Pablo Carreno Busta in the match where he was defaulted. He also passed childhood idol Pete Sampras for the second-most weeks at No. 1 with 287 – and trails only Roger Federer’s 310 weeks in the top spot.

In the women’s final, top-seeded Simona Halep won her first Rome title when 2019 champion Karolina Pliskova retired midway through their match with a left thigh injury.

Halep was leading 6-0, 2-1 when Pliskova stopped playing after just 31 minutes.

The only player to take a set off Djokovic this week was German qualifier Dominik Koepfer in the quarterfinals.

“I don’t think I played my best tennis, to be honest. I don’t want to be arrogant here – of course I’m very, very satisfied and pleased to win a title – but I know that I still have a couple of gears,” Djokovic said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to raise that level for the French, because that’s going to be necessary if I want to go deep in the tournament.

“This gives me even more confidence that is absolutely necessary for a grand slam.”

Against Schwartzman, who was playing his first Masters 1000 final, Djokovic recovered from a 3-0 deficit in the opening set and eventually wore down the steady Argentine to finish off the match in just under two hours – and just before it resumed raining.

With his 36th Masters 1000 title, Djokovic moved one ahead of Rafael Nadal atop the all-time list.

Schwartzman had beaten nine-time Rome champion Nadal in the quarterfinals then edged Denis Shapovalov in a long three-setter in the semifinals. But no player has beaten Nadal and Djokovic in the same tournament since 2016 when Juan Martin del Potro achieved the feat in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Able to run down virtually everything, the 5-foot-7 (170-centimeter) Schwartzman gave Djokovic fits early on, when there was a brief rain shower.

With Schwartzman standing far behind the court, Djokovic began relying heavily on his backhand drop shot, although it took him three efforts into the net until he finally found his range.

The drop shots began to pay off, though, as evidenced when Djokovic won a 19-shot rally to save a break point at 4-4 in the first set with a short ball that set up an easy volley winner.

Earlier, Pliskova had her lower back treated by a trainer after Halep won the first set. Pliskova also had her left thigh taped during the match.

Halep, who lost the 2017 and 2018 Rome finals to Elina Svitolina, extended her perfect record in tennis’ restart to 10-0.

“In 2013 here I started to (reach) the top of world tennis,” Halep – now a two-time Grand Slam champion – said, recalling her surprise run to the semifinals that year. “Since then I started to play really well and finally, after two finals, I could win this title.”

The second-ranked Halep improved to 14-0 overall stretching to February, when she won in Dubai. After the tour’s five-month break because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Romanian returned by winning another trophy in Prague last month. She skipped the U.S. Open because of travel and health concerns.

Players from both finals wore face masks as they picked up their trophies themselves.

Due to the pandemic, a crowd of only 1,000 fans was allowed inside the 10,500-seat Campo Centrale stadium.

The tournament, which was rescheduled from its usual May slot due to the pandemic, also had reduced prize money.

Halep collected a winner’s check of $242,000, down from the $616,000 awarded to Pliskova last year. The men’s prize was reduced even more drastically. Djokovic received $242,000 compared to the $1.1 million Nadal took home last year.