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US Open Lookahead: Serena vs. Venus with Slam bid on line

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NEW YORK (AP) So there’s at least one person with zero interest in watching the Williams sisters play each other in the U.S. Open quarterfinals Tuesday night, with Serena’s bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam on the line.

Their mother, Oracene Price.

“It’s just hard to see them both going out there,” Price said, “and you know they both want it.”

Unique and extraordinary dynamics are always involved when 21-time major champion Serena Williams faces older sibling and seven-time major champion Venus Williams in a professional tennis match. This will be their fifth meeting at Flushing Meadows (each has won twice), the 14th at a major tournament (Serena leads 8-5), and 27th overall (Serena leads 15-11).

They met two months ago in the fourth round at Wimbledon, and Serena won in straight sets (Price also stayed away from Centre Court that day).

Throughout the U.S. Open, various players have been asked what it would be like to beat No. 1-seeded Serena in New York and end her attempt to become the first player in 27 years to win all four major titles in a single season.

But what must it be like for the 23rd-seeded Venus to try to thwart such an effort by her little sister?

“I don’t know. You have to ask Venus that question,” Price said. “I know it’s going to be hard, because I know (Venus) wants (Serena) to get it. But what can you say? You know they’re competitors.”

And Venus’ take?

“I don’t think anyone wants to be a spoiler. I think people love to see history being made,” she said. “No one is out to be a spoiler, but at the same time, you’re focused on winning your match, even though the circumstances are really much different.”

As for how she goes about preparing for this matchup, Venus said: “Even though you’re playing your sister, you have to be prepared and focus. The preparation doesn’t change.”

Venus, born 15 months before Serena, has been in a similar spot before. She was the opponent in every final when Serena won four major titles in a row from the 2002 French Open to 2003 Australian Open.

The top-ranked man, Novak Djokovic, couldn’t imagine being in the situation the Williams family finds itself in.

“The first thing that comes to my mind is how would I feel to play my brother, and I don’t think that would be possible, honestly,” said Djokovic, whose younger brother, Marko, has played at lower levels. “I, in a way, admire what they’re doing for so many years – to play against each other on such a big stage.”

Before they started traveling the world together, practicing together, occasionally playing doubles together, and collecting Grand Slam singles titles and the No. 1 ranking, Venus and Serena Williams were a couple of kids learning to play tennis from Dad on a hard court in Compton, California.

And they used to play each other back then, too, of course.

There wasn’t a big crowd, and no one was watching on TV, either.

While Serena has earned the victory in six of their past matches with money and ranking points at stake, it wasn’t always so.

“I used to always win,” Venus said, “in the early days.”

Here are other things to watch Tuesday at the U.S. Open:

VINCI VS. MLADENOVIC

Whichever Williams sister wins will move on to next face an unseeded woman who never before has been to the singles semifinals at a major tournament: Tuesday’s other women’s quarterfinal is 43rd-ranked Roberta Vinci of Italy vs. 40th-ranked Kristina Mladenovic of France. Vinci advanced when her fourth-round opponent – 25th-seeded Eugenie Bouchard, the Canadian who was the runner-up at Wimbledon last year – withdrew because of a concussion.

MEN’S QUARTERFINALS

Djokovic meets No. 18 Feliciano Lopez of Spain at night after Williams vs. Williams, and defending champion Marin Cilic takes on No. 19 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in the afternoon.

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Rival players support seeding Serena Williams at French Open

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ROME – Several of Serena Williams’ biggest rivals believe that the 23-time Grand Slam champion deserves more than just a guaranteed spot in the French Open draw.

Williams, who is expected to play in her first major since returning from maternity leave, should also receive a top seed that befits the No. 1 ranking she held when she left the tour, the players say.

The WTA Tour said it is considering a rule change to add protected seeding for highly-ranked players returning from maternity leave but the earliest that could take effect is next year.

“I would like to see that change,” Maria Sharapova said. “It’s such an incredible effort for a woman to come back from physically, emotionally. … There’s just another whole dimension to the travel, to the experiences, to the emotions to the physicality of every single day.

“Tennis is such a selfish sport but I think when there’s a child in your life you lose a little bit of that, because there’s something that’s so much more important,” added Sharapova, who has lost three Grand Slam finals to Williams. “So yeah, I definitely think that would be a nice change.”

The French Open draw will be made Thursday, with the tournament starting on Sunday.

All Grand Slam events make their own decisions on seeding players, so it’s still possible that Roland Garros will make Williams one of the 32 seeded players even though her current ranking is down to near No. 500.

Otherwise, Williams could be forced to play top-ranked players in the early rounds.

The French tennis federation did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s normal to give birth to a kid. It’s normal to have protected ranking. … It’s more than tennis,” top-ranked Simona Halep said. “So the people will decide what seed she will get. But in my opinion it’s good to protect the ranking when someone is giving birth.”

Williams returned to the tour briefly this year, after a 14-month absence to give birth to her daughter. She was not seeded at tournaments in Indian Wells, California, and Miami, and compiled two wins and two losses.

Williams has recounted the difficulties she faced in childbirth and a pulmonary embolism that made it hard for her to breathe shortly after her daughter was born. But after a period of training, coach Patrick Mouratoglou last week told the WTA tour’s website “Serena will play the French Open to win it.”

Current rules covering maternity leave and injuries allow a protected or “special” ranking to be utilized for entry into tournaments but not for seeding purposes regardless of the reason for a player’s absence.

However, this past year the WTA adjusted the rule so that absences for maternity leave are treated the same as those for injury and illness by providing all players a two-year window to begin using a special ranking, plus an additional year from the date of return to utilize the special ranking.

“Historically, WTA players have not been supportive of the use of special rankings for seeding purposes,” the WTA said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The rule is currently under further review as part of our 2019 rules process. We remain committed to evolving with the needs of our players and are very supportive of those players returning from maternity leave to the tour.”

Fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina, who defended her Italian Open title on Sunday, was also supportive of seeding Williams.

“If you’re like finished or you stopped because you’re going to have a child and you will be in top eight, I think you should have this kind of thing, to have protected seeding,” Svitolina said. “She was No. 1 so she deserves seeding.”

William has won the French Open three times – more than any current player – and last year’s Roland Garros champion, Jelena Ostapenko, is looking forward to her return.

“She’s someone who the tour was missing – because she’s a great champion,” Ostapenko said. “She was my idol since I was growing up.”

AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington and AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin in Paris contributed.

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

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Nadal beats Zverev for Italian Open title

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ROME — Rafael Nadal came out on top in a matchup of this year’s top two clay-court players, beating defending champion Alexander Zverev 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 Sunday to win a record-extending eighth Italian Open title.

Nadal recovered from an early break in the third set after a 50-minute rain delay.

The victory means Nadal will reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Roger Federer on Monday.

Federer is sitting out the clay season to prepare for Wimbledon.

Nadal and Zverev had each won two titles on clay this season entering the final, with Nadal lifting trophies in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and Zverev taking Munich and Madrid.

Nadal improved to 5-0 in his career against Zverev and gained an extra measure of confidence entering the French Open, which starts next Sunday.

Earlier, Elina Svitolina defended the women’s title, facing little resistance from top-ranked Simona Halep in a 6-0, 6-4 win.