Verdasco advances at US men’s clay court championships

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HOUSTON — Former champion Fernando Verdasco of Spain became the last player to advance to the second round of the U.S. men’s clay court championships Tuesday night with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Argentina’s Carlos Berlocq.

Verdasco, who won North America’s only men’s clay-court tournament in 2014, came back from a break down in the second set to close out the match by winning the last five games. He’s one of seven players among the final 16 who are at least 30 years old.

But the last of the eight second-round matchups Wednesday will have the 18-year-old American Tommy Paul against 19-year-old Hyeon Chung of South Korea.

Paul, the French Open junior champion in 2015, ousted Italy’s Paolo Lorenzi 6-2, 6-3 Tuesday for his first ATP World Tour singles victory. He’s one of seven Americans still in the singles draw, joining defending champion Jack Sock, 2014 champion John Isner, twice-runner-up Sam Querrey, Donald Young, Tim Smyczek and Denis Kudla.

The top-seeded Isner, who had a first-round bye, faces Kudla on Wednesday.

Querrey moved on by defeating the huge-serving 6-10 American teenager Reilly Opelka 6-4, 7-6 (4), Young beat countryman Steve Johnson 6-4, 6-3 and Smyczek rallied to eliminate Nicolas Kicker of Argentina 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4.

Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus routed Diego Schwartzman 6-0, 6-0 in the first ATP World Tour match this year in which the losing player failed to win a game.

Other players advancing were Benjamin Becker of Germany, who beat countryman Michael Berrer 7-6 (6), 6-0, and Australia’s Matthew Barton, a 6-3, 6-4 winner over 18-year-old Frances Tiafoe, whose family came to the U.S. from Sierra Leone.

French players get life bans for fixing

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LONDON — Two low-ranked French players were banned from the sport for life after being found guilty of match-fixing by a hearing officer.

Jules Okala, a 25-year-old with a career-best ATP ranking of No. 338, and Mick Lescure, a 29-year-old with a top ranking of No. 487, “admitted multiple charges,” the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Neither player is allowed to compete at – or even attend – any sanctioned event again.

Okala was found guilty of seven match-fixing charges and fined $15,000 in addition to the permanent suspension. Lescure was found guilty of eight charges and fined $40,000 on top of the ban.

The punishments come after both players were involved in law enforcement investigations in France and Belgium, according to the sport’s integrity agency.

Ash Barty wins Australia’s top sports award for second time

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Ash Barty’s Australian Open singles title in January was enough to ensure the former top-ranked player won Australia’s most prestigious annual sports award — despite retiring from the game less than two months later.

Barty has been given The Don Award, named after its most accomplished and famous cricketer Don Bradman.

Barty shocked the tennis world in March when she announced her retirement at the age of 25. The three-time major winner was the No. 1-ranked female player at the time of her retirement decision.

The Sport Australia Hall of Fame’s Don Award is given to an athlete or a team “which has provided the most inspiration to the country through performance and example in the past year.”

Barty (2019, 2022) joins Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sally Pearson (2012, 2014) and Olympic champion pole vaulter Steve Hooker (2008, 2009) as a multiple winner of the award.

Barty said she had decided before the Australian Open started that it would be her last major tournament.

“This year was certainly my most enjoyable Australian Open . . . because it felt free,” Barty said in a television interview. “I played without consequence, I played like a little kid. In my eyes, there was no pressure. It was just about me trying to redeem myself, in a way, and playing how I’d always wanted to play – go out there and play like the kid that fell in love with sport.”

Barty said she has no plans to return to tennis.

“In my mind there was never going to be a perfect ending, but it was my perfect ending,” Barty said of her retirement. “It was never about finishing on a win or on a really high emotional feeling. It was just about collectively, I felt it was right.

“Now (that decision) has led to nine months of just an incredible life off the court. It’s been amazing.”

Barty married her long-time partner Garry Kissick in late July. She also golfs frequently and is reported to be playing off a handicap of low single figures.