He’s back: Del Potro beats Wawrinka in 4 sets at Wimbledon

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LONDON — After a three-year absence from Wimbledon, Juan Martin del Potro is making another strong run at a Grand Slam.

Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion who has undergone three surgeries on his left wrist since 2014, beat fourth-seeded Stan Wawrinka 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-3 on Friday to reach the third round on another rainy day at the All England Club.

“My hands (are) shaking,” del Potro said after walking off Centre Court to a loud ovation. “It’s a great sensation for me because I’m playing tennis again and I feel alive.”

Wawrinka, a two-time Grand Slam champion, is the highest seeded man eliminated so far.

“It’s great for tennis to see him back,” the Swiss player said of del Potro. “He’s a great guy, a really good player, big champion.”

The match was played with the retractable roof closed over Centre Court, with play on the outside courts delayed and interrupted by scattered rain.

This is del Potro’s first appearance at Wimbledon since 2013, when he reached the semifinals, and his first at any major since the 2014 Australian Open.

“After my third surgery, I’ve been trying to play tennis again,” he said. “It’s like my second or third career in my short life. Now I am in the third round in my first Grand Slam after three years. That means a lot of good things for me.”

The 27-year-old Argentine, who had played just one match against a top-10 player since November 2013, showed flashes of the explosive game that made him one of the most feared men in tennis.

After dropping the first set, del Potro lifted his game and took a 4-1 lead in the second set to take control. He relied on the low, flat and deep forehand that is considered one of the best shots in the game.

Wawrinka, who has reached the quarterfinals twice at Wimbledon, was far from his best, with more unforced errors than winners – 48 to 47. Even del Potro’s stats weren’t great: 23 winners and 25 unforced errors. But he managed four breaks of serve, compared to three for Wawrinka.

“I beat one of the guys who is playing great tennis this season,” del Potro said. “I couldn’t expect this victory for today but I think I played much better after the first set. And I really enjoyed the crowd.”

While rain delayed early matches on the outside courts, Serena Williams and Roger Federer were also playing on Centre Court.

Six-time women’s winner Williams was facing fellow American Christina McHale in a second-round match, with seven-time men’s champion Federer up third against British player Daniel Evans in the third round.

Venus Williams was one point from victory on No. 1 Court, leading 7-6 in the third set against Russia’s Daria Kasatkina, when a heavy shower came, forcing the two off court for the third time.

Wimbledon officials are considering the possibility of scheduling matches on the tournament’s middle Sunday, traditionally a day off.

Only three times in Wimbledon’s 139-year history have matches been played on the middle Sunday: in 1991, 1997 and 2004.

Nick Bollettieri, coach to many tennis stars, dies at 91

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Nick Bollettieri, the Hall of Fame tennis coach who worked with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Andre Agassi and Monica Seles, and founded an academy that revolutionized the development of young athletes, died at 91.

Bollettieri died at home in Florida after a series of health issues, his manager, Steve Shulla, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

“When he became sick, he got so many wonderful messages from former students and players and coaches. Many came to visit him. He got videos from others,” Shulla said. “It was wonderful. He touched so many lives and he had a great send-off.”

Known for his gravelly voice, leathery skin and wraparound sunglasses – and a man who called himself the “Michelangelo of Tennis” despite never playing professionally – Bollettieri helped no fewer than 10 players who went on to be No. 1 in the world rankings. That group includes sisters Serena and Venus Williams, Jim Courier, Maria Sharapova, Agassi and Seles.

“Our dear friend, Nick Bollettieri, graduated from us last night. He gave so many a chance to live their dream,” Agassi wrote on Twitter. “He showed us all how life can be lived to the fullest. Thank you, Nick.”

Bollettieri remained active into his 80s, touring the world to drop in on the top tournaments and, in 2014, became only the fourth coach to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. That was the same year another one of his proteges, Kei Nishikori, reached the final of the U.S. Open.

Six of his pupils already are in the Hall of Fame, a number sure to grow once others are eligible.

“I forged my own path, which others found to be unorthodox and downright crazy,” Bollettieri said in his induction speech at the hall in Newport, Rhode Island. “Yes, I am crazy. But it takes crazy people to do things that other people say cannot be done.”

The Bollettieri Tennis Academy opened in 1978 in Bradenton, Florida, and was purchased by IMG in 1987.

The IMG Academy now spans more than 600 acres and offers programs in more than a half-dozen sports in addition to tennis.

Bollettieri was an educator who would brag he never read a book, never mind that he majored in philosophy in college and even gave law school a try, albeit for less than a year.

He also was an adept self-promoter – one who would publish a pair of autobiographies – no matter that detractors dismissed him as a hustler and huckster. The truth is, any criticism was no match for the astounding success of his pupils.

His teaching methods were widely copied and tennis academies dot the globe today.

“Our sport lost one of its most passionate coaches & advocates,” Hall of Fame member Billie Jean King wrote on Twitter. “Nick was always positive & was able to get the best out of everyone fortunate enough to work w/him.”

Bollettieri’s first student to reach No. 1 was Boris Becker in 1991. Then came others, such as Martina Hingis, Marcelo Rios and Jelena Jankovic.

Just as rewarding, Bollettieri said, were the successes of less accomplished players.

“The fuel that has sustained me to the summit is, without a doubt, my passion to help others become champions of life, not champions just on the tennis court,” he said. “Nothing makes me more happy than when I run into a past student or receive a kind note telling me how I changed their lives, that they are better parents, lawyers, doctors, CEOs and people because of the impact I made on their lives.”

Bollettieri’s devotion to his players came at a cost. For much of his career, he was on the road nine months out of every year, and he cited his travel schedule as one reason he was married eight times.

Survivors include his wife, Cindi, seven children and four grandchildren, according to Shulla, who said a celebration of Bollettieri’s life is planned for March.

Nicholas James Bollettieri was born July 31, 1931, in Pelham, New York. He earned a philosophy degree and played tennis at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, and was a paratrooper in the Army before enrolling in law school at the University of Miami.

For spending money, Bollettieri began teaching tennis for $1.50 an hour, according to the Hall of Fame. More than 60 years later, his fee was $900.

After a few months, he dropped out of law school to concentrate on coaching. At first, he conceded, knowledge of tennis technique wasn’t his forte.

“I didn’t know much about teaching the game,” he said. “The gift God gave me was the ability to read people.”

Bollettieri won praise for his motivational skills, yelling when he deemed it necessary. He had an eye for talent and was a visionary regarding boot-camp training for young athletes who lived together.

He bought a club in 1978, and students lived in his house. Two years later, he borrowed $1 million from a friend to build a first-of-its-kind complex in what had been a tomato field.

The site now has a boarding school, 55 tennis courts and facilities for seven other sports, including football, basketball and baseball.

Running a business wasn’t Bollettieri’s strong suit, and he sold the academy to IMG but continued to work there, stressing a tactical approach that transformed tennis. He urged players to take advantage of modern racket technology, emphasizing power over finesse.

The academy churned out big hitters who relied on their serve and forehand to overpower opponents. That approach worked for Agassi, Seles, Courier and many others.

“In my dreams,” Bollettieri confessed with a grin, “I say, `Nick, you’re darn good.”‘

Fernando Verdasco accepts 2-month doping ban

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LONDON – Former top-10 player Fernando Verdasco accepted a voluntary provisional doping suspension of two months after testing positive for a medication for ADHD, the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Verdasco, who turned 39 this month, said he was taking methylphenidate as medication prescribed by his doctor to treat ADHD but forgot to renew his therapeutic use exemption for the drug. The integrity agency said Verdasco has now been granted an exemption by the World Anti-Doping Agency moving forward.

He tested positive at an ATP Challenger tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in February.

The integrity agency said in a news release that it “accepts that the player did not intend to cheat, that his violation was inadvertent and unintentional, and that he bears no significant fault or negligence for it,” and so what could have been a two-year suspension was reduced to two months.

Verdasco will be eligible to compete on Jan. 8.

The Spaniard is a four-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, reaching that stage most recently in 2013 at Wimbledon, where he blew a two-set lead in a five-set loss to eventual champion Andy Murray.

Verdasco reached a career-best ranking of No. 7 in April 2009 and currently is No. 125.