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New look: Murray, Kerber start Australian Open as top seeds

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) It’s new and exciting for Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber, entering a Grand Slam tournament with the No. 1 in front of their names.

Both reached the top of the rankings for the first time near the end of 2016, ending long reigns by Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams.

And so they’ll open their Australian Open campaigns on Rod Laver Arena on day one – both against Ukrainians.

Murray, a five-time runner-up, opens his pursuit of a first Australian title against Illya Marchenko in the last day match on the main show court. Kerber opens the night session against Lesia Tsurenko. She’ll be followed on court by Roger Federer, who is returning from six months on the sidelines.

The `one-round-at-a-time’ cliche is well worn in tennis. For Kerber, though, it’s pertinent. Seeded seventh last year, the left-handed German had to save a match point in the first round against Misaki Doi. Spurred on by that, she went on to beat Serena Williams in the final and claim her first Grand Slam title. She added a second major at the U.S. Open and ascended to the No 1 ranking.

“I think this point where I was match point down, that was the important point for my career,” Kerber said Sunday, speaking of her first-round escape against Doi. “You never know (if) I lost the match, what would have happened.”

It gave her the freedom to play without pressure, and that made all the difference.

“When I’m looking back, I was feeling that I got a second chance to stay in the tournament,” she said. “I was playing since then without expectation … just enjoying everything.”

Kerber can hang on to the top ranking by reaching to the final here, but she’s already feeling there’s more to defend than her title.

“It’s a new challenge for me, for sure,” she said. But, “We are starting from zero here. I have to be ready from the first round again.

“I will try to not put too much expectation and pressure on myself. I mean, I will try to do it like last year – that was the way I had my success.”

Record-chasing, six-time champions Djokovic and Williams, seeded No. 2 and anchoring the bottom half of the men’s and women’s draws, won’t be in action until day two. Djokovic is aiming to be the first man to win seven Australian titles. Serena Williams is chasing an Open-era record 23rd major title.

Newly-engaged Williams hasn’t wanted to talk about the record, being a little bit superstitious. Williams is concentrating on her first-round match against Belinda Bencic, who was seeded 12th here last year and who beat her in Toronto in 2015.

While Serena has to wait, the Williams family will be represented on Rod Laver Arena on Monday by her older sister, Venus. The 13th-seeded Venus Williams will play against Kateryna Kozlova following fourth-seeded Simona Halep’s opener against Shelby Rogers.

French Open champion Garbine Muguruza starts play on Margaret Court Arena against Marina Erakovic, and U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka opens the night session on the second show court.

Fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori gets things underway against Andrey Kuznetsov on Hisense Arena, where Nick Kyrgios will make his return to the tour against Gastao Elias.

The 21-year-old Kyrgios finished 2016 under a ban in a season overshadowed by clashes with officials and fans and by the tanking at the Shanghai Masters which led to an eight-week suspension.

The ban was reduced to three weeks when Kyrgios agreed to consult a sports psychologist, allowing to warmup for the Australian Open at the Hopman Cup.

That’s where Federer made his return from six months out to give his injured left knee time to heal. The 17-time major winner didn’t play after Wimbledon and his ranking slid to No. 17 by this week. That resulted in him getting a tougher draw than usual at the tournament he has won four times, and where he has reached the semifinals in 12 of the last 13 years. If results go with rankings, he’ll play two qualifiers before a potential third-round match against No. 10 Tomas Berdych. Nishikori and Murray are also in his quarter.

Federer will open against another 35-year-old veteran, former No. 8-ranked Jurgen Melzer.

“That’s the part of the draw I care most about because of having not been playing,” Federer said.

Wild-card entry Destanee Aiava, a 16-year-old Melbourne high school student, is set to become the first player born in this millennium to play a main draw match at a Grand Slam when she meets German qualifier Mona Barthel on Show Court 2.

Duckhee Lee downplays deafness, wins ATP tournament debut

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Duckhee Lee tossed the ball into the air for his first serve in an ATP tournament match, and blasted it past his opponent with a loud pop.

The 21-year-old South Korean never heard it. He was born deaf.

The tour’s first deaf professional player says he doesn’t want to be defined by the disability that he has overcome well enough to play at the sport’s highest level.

His first appearance in a top-level tournament will last at least until the second round. Lee beat Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 7-6 (4), 6-1 in the first round of the Winston-Salem Open on Monday, earning a matchup with No. 3 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland.

As much as the opening-round victory meant to Lee and his career, it might have meant even more to hearing-impaired athletes in all sports.

“Don’t be discouraged and if you try hard, you can do anything, you can achieve anything you want,” Lee said through an interpreter, adding that he “doesn’t want people to get discouraged and get down about their disability.”

The ability to hear carries a particular importance in tennis. Players often insist on silence during points so they can hear the ball off their opponent’s strings and identify the spin in a split-second.

Lee makes up for it with his eyes, sharpening his focus on his opponent’s swing, how that player makes contact and the speed and spin of the ball as it’s racing toward him.

Complicating things further, he also doesn’t speak English, reads lips instead of using sign language, and relies on hand gestures from umpires making calls.

Because he can’t hear the score announcements, he keeps track of points and games in his head – which can be more difficult in smaller events that don’t have courtside scoreboards. It led to a hiccup early during his main-draw debut when he lined up to serve after a game had been decided.

“I think (the umpire) forgot to give the signal” at times during the match, he said, adding that he “was hoping he would give in and out signals.”

The debut in Winston-Salem marked the next step up the tennis ladder for Lee, who started playing tennis at age 7 – the year after he realized he was deaf, though doctors had diagnosed his condition as a toddler.

“People made fun of (me) because of the disability and said (I) shouldn’t be playing,” Lee said, adding that his motivation was to “enjoy (my) life by overcoming my disability.”

Lee made his debut on the ITF Futures Tour at 14 and won eight titles before he turned 18, then reached three finals of the ATP Challenger Tour, including one in June, falling to Dudi Sela at the Baptist Health Little Rock Open in Arkansas. He brought a No. 212 world ranking to the central North Carolina hardcourts.

He’ll always remember his first ATP-level victory – and not just because of the result. Lee was two points away from sealing the victory when thunderstorms forced a weather delay of nearly 5 hours. He and Laakonsen came back to the court at roughly 10:15 p.m. – and wrapped up their match in 87 seconds.

When he was asked how he spent the delay, Lee got his point across with pantomime, mimicking someone playing table tennis and shooting basketball, because there was both a pingpong table and pop-a-shot machine in the players’ lounge. He smiled as his translator said how “he loves the facility here.”

Amanda Anisimova out of U.S. Open after father’s death

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NEW YORK — American teenager Amanda Anisimova withdrew from the U.S. Open on Tuesday because of the recent death of her father and coach, Konstantin.

A statement from family members, released by Anisimova’s representatives, said: “We are shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of our father. We appreciate the outpouring of love and support during this difficult time and ask that you respect our privacy.”

The U.S. Tennis Association announced that Anisimova had pulled out of the year’s last Grand Slam tournament, where main-draw play begins Monday.

Anisimova, who was born in New Jersey to Russian parents and moved to Florida when she was 3, is currently ranked 24th and would have been seeded for the U.S. Open.

She is an up-and-coming star in women’s tennis who reached the semifinals at the French Open in June at age 17.

Anisimova upset defending champion Simona Halep in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, before losing to eventual champion Ash Barty in three sets.

Her first WTA title came in April at Bogota, Colombia.

As a junior, Anisimova won the 2017 U.S. Open girls’ title, beating Coco Gauff in the final.