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Fired for Venus Williams remark, ex-commentator sues ESPN

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LOS ANGELES (AP) A tennis commentator dropped by ESPN for a remark about Venus Williams during the Australian Open sued the sports network Tuesday for wrongful termination.

Former tennis pro Doug Adler maintains he was describing Williams’ aggressive style last month as “guerrilla” tactics and not comparing her with a “gorilla.”

He apologized for his poor word choice but was let go from ESPN mid-tournament.

Adler claims “emotional distress” in the filing in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging he was wrongly branded a racist and has lost other TV opportunities because of the controversy.

The lawsuit calls for punitive financial damages, but doesn’t name an amount.

ESPN spokesman Mike Soltys said Tuesday the network hadn’t seen the lawsuit and had no comment.

The suit points out that “Guerrilla Tennis” was the name of a Nike TV ad from the 1990s featuring Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.

“Obviously, (Adler) saw that commercial many times and the phrase became widely used by those who actually understood tennis vernacular and followed the sport closely,” the lawsuit said.

Peter Bodo, senior editor of Tennis magazine, used the term in a 2012 profile of Agnieszka Radwanska, according to court papers.

Adler was doing play-by-play commentary on ESPN for Williams’ Jan. 18 match against Stefanie Voegele, saying Williams was playing more aggressively after Voegele missed serves. When Voegele faulted on a serve, Adler described Williams as moving in and charging with a “gorilla effect” or “guerrilla effect.” Because the words gorilla and guerrilla are pronounced similarly, it’s impossible to say for certain which word Adler spoke.

Offended viewers called for Adler to be fired for comparing Williams, who is African-American, with a gorilla.

At the time Adler said he was speaking about Williams’ tactics and strategy and “simply and inadvertently chose the wrong word to describe her play.”

In a statement emailed in January to The Associated Press, ESPN said it had pulled Adler from broadcasts.

“During an Australian Open stream on ESPN3, Doug Adler should have been more careful in his word selection. He apologized and we have removed him from his remaining assignments,” the statement read.

Adler was an All-American player at the University of Southern California who went on to play on the pro circuit. He was hired by ESPN in 2008 and covered tournaments including the U.S. Open, French Open and Wimbledon

Williams declined to comment on the remark or the ensuing controversy.

Follow Christopher Weber at https://twitter.com/WeberCM

Victoria Azarenka misses direct entry for U.S. Open

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NEW YORK — Two-time U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka is ranked just below the cutoff for direct entry into the year’s last Grand Slam tournament.

Azarenka, a former No. 1 and twice the champion at the Australian Open, is No. 108 this week, seven spots outside of an automatic spot in the main draw.

The U.S. Tennis Association announced Wednesday that defending champion and top-ranked Rafael Nadal is one of six past male singles champions in the U.S. Open field, along with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic. Another past title winner at Flushing Meadows, Stan Wawrinka, is ranked 199th this week.

The women’s winners with direct entry based on this week’s rankings are six-time champion Serena Williams, two-time champ Venus Williams, defending champ Sloane Stephens, Maria Sharapova and Samantha Stosur.

Nadal-Djokovic semifinal suspended after 3rd set

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LONDON (AP) It was the kind of tennis that Wimbledon’s Centre Court crowd would gladly have watched all night long.

The show being put on by Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was so good it could have been an instant classic had they been able to finish their semifinal before the tournament’s 11 p.m. curfew.

Instead, the two players – and a disappointed audience – were sent home after the third set on Friday with Djokovic leading 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9) following a tense tiebreaker that had more entertaining rallies than some entire matches.

The two players didn’t even get onto the court until after 8 p.m. because of an earlier marathon semifinal won by Kevin Anderson and when Djokovic converted his second set point in the tiebreaker – having saved three of Nadal’s – the clock had ticked a couple of minutes past 11. That left organizers no choice but to call it a night, although the announcement from the chair umpire led to a scattering of boos from some fans who clearly wanted more.

Most of them will have to watch the rest on TV.

The match will resume at 1 p.m. local time on Saturday, before the women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber. At stake is a place in Sunday’s men’s final against the man who was partly at fault for keeping Nadal and Djokovic out there so late. Anderson’s win over John Isner lasted 6 + hours and went to 26-24 in the fifth set.

Djokovic-Nadal had clearly been the headline act of the day – they have five Wimbledon titles between them and met in the 2011 final while Anderson and Isner had never made the semifinals before – and their tennis was at another level from the earlier match. Even Anderson said he could feel during his match that the crowd would rather be watching the next one.

“They’ve paid to see two matches, and they came pretty close to only seeing one match,” Anderson said. “I can feel the crowd (get) pretty antsy for us to get off the court. They’ve been watching us for over six hours.”

While Anderson-Isner was mostly a serving duel with a few longer rallies thrown in, Djokovic and Nadal repeatedly slugged it out from the baseline, chasing each other around the court and coming up with spectacular winners from every corner.

Many of the best points came in the tiebreaker, including a 23-shot rally that Nadal finished off with a forehand half-volley drop shot to set up his first set point.

It was one of three successful drop shots from the Spaniard in the tiebreaker alone, but Djokovic answered with one of his own to save the second set point at 7-6.

He eventually went up 10-9 with the help of a backhand passing shot and an errant shot into the net by Nadal brought the entertainment to an end – for now.

It led to the unusual situation of both players leaving the court to a huge ovation – and applauding the fans in return – but without there being a clear winner or loser.

To be continued.