After injuries, Stephens plays 1st match of ’17 at Wimbledon

Getty Images
0 Comments

LONDON (AP) Sloane Stephens hadn’t played a competitive match in nearly a year because of an injured left foot, so when she stepped on the grass of Wimbledon on Tuesday, simply being there was significant.

“Just getting on the court, I was relieved, I was happy, excited,” Stephens said. “I mean, all good emotions.”

Less than six months after foot surgery, Stephens returned to action with a 6-2, 7-5 loss to Alison Riske in an all-U.S. matchup in the first round at the All England Club.

Stephens was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon in 2013, back when she appeared to be a rising star in tennis, making at least the fourth round at six consecutive Grand Slam tournaments. She reached the semifinals at the Australian Open earlier that year and climbed to a career-high No. 11 in the WTA rankings.

But she had a stress reaction in her foot last year, something she said was bothering her when she lost in the first round at the Rio Olympics. That was Stephens’ fourth loss in a row – her most recent victory came in the second round of Wimbledon a year ago – and the last time she participated in a tournament until Tuesday.

Stephens wore a walking boot for months after the Olympics, waiting to heal.

“They’re like, `It will get better,’ and whatever. Obviously it didn’t,” she said.

She thought she’d be able to play again at the start of this year and even traveled to Australia, intending to enter a tournament in Sydney. But while Stephens was there, the foot wasn’t feeling right, and an MRI showed that it had worsened: She had a stress fracture and wound up having surgery in January, which alleviated the pain.

During her time off, she did some television work for Tennis Channel.

And about 1+ months ago, she resumed training.

Her ranking now down to 336th, the 24-year-old Stephens had permission from her doctor to get back to tournament play, she said, “So I was like, `Why not?”‘

“I did the best I could. I’m pleased with – I mean, obviously not that I didn’t win – but that I was able to get out there and I was pain-free,” she said. “I played decent.”

Stephens recognizes that it will take time for her to get her game back to where it used to be and to grow accustomed to dealing with match play.

“When they said I was playing her, I thought, `Oh my gosh, I didn’t even know she was coming back.’ So it was a surprise. But obviously she’s been through a lot, so it’s awesome she’s back on the court,” said Riske, who is ranked 46th.

“I thought she did a heck of a job. She was running well. She was hitting solid shots. I mean, I’m sure as time goes on, she’s only going to get closer to where she was, if she’s not there already.”

 

French players get life bans for fixing

Getty Images
0 Comments

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

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

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.