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McEnroe offers tennis tryouts in Harlem, thoughts on US Open

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NEW YORK (AP) John McEnroe showed his softer side while searching for the next Serena Williams or James Blake during tryouts for his tennis academy.

He offered tips and demonstrated footwork to youngsters ages 6-12 in Harlem at Frederick Johnson Park, named for a former tennis player and coach.

“Use those young legs to get yourself into position for a forehand or a backhand,” McEnroe said this week at the courts. “Give it your best. We’re looking for some young, eager kids to give some scholarships.”

McEnroe recently got flak for his flip remark about Williams, saying the tennis star would rank “like 700” on the men’s tour. The 58-year-old author of the new memoir “But Seriously” was upbeat, despite needing an introduction as a former No. 1 player from Queens.

Since 2012, the Johnny Mac Tennis Project and SPORTIME Randalls Island have given more than 200 academy scholarships to youth who live in the city. About 40 kids were on scholarships among the 600 at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy during the 2016-17 school year.

The tennis lessons from September through May provide a pathway to junior tennis, college scholarships and the rare pro career. It’s the first time his academy has gone to Harlem, instead of having kids come to the academy for tryouts.

“There’s been very few players in the past 30 years that have made it out of New York, and that just seems wrong,” said McEnroe, a ball boy at the U.S. Open in Forest Hills before winning 17 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles.

McEnroe trained in nearby Port Washington under the legendary Harry Hopman. Zach David and Reggie Satterfield are longtime tennis instructors at the Harlem park, which offers an eight-week summer program through Columbia University and the city parks department.

Khallid Bey said son Joshua is excelling.

“They learn the game, socialize and have fun,” the elder Bey said. “He’s doing well in school. Tennis gives them discipline.”

McEnroe’s tennis academy opened in 2010 in Manhattan. Two academy members, Noah Ruben and Jamie Loeb, recently turned pro after short stints at Wake Forrest and North Carolina, respectively.

The academy also works with schools in East Harlem and South Bronx, offering transportation and free tennis programs during the day.

McEnroe will host an annual fundraiser for the program with brother Patrick, who works at the academy, and Chris Evert, Mats Wilander and Pat Cash on Saturday in the Hamptons.

“We have a lot of success stories, people whose lives are changed and get college scholarships,” McEnroe said. “Obviously, the icing on the cake is if you get a Serena Williams – when does she come along, once every 50 years?”

Some other opinions from McEnroe, who will be commentating for ESPN when the U.S. Open starts on Monday.

ON ROGER-RAFA

Veterans Roger Federer (Australian Open, Wimbledon winner) and Rafa Nadal (French Open winner) are vying for the final major of the season.

“What Roger’s done, everyone is astounded and amazed, including myself,” McEnroe said. “So you’d have to say that he’s certainly going in the big favorite. Nadal is the other guy.”

With several top 10 men injured, there are “opportunities for people that haven’t stepped up in the past.”

He considers 26-year-old Grigor Dmitrov of Bulgaria, who won last Sunday in Cincinnati, “primed to make a run.” He calls 20-year-old Alexander Zverev of Germany, who recently beat Federer and Novak Djokovic, a future No. 1 player.

ON SHARAPOVA

Maria Sharapova got a wild-card entry into the U.S. Open main draw despite a ranking of No. 147 as a result of a 15-month doping ban that ended in April. She tested positive for a newly banned heart drug at the 2016 Australian Open. The French Open chose not to give her a wild card and she skipped Wimbledon because of a thigh injury.

“Her suspension … was a lot harsher than almost any other suspension that I’ve been aware of in any other sports,” he said. “If (NFL players) get caught red-handed taking steroids, they’re suspended for four games the first time.”

McEnroe says the 2006 U.S. Open champion is one to watch.

“She’s someone who knows how to win,” he said. “I don’t know where she is fitness-wise and emotionally. She’s been through a lot, and obviously, a lot of it was self-imposed. But on a given day, she could beat anyone out there. No question.”

ON CHILD CARE

Serena Williams is due to give birth soon, and Victoria Azarenka isn’t at the U.S. Open because she’s in a custody battle with the father of her 8-month-old son.

Both are former No. 1 players, joining the growing list of mothers or coaches who have children on the WTA tour. The men’s pro tour, however, offers child care while the women’s tour does not.

“That would seem ironic since there’s some moms out there,” he said. “But they didn’t have anything when I had kids. So at least they’re going in the right direction. That should be a no-brainer.”

ON McENROE

Asked where he’d rank on the women’s tour, McEnroe laughed.

“I refuse to answer that on the grounds that it may incriminate me.”

Rival players support seeding Serena Williams at French Open

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ROME – Several of Serena Williams’ biggest rivals believe that the 23-time Grand Slam champion deserves more than just a guaranteed spot in the French Open draw.

Williams, who is expected to play in her first major since returning from maternity leave, should also receive a top seed that befits the No. 1 ranking she held when she left the tour, the players say.

The WTA Tour said it is considering a rule change to add protected seeding for highly-ranked players returning from maternity leave but the earliest that could take effect is next year.

“I would like to see that change,” Maria Sharapova said. “It’s such an incredible effort for a woman to come back from physically, emotionally. … There’s just another whole dimension to the travel, to the experiences, to the emotions to the physicality of every single day.

“Tennis is such a selfish sport but I think when there’s a child in your life you lose a little bit of that, because there’s something that’s so much more important,” added Sharapova, who has lost three Grand Slam finals to Williams. “So yeah, I definitely think that would be a nice change.”

The French Open draw will be made Thursday, with the tournament starting on Sunday.

All Grand Slam events make their own decisions on seeding players, so it’s still possible that Roland Garros will make Williams one of the 32 seeded players even though her current ranking is down to near No. 500.

Otherwise, Williams could be forced to play top-ranked players in the early rounds.

The French tennis federation did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s normal to give birth to a kid. It’s normal to have protected ranking. … It’s more than tennis,” top-ranked Simona Halep said. “So the people will decide what seed she will get. But in my opinion it’s good to protect the ranking when someone is giving birth.”

Williams returned to the tour briefly this year, after a 14-month absence to give birth to her daughter. She was not seeded at tournaments in Indian Wells, California, and Miami, and compiled two wins and two losses.

Williams has recounted the difficulties she faced in childbirth and a pulmonary embolism that made it hard for her to breathe shortly after her daughter was born. But after a period of training, coach Patrick Mouratoglou last week told the WTA tour’s website “Serena will play the French Open to win it.”

Current rules covering maternity leave and injuries allow a protected or “special” ranking to be utilized for entry into tournaments but not for seeding purposes regardless of the reason for a player’s absence.

However, this past year the WTA adjusted the rule so that absences for maternity leave are treated the same as those for injury and illness by providing all players a two-year window to begin using a special ranking, plus an additional year from the date of return to utilize the special ranking.

“Historically, WTA players have not been supportive of the use of special rankings for seeding purposes,” the WTA said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The rule is currently under further review as part of our 2019 rules process. We remain committed to evolving with the needs of our players and are very supportive of those players returning from maternity leave to the tour.”

Fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina, who defended her Italian Open title on Sunday, was also supportive of seeding Williams.

“If you’re like finished or you stopped because you’re going to have a child and you will be in top eight, I think you should have this kind of thing, to have protected seeding,” Svitolina said. “She was No. 1 so she deserves seeding.”

William has won the French Open three times – more than any current player – and last year’s Roland Garros champion, Jelena Ostapenko, is looking forward to her return.

“She’s someone who the tour was missing – because she’s a great champion,” Ostapenko said. “She was my idol since I was growing up.”

AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington and AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin in Paris contributed.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Nadal beats Zverev for Italian Open title

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ROME — Rafael Nadal came out on top in a matchup of this year’s top two clay-court players, beating defending champion Alexander Zverev 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 Sunday to win a record-extending eighth Italian Open title.

Nadal recovered from an early break in the third set after a 50-minute rain delay.

The victory means Nadal will reclaim the No. 1 ranking from Roger Federer on Monday.

Federer is sitting out the clay season to prepare for Wimbledon.

Nadal and Zverev had each won two titles on clay this season entering the final, with Nadal lifting trophies in Monte Carlo and Barcelona and Zverev taking Munich and Madrid.

Nadal improved to 5-0 in his career against Zverev and gained an extra measure of confidence entering the French Open, which starts next Sunday.

Earlier, Elina Svitolina defended the women’s title, facing little resistance from top-ranked Simona Halep in a 6-0, 6-4 win.