Serena Williams won’t play Fed Cup Saturday singles matches

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) Serena Williams’ return to competitive tennis will have to wait one more day.

Williams won’t be playing in either of Saturday’s Fed Cup singles matches as she makes her comeback five months after becoming a mother. Williams teams up with Lauren Davis to face Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands in Sunday’s doubles match.

“It’s definitely the start of a long process,” Williams said. “Physically, I feel good. Every day, I get better and I get stronger. That’s just something I always keep telling myself every day, I have to get better.”

Williams, 36, hasn’t played an official match since winning the 2017 Australian Open. Williams later revealed she was pregnant during that tournament.

Although Williams isn’t scheduled to play any singles matches this weekend, that could change. U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi has the right to change her Sunday lineup after Saturday’s play.

“We’ll wait and see how tomorrow goes and then we’ll make our adjustments, if any,” Rinaldi said Friday.

The U.S. will have Venus Williams take on Arantxa Rus and CoCo Vandeweghe will face Richel Hogerkamp on Saturday as it opens its Fed Cup title defense. Sunday’s scheduled singles matches have Venus Williams facing Hogerkamp and Vandeweghe taking on Rus.

But this weekend’s headline is the return of Serena Williams, who participated in a Dec. 30 exhibition match but otherwise hasn’t played since that 2017 Australian Open.

Williams said Friday she’s unsure about how she will manage her schedule and whether she will play all three remaining Grand Slam events this year. Williams’ 23 Grand Slam singles titles put her one behind the record held by Margaret Court.

“I have long-term goals obviously, but right now my main goal is just to stay in the moment,” Williams said. “It goes unsaid (that) 25 is obviously something that I would love, but I’d hate to limit myself.”

Williams’ daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., was born Sept. 1. Williams who is married to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, said motherhood is “an amazing journey.”

“It’s probably been the most fun of my life,” she said. “It’s a totally new experience. I love motherhood, and I look forward to just being the best mom I can be.”

Williams said she has benefited from having her sister alongside her as she attempts this comeback.

“She’s been really, really positive,” Williams said. “There (are) moments that have just been hard, just getting back out there and doing it every day. You have to get used to that and get in the rhythm of that. I’ve been able to really rely on her for that.”

Venus Williams has been impressed with her younger sister’s parenting skills.

“I think she’s the best mother I ever saw,” Venus Williams said. “She’s amazing. She does everything herself.”

Venus Williams was asked how motherhood had changed her sister.

“She might go out a little less,” Venus said before breaking into a grin. “But she’s definitely remained just very youthful and childlike at heart. I think sometimes motherhood changes people in a way that they become less young and more serious, but that hasn’t affected her.”

Serena Williams acknowledged there have been “a lot of ups and downs” in her comeback as she mentioned “fighting against all odds to be out there and to be competing again.”

She mentioned there are “moments that have just been hard, getting back out there doing it every day.” Williams had told Vogue magazine that she developed several small blood clots in her lungs after her daughter was born.

Williams had opted against trying to defend her Australian Open title this year.

“I think she’s smart to take her time and not to play Australia,” ESPN analyst and 18-time Grand Slam singles champion Chris Evert said last week. “Playing Fed Cup and easing her way back with exhibitions. Maybe she wants to peak for Wimbledon, that would be her best chance at a Grand Slam.”

Williams said the Fed Cup represents an ideal setting for her return. Not only does it allow her to practice alongside a few different players, it also enables her coach and teammates to offer different perspectives on her progress.

“It actually is a really perfect opportunity to try to come back,” Williams said.

AP Sports Writer Melissa Murphy contributed to this report.

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

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”