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Chris Evert: Serena will soon pass Margaret Court’s record

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NEW YORK — Chris Evert expects new mom Serena Williams will eclipse the Grand Slam record of 24 singles titles, maybe even this season.

The former No. 1 tennis player also says the name of current record-holder Margaret Court should remain on the arena at the Australian Open despite her controversial views on LGBT rights.

“I don’t agree with Margaret and her thinking,” said the ESPN analyst and 18-time Grand Slam singles champion. “I think it honors her tennis career.”

Williams restarts her tennis career on the WTA tour next week with 23 major titles. She’ll play an exhibition match Monday night at Madison Square Garden in New York, then compete at Indian Wells, California, in her first tour event in more than a year.

Williams dealt with serious health issues after the birth of her first child in September and missed the first major in January.

But the 36-year-old Williams has been winning majors at a swift clip. Williams passed Evert and Martina Navratilova’s 18 at the 2015 Australian Open, and won four more majors in the next three years.

Evert thinks Williams will win at least one Grand Slam title this season.

“I just cannot bet against her,” she said in a recent phone interview with The Associated Press. “I’d be surprised if she won two; I would bet on her to win one.”

Evert knows a bit about records. Raised in a tennis family and taught by her father Jimmy in Florida, she turned pro at 17 in 1972 and promptly earned the No. 1 ranking two years later after winning the French Open and Wimbledon.

She won a record seven French Opens and reached the semifinals or better in 52 of 56 majors. The tennis Hall of Famer won 157 singles and 32 doubles titles in an 18-year career, which spanned the eras of Billie Jean King, Navratilova and Steffi Graf.

Her career winning percentage (90 percent) is better than top-ranked Roger Federer (82 percent). It remains the highest for men or women since the Open era of professional tennis began in 1968.

Here are a few more thoughts from the 63-year-old Evert, the publisher of Tennis magazine and mother of three adult sons.

ON SERENA

Evert says Serena’s best chance of winning more majors rests on the grass of Wimbledon.

“Who knows how she’ll come out of the starting gate,” she said. “Wimbledon, that would be her best shot because that favors power, rewards power and the rallies aren’t long. She’s got the big serve. The U.S. Open is going to be tough because it’s on a hard court, it’s hot. She’ll have to be moving well and be very, very fit.”

Incorporating tennis and family becomes the new challenge after marrying Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and giving birth to baby Olympia. He recently bought four billboards along the highway to Indian Wells that say “Greatest Momma Of All Time.”

“When you have a child, that’s an emotional component that you’ve never experienced before,” Evert said. “I keep saying this – whenever anybody doubts Serena, she thrives. That gives her more motivation, more incentive and she always comes out the winner.”

ON COURT

Court won 24 major singles titles from 1960-77, including 11 at the Australian Open when most players didn’t venture Down Under. She won a combined record of 64 Grand Slam singles and doubles titles.

Court became an ordained Pentecostal minister in 1991 and has been a constant critic of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage in Australia. After a national referendum, the Australian Parliament voted overwhelmingly to legalize gay marriage in December.

Over the years, Court has singled out gay Australian players and Navratilova, a rival and friend of Evert. Court’s remarks last year about transgender youth upset King, who said at the recent Australian Open that Court’s name should be removed from the arena . Navratilova wrote an open letter suggesting it be renamed for Australian tennis great Evonne Goolagong.

Evert says she disagrees with Court’s opinions and believes in freedom of speech. “She goes by the bible and she’s just very rigid in that.”

ON ACADEMY

Evert still hits the courts almost daily at her tennis academy in Boca Raton, Florida. Madison Keys, who reached the U.S. Open final last year, and Lauren Davis, who had triple-match point on top-ranked Simona Halep at the Australian Open, came through her academy.

Evert’s proud “100 percent of the kids” who don’t turn pro earn a college tennis scholarship.

“That’s like winning Wimbledon for these kids,” she said. “That’s a wonderful goal. It’s really just fun to mentor these kids and try to help them reach their goals and their dreams.”

Known for her two-handed backhand and returning nearly every ball, Evert recently partnered with Osteo Bi-Flex to help keep up with the 14-year-olds on her practice courts.

ON ROGER/VENUS

At 36, Federer recently won the Australian Open and regained the No. 1 ranking . Evert marvels at his “frame of mind” and relatively injury-free career.

“He’s not a grinder like (Rafa) Nadal. Roger wins a lot of free points off his serve, he has shorter rallies, he glides to the ball, he doesn’t muscle anything. It’s all about timing and finesse with him.

“He’s so endearing. When he cried (after the win), I think the whole world cried along with him. He shows his emotion … that’s why people love him so much.”

Evert isn’t concerned 37-year-old Venus Williams joined several American women making early exits at the Australian Open.

“She had a big year last year – got to the finals of two majors, got to the WTA Finals. You can understand why maybe her body didn’t recover as quickly. She can still have a great year.”

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.