As Serena Williams returns, Venus says her game hasn’t left

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NEW YORK (AP) Venus Williams gave a scouting report on her warmup partner that sounded the same as always.

Serena Williams is back, and her game hasn’t left.

“She’s got power, depth. She knows how to play,” Venus said. “Yeah, awesome game.”

The Williams sisters were the headliners Monday night in the Tie Break Tens tournament in Madison Square Garden, an eight-woman event in which all matches were 10-point tiebreakers, instead of the usual games and sets.

Serena was playing her first singles match of the year as she prepares to return to the WTA Tour for the first time since giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., on Sept. 1. The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion would later tell Vogue Magazine in an interview that she developed several small blood clots in her lungs after giving birth.

She had played just once this year, losing a Fed Cup doubles match with Venus last month, and hasn’t played a singles match on tour since winning the 2017 Australian Open, where she beat Venus in the final.

Serena returns this week in Indian Wells, California, and her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, told WTATennis.com he had high expectations for the three remaining Grand Slam tournaments this season. He said he sees the same determination in practice, but wouldn’t know if being a mother had changed her until he saw her competing.

Venus already knows what to expect.

“I mean, the matches are definitely a good way to know where you are, but obviously she knows how to play,” the 37-year-old Venus said. “She’s going to bring that instinct on the court with her, so I don’t think she’s too worried about that.”

Tie Break Tens held its first tournament in the U.S. after five events in Europe and Australia. The remainder of the field included Elina Svitolina of the Ukraine, the highest-ranked player at No. 4; American CoCo Vandeweghe; China’s Zhang Shuai; Sorana Cirstea of Romania; Marion Bartoli of France, the 2013 Wimbledon champion who is ending a 4 +-year retirement; and Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, who retired last year.

Vandeweghe, a New York native, jumped at the chance to play at MSG. Her grandfather, Ernie, and uncle Kiki, now an NBA executive, both played for the New York Knicks.

“I didn’t have to think too long,” he said. “Once I was asked by my coach, Pat (Cash), if I was going to be available around that time, I said, `Yeah, I’ll make myself available.’ So it didn’t take much thinking.”

She was on the U.S. team in last month’s victory over the Netherlands in North Carolina and enjoys seeing both Williams sisters still playing well. Venus reached two Grand Slam finals in 2017 and returned to the top five of the rankings.

She competed Monday night just a few days after the 20th anniversary of her first WTA Tour title in Oklahoma City as a 17-year-old. Many players have taken up the sport in years since because of the Williams sisters, and Venus hoped more might be interested in this format since they were.

“If that’s the result, yeah, that would be great,” she said. “I hope that is the result, that this is a lot of excitement and more people start playing. It’s a great sport. The sport is great for everyone of all ages.”

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Croatia advances in Davis Cup as Coric beats Thiem

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Borna Coric beat 2020 U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem 7-6 (3), 6-2 to send Croatia into the group stage of the Davis Cup.

Coric helped the Croatians win their second Davis Cup title in 2018, but he was sidelined when they lost in the 2021 final while missing a year of action with a right shoulder injury.

He returned to the tour last March, winning a Masters 1000 title in August in Cincinnati, Ohio, and rejoined the Croatians when they reached the Davis Cup semifinals last year.

His victory over Thiem, who has also dealt with injuries in recent years, gave Croatia a 3-1 victory in Rijeka. The Austrians had taken the tie against the No. 1 team in the Davis Cup rankings to a fourth match when Alexander Erler and Lucas Miedler beat Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic 6-3, 7-6 (11) in the doubles match earlier Sunday.

Chile, Finland, the Netherlands, South Korea and the Czech Republic also completed victories Sunday to secure their places in the next round, which will be played in September.

On Saturday, the U.S. completed a sweep of Uzbekistan, while Serbia, France, Britain, Switzerland and Sweden also finished off victories. Those 12 countries will play in the group stage, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will then advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

In Sunday’s other matches:

– Finland 3, Argentina 1: On indoor hard courts in Espoo, Finland, Harri Heliovaara and Emil Ruusuvuori edged Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, before Ruusuvuori secured the winning point and a personal 3-0 weekend by beating Facundo Bagnis 7-5, 6-1.

– Netherlands 4, Slovakia 0: On indoor hard courts in Groningen, Matwe Middelkoop and Wesley Koolhof sent the hosts through with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Alex Molcan and Lukas Klein. Middelkoop then beat Jozef Kovalik 6-4, 6-4.

– South Korea 3, Belgium 2: On indoor hard courts in Seoul, the hosts rallied from a 2-0 deficit after the first day. Min-Kyu Song and Ji Sung Nam kept them alive with a 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) victory over Joran Vliegen and Sander Gille. Soonwoo Kwon then beat David Goffin 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 before Seong Chan Hong completed the comeback with a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Zizou Bergs.

– Czech Republic 3, Portugal 1: On an indoor clay court in Maia, Portugal, Jiri Lehecka wrapped up the victory by beating Joao Sousa 6-4, 6-1.

– Chile 3, Kazakhstan 1: On an outdoor clay court in La Serena, Chile, Cristian Garin beat Alexander Bublik 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 after the hosts had taken the lead with a victory by the doubles team of Alejandro Tabilo and Tomas Barrios Vera.

Unseeded Parks beats top-seeded Garcia for her 1st title

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LYON, France — Unseeded American Alycia Parks secured a stunning 7-6 (7), 7-5 upset win over WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in the Open Metropole de Lyon final to clinch her first career title.

“I think France has a special part in my heart right now,” Parks said. “I’ll be back next year.”

The 22-year-old Parks, who is ranked 79th, had 15 aces and saved all four break points against the top-seeded Garcia.

Parks secured the only break of a tight contest to win the match.

The fifth-ranked Garcia, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, was seeking a 12th career title.

“Congrats on a great tournament,” Garcia told Parks in English. “If you keep playing like this for sure you’re going to keep going up (the rankings).”

Parks has a career-best ranking of 75th.

The 29-year-old Garcia, who grew up in Lyon, took time to thank her home crowd – this time in French.

“It means a lot to play here, thanks for being here,” Garcia said. “You supported me from the first point to the last. Thanks for all your encouragement.”