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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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Federer again pushed hard, advances to Halle semifinals

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HALLE, Germany (AP) Defending champion Roger Federer defeated Matthew Ebden 7-6 (2), 7-5 to reach the semifinals of the grass-court Gerry Weber Open on Friday.

Federer was made to work hard by Ebden, who saved five of the eight break points he faced and was leading 5-3 in the second set.

Federer, who saved two match points against Benoit Paire in the second round the day before, recovered to go 6-5 up and then broke Ebden to take his first match point for a meeting with American qualifier Denis Kudla.

Kudla earlier defeated Japan’s Yuichi Sugita 6-2, 7-5 to book his semifinal place.

Federer, who won his 18th grass-court title in Stuttgart on Sunday, is just three match wins away from matching Jimmy Connors’ all-time record of 174 victories on grass.

Federer extended his grass-court winning streak to 19 including the Stuttgart title and last year’s titles in Halle and Wimbledon. He is bidding for a record-extending 10th trophy in Halle.

Federer survives scare to advance in Halle

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HALLE, Germany (AP) Defending champion Roger Federer survived two match points against Benoit Paire to reach the quarterfinals of the Gerry Weber Open with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7) win on Thursday.

Paire rallied after losing the first set to take the second, and the Frenchman defended two match points at 6-5 in the decider to force a tiebreaker. Eight minutes later, it was a match point for the 48th-ranked Paire, and again when a mistake from Federer left it 7-6 in Paire’s favor.

But the top-ranked Swiss took the next three points to close the match in just under two hours at the grass-court tournament.

Federer extended his grass-court winning streak to 18 matches, including his titles in Stuttgart last week and at Halle and Wimbledon last year.

Federer skipped the entire clay-court season for the second year in a row and is now just four wins away from matching Jimmy Connors’ all-time record of 174 victories on grass.

Federer next faces Matthew Ebden of Australia, who upset former champion Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Also Thursday, Borna Coric defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-2.

The Croat next faces either Florian Mayer or Andreas Seppi.