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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

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Andy Roddick returns for exhibition match to start New York Open

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NEW YORK — Andy Roddick is trying to get his shoulder ready, hoping he can still bring the high heat on serve.

The former U.S. Open champion will be back in town and wants to have his game with him.

“Coming back to New York is certainly not a place where I want to not play well,” Roddick said.

He will play fellow tennis Hall of Famer Jim Courier on Feb. 9 in an exhibition match to kick off the New York Open, event organizers announced Wednesday.

Wimbledon finalist and defending champion Kevin Anderson and top American John Isner headline the field in February for the second year of the ATP Tour event, which Roddick won three times when it was based in Memphis, Tennessee.

It has since moved to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale and Roddick says it remains a valuable tournament for players who want to prepare in the U.S. for the big events that soon follow in Indian Wells, California, and Miami.

He found that worked for him and it certainly did last year for Anderson, who used his victory on Long Island as the springboard for his first career finish inside the top 10 at No. 6. Isner, whom he beat in a marathon Wimbledon semifinal, finished 10th.

“You want to kind of find form early in the year. You can train as hard as you want, you can work as hard as you want, you can’t put confidence in a bottle,” Roddick said. “Sometimes I’d play well in Australia and then I’d feel good in Memphis. It kind of does give you a little bit of rhythm to your year and especially a guy like me or Kevin, who might not like the clay as much as some of the other guys, those first three months through March are super important.”

Americans Jack Sock and Sam Querrey, last year’s runner-up, will also be in the field of the Feb. 9-17 event along with Alex de Minaur, the ATP Newcomer of the Year who will turn 20 the day of the final and is also playing doubles with fellow Australian Lleyton Hewitt. Mike and Bob Bryan headline the doubles field after Mike teamed with Sock to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year while his twin brother was recovering from a hip injury.

Roddick rode his fierce serve – he had one timed at 155 mph in a 2004 Davis Cup match – to the 2003 U.S. Open title, the world’s No. 1 ranking and nine straight finishes in the top 10. Only 30 when he retired in 2012, he said he could still play with guys on tour until a couple years ago but estimated he played fewer than 10 times this year.

But the opportunity to come back to New York, where he and Courier will also co-host a “Taste of New York Open” on opening night, renewed his enthusiasm to play.

“Tennis has been a part of my life since I was 6 years old so you don’t want to just completely throw it away,” Roddick said. “So I was pumped, I was excited.”

Tennis broadcaster Justin Gimelstob accused of assault in LA

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LOS ANGELES — Tennis broadcaster and coach Justin Gimelstob faces a felony assault charge following his Halloween night arrest for allegedly attacking a former friend in Los Angeles.

The 41-year-old former pro player is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.

Gimelstob’s attorney, Shawn Holley, didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to an email and call seeking comment.

Gimelstob was arrested on suspicion of beating Randall Kaplan as they trick-or-treated with their kids. Kaplan says Gimelstob struck him multiple times and threatened to kill him.

Sean Walsh, a spokesman for Kaplan, says a motive is unknown. Kaplan alleges that Gimelstob previously threatened him because he was friends with the tennis commentator’s estranged wife.

Gimelstob won more than a dozen doubles titles as a player. He retired in 2007 and has since worked with the Tennis Channel.