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At French Open, Osaka balances tennis and video games

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PARIS – Rattling through the first two rounds of the French Open without losing a set leaves more time for PlayStation for Naomi Osaka.

And should the next big thing in Japanese tennis turn up late for her next match, it could well be because she lost track of time plugged into her console. Who needs the sights of Paris when you have “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” to distract you? (“It’s OK you don’t know it,” she kindly told a middle-aged journalist).

“It’s sort of consumed my time a little bit,” the 20-year-old Osaka said Wednesday after reaching the third round at Roland Garros. “Literally, if I have 30 minutes then I’ll just sit there and I might be a little bit late. Like I’ll spend 35 minutes and then I’m like, `Oh my God, it’s 30 minutes past,’ and then I have to rush out the door. So if I’m ever late to anything, you know why.”

The French Open marks the first time Osaka has been seeded at a major (at No. 21). That billing and her debut title on tour earlier this year, when she tore through a high-powered field to win at Indian Wells, mark out Japan’s top-ranked woman as a player to watch in this first week when many struggle to find their feet on the red clay of Paris but others make it their home.

Osaka, who also reached the third round at her first French Open in 2016 only to lose to a qualifier in straight sets in the first round last year, said she is concentrating less on the surface than on trying to win her first Grand Slam.

“In my mind, it’s not really clay,” she said. “I just focus more on the tennis part, rather than making up excuses of what the surface is and how my play style isn’t suited for it.”

Osaka’s third-round opponent is Madison Keys, an American seeded 13th. Keys beat Osaka in both of their previous matches. If Osaka has her way, next time will not only produce a different outcome but be quick, too – because she hopes to spend as little time as possible on the tournament grounds.

“I’m only here if I have to be, to be honest,” she said. “When I was younger I used to love walking around and just experiencing the atmosphere. But now, like, I just sort of think of this as my job. So it’s like clocking in and clocking out.”

Those she beat on her way to the Indian Wells title in March included five-time major winner Maria Sharapova and top-ranked Simona Halep. At her next tournament, in Miami, she then overpowered Serena Williams, her tennis idol in childhood, 6-3, 6-2 in the first round.

She started traveling with her games console from that point on.

“Sometimes I’m really bored in my room and I feel like I really want to play,” she said. “That’s why I started bringing it.”

Rafael Nadal will play in new Davis Cup format

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MADRID — Gerard Pique is not worried about the possible absence of some top players in the revamped Davis Cup, especially since Rafael Nadal has said he will play in the new-look competition when it debuts next year.

The Barcelona defender, who spearheads the company behind the new format of the Davis Cup, said Wednesday that Nadal has told him he will play as long as he is not injured.

“If the No. 1 in the world is playing, that’s more than enough,” Pique said in the official presentation of Madrid as host of the Davis Cup finals for the next two years. “Rafa is very positive about this event, especially because it is taking place in Madrid.”

The new event was developed in a partnership between the International Tennis Federation and the investment group Kosmos, which was founded by the Barcelona and Spain player.

Pique said he knows it will not be easy to have all top-ranked players participating.

“This is a team event, so it’s impossible to have all the top players involved. Some teams won’t qualify, not everybody will be able to play anyway,” Pique said. “Of course we would like to have the top players, but we want to focus on the teams.”

Stars such as Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have already hinted they don’t intend to play. Djokovic said the tournament could be competing with the ATP’s World Team Cup, while Federer said the revamped Davis Cup didn’t seem to be designed for him.

Pique said he already didn’t expect Federer to be playing, noting the Swiss veteran has limited his tournament schedule in recent years and might not “have the legs” to play in the Davis Cup again. He said he still hoped to convince Djokovic, though.

“I have a lot of confidence that we can negotiate and the top players will play,” Pique said.

The new format of tennis’ top team event will be a season-ending, 18-team tournament, but teams will still play matches in February to advance to the championship in November. The Davis Cup has previously been played over four weekends throughout the year.

The first championship will be held next year from Nov. 18-24 on an indoor hardcourt at the Magic Box arena, which already hosts the Madrid Masters. The ITF said players will compete for prize money that will rival what is offered in Grand Slams.

Pique said there is no “perfect date” for the tournament as the tennis calendar is very tight, but he was happy with the week they picked.

“We’ve spoken with everybody,” he said. “We think this is a week that won’t affect any of the other tournaments. We want to be well seen in the tennis world. We are here to help. We think this will be a magical week for the world of tennis.”

The 2018 Davis Cup semifinalists – Croatia, France, Spain and the United States – have already secured their spot in next year’s tournament, along with Argentina and Britain.

Defending champion France will host Croatia in the last Davis Cup final in the current format from Nov. 23-25 in Lille.

Stephens, Pliskova both lose at Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW — Sloane Stephens and Karolina Pliskova were both eliminated from the Kremlin Cup on Wednesday, with the latter result ensuring that Elina Svitolina has qualified for the WTA Finals.

The fifth-ranked Pliskova lost to Russian veteran Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 6-2, holding serve only once in the match.

Because of the loss, Svitolina will play in the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore. Pliskova can still qualify, but she could also be overtaken by Kiki Bertens.

The 34-year-old Zvonareva, a former Wimbledon and U.S. Open finalist, will next face Anastasija Sevastova in the quarterfinals. The Latvian beat Yulia Putintseva 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.

Stephens lost to Tunisian qualifier Ons Jabeur 6-3, 6-2. The third-seeded American, who had a first-round bye, lost her opening service games in each set.

Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, secured qualification for the WTA Finals last week after a strong season which included reaching the French Open final.

Jabeur will next face Anett Kontaveit in the quarterfinals. The eighth-seeded Estonian beat Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 7-6 (3).

In the men’s draw, Ricardas Berankis beat Aljaz Bedene 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) to reach the quarterfinals.