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Williams vs. Rodina is matchup of Mom vs. Mom at Wimbledon

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LONDON (AP) When Serena Williams steps out on Centre Court to play Evgeniya Rodina in Wimbledon’s fourth round on Monday, it will be a rare meeting of Mom vs. Mom.

Such matchups could happen with greater frequency as parenthood becomes increasingly popular on the women’s tennis tour.

There were a half-dozen mothers in the singles main draw at the All England Club this year: 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams; another former No. 1 and two-time major champ, Victoria Azarenka; Rodina, Kateryna Bondarenko, Tatjana Maria and Vera Zvonareva.

Two more moms entered the doubles event, Mandy Minella and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. A ninth, Patty Schnyder, lost during qualifying for singles.

“At different points, we’ve had one or two mothers at a time. And then it’s grown to three or four mothers. And now we’ve seen that we have more, at present, than we’ve had in the past. There was Margaret Court. Evonne Goolagong. (Kim) Clijsters,” said Kathleen Stroia, WTA Senior VP for sport sciences and medicine, naming mothers who won Grand Slam titles.

“The difference,” she said, “is that now it’s certainly something that is becoming common.”

Williams is competing in her second major tournament since having a daughter, Olympia, last September. Motherhood is an important part of who she is now.

The 36-year-old American has spoken openly about a health scare during childbirth. About gaining weight while breast-feeding. About the joys of bringing her child onsite to a tournament for the first time. About the difficulty of dividing her time between family and forehands. About the precedent the All England Club set by seeding her 25th, based on past success that includes seven Wimbledon titles, even though she was ranked outside the top 150 after missing more than a full season, first while pregnant, then after giving birth.

“It will be really nice for these women to take a year off, and have the most amazing thing in the world,” Williams said, “then come back to their job and not have to start from the bottom, scrape, scrape, scrape.”

She tweeted over the weekend about missing the chance to see Olympia take her first steps, because it happened during a training session.

What working parent can’t relate to that?

Azarenka knows it can be difficult to reconcile parenthood and a career.

She skipped some tournaments, including last year’s U.S. Open, while working out a custody dispute with the father of her son, Leo.

“I really want to spend every second with him,” Azarenka said. “I feel guilty if I take 15 minutes for myself to stretch. I’m trying to run back to him and spend every second with him. So that’s the balance I think is the tough one.”

As a member of the WTA player council, Azarenka has been involved with discussions about how the tour can help the growing group of moms. Among the topics being looked at: the “protected ranking” policy, which allows players to enter a certain number of tournaments based on where they were ranked before taking time off because of an injury, illness or pregnancy; whether a similar rule should be established with regards to seeding.

One concern raised by some of the mothers in interviews during Wimbledon was that not enough tournaments offer childcare facilities, the way the four Grand Slams do.

While Maria was in action at the grass-court tournament, her 4-year-old daughter, Charlotte, spent her days at what the All England Club calls the competitors’ creche, essentially a nursery for children of players and coaches.

It opened in 1983, was refurbished in 2015, and has space for 15 or so kids.

“It’s like a regular kindergarten. They eat together. They do activities. We don’t have to look after her at all. Normally, we check on her at the other Grand Slams: `Are you hungry?’ or `Do you want to leave?'” Maria said. “But she wants to be there from 11 in the morning until 8 o’clock in the evening, every day. She loves it.”

Maria said her daughter often plays with the daughters of Rodina and Bondarenko. Zvonareva’s 2-year-old, Evelyn, spent time at the creche, too, while Mom played at Wimbledon for the first time since 2014.

Rodina, a 29-year-old qualifier from Russia with $1.7 million in career prize money, said that at other tournaments, she’ll sometimes leave her 5+-year-old daughter in the players’ lounge with an iPad to keep her occupied. That’s better than having the child in the stands during a match, which makes Rodina too nervous.

The WTA leaves it up to individual tournaments to decide whether to provide childcare. Some that do, according to the tour: Madrid, Stuttgart, Acapulco and St. Petersburg.

Asked whether the WTA might require or encourage tournaments to provide such services, Stroia said the tour will “evolve with the growing needs of the players,” but more has to be known about what is wanted by the athletes.

“I hope something will change,” Maria said. “You need some big names to help. If Serena comes and says, `I want to have a creche,’ maybe it’ll work.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

More AP tennis coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Nadal-Djokovic semifinal suspended after 3rd set

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LONDON (AP) It was the kind of tennis that Wimbledon’s Centre Court crowd would gladly have watched all night long.

The show being put on by Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was so good it could have been an instant classic had they been able to finish their semifinal before the tournament’s 11 p.m. curfew.

Instead, the two players – and a disappointed audience – were sent home after the third set on Friday with Djokovic leading 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9) following a tense tiebreaker that had more entertaining rallies than some entire matches.

The two players didn’t even get onto the court until after 8 p.m. because of an earlier marathon semifinal won by Kevin Anderson and when Djokovic converted his second set point in the tiebreaker – having saved three of Nadal’s – the clock had ticked a couple of minutes past 11. That left organizers no choice but to call it a night, although the announcement from the chair umpire led to a scattering of boos from some fans who clearly wanted more.

Most of them will have to watch the rest on TV.

The match will resume at 1 p.m. local time on Saturday, before the women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber. At stake is a place in Sunday’s men’s final against the man who was partly at fault for keeping Nadal and Djokovic out there so late. Anderson’s win over John Isner lasted 6 + hours and went to 26-24 in the fifth set.

Djokovic-Nadal had clearly been the headline act of the day – they have five Wimbledon titles between them and met in the 2011 final while Anderson and Isner had never made the semifinals before – and their tennis was at another level from the earlier match. Even Anderson said he could feel during his match that the crowd would rather be watching the next one.

“They’ve paid to see two matches, and they came pretty close to only seeing one match,” Anderson said. “I can feel the crowd (get) pretty antsy for us to get off the court. They’ve been watching us for over six hours.”

While Anderson-Isner was mostly a serving duel with a few longer rallies thrown in, Djokovic and Nadal repeatedly slugged it out from the baseline, chasing each other around the court and coming up with spectacular winners from every corner.

Many of the best points came in the tiebreaker, including a 23-shot rally that Nadal finished off with a forehand half-volley drop shot to set up his first set point.

It was one of three successful drop shots from the Spaniard in the tiebreaker alone, but Djokovic answered with one of his own to save the second set point at 7-6.

He eventually went up 10-9 with the help of a backhand passing shot and an errant shot into the net by Nadal brought the entertainment to an end – for now.

It led to the unusual situation of both players leaving the court to a huge ovation – and applauding the fans in return – but without there being a clear winner or loser.

To be continued.

Former No. 1 Kerber tops Ostapenko; into second Wimbledon final

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LONDON – It was clear right from the opening game of Angelique Kerber’s Wimbledon semifinal how things were going to go. She was not going to dictate or control much.

She was, instead, going to employ spectacular defense and solid, steady play, while letting her opponent, Jelena Ostapenko, be the one to determine the outcomes of nearly every point.

It worked. The 11th-seeded Kerber reached her second final at the All England Club by avoiding too many mistakes and using a seven-game run to seize control for a 6-3, 6-3 victory over the 12th-seeded Ostapenko on Thursday.

“These are the matches I was working for as a young kid,” Kerber said, “and to stand here again in the final at Wimbledon is great.”

Kerber is a former No. 1 and a two-time major champion, both coming in 2016 at the Australian Open and U.S. Open. That was also the year the German was the runner-up at Wimbledon, losing to Serena Williams in the title match.

She could find herself up against Williams yet again: The 36-year-old American was scheduled to face No. 13 Julia Goerges of Germany in Thursday’s second semifinal on Centre Court.

Williams took a 19-match Wimbledon winning streak into the day. She won the grass-court tournament the last two times she played it, in 2015 and 2016, before missing it last year while pregnant. Williams gave birth to a daughter in September.

The left-handed Kerber was mainly a passive participant in the early going against Ostapenko. That first game consisted of eight points: Three were unforced errors by Ostapenko, including a double-fault to begin the proceedings; the other five were winners by her, including a 100 mph ace to close the hold.

Five games in, Ostapenko led 3-2, and the numbers were still tilted toward her. She had 14 winners and 10 unforced errors, while Kerber had three winners and – this was key – zero unforced errors.

There were no drawn-out points in the early going, no lengthy baseline exchanges, essentially because Ostapenko wouldn’t allow it. The Latvian plays an aggressive brand of first-strike tennis that carried her to the 2017 French Open title as an unseeded 20-year-old.

Kerber, in contrast, bides her time, working the back of the court to get everything back over the net, often kneeling to get low enough to reach shots.

Eventually, Kerber’s style ruled the day. She went on a half-hour run in which she took the last four games of the first set and took a 3-0 lead in the second. Ostapenko’s strokes were missing and she grew increasingly frustrated, slapping a thigh after a miss or leaning forward and putting her hands on her knees after others. By the time she flubbed a backhand while falling behind 5-1 in the second, she dropped her racket and screamed.

It took Kerber two tries to serve out the victory, getting broken to 5-2. But unlike in the quarterfinals, when she needed seven match points to win, this time it required only two, with the match ending – fittingly enough – on a forehand by Ostapenko that sailed wide.

The final tally told the story: Ostapenko had far more winners, 30-10, but also far more unforced errors, 36-7.