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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

Zverev beats Djokovic to win ATP Finals title

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LONDON — Alexander Zverev upset Novak Djokovic to claim the biggest title of his career with a 6-4, 6-3 victory at the ATP Finals on Sunday.

The 21-year-old Zverev became the youngest champion of the season-ending event since Djokovic claimed the first of his five titles a decade ago, and the first from Germany since 1995.

Top-ranked Djokovic was attempting to tie Roger Federer’s record of six titles but followed the same path as the Swiss great, who lost to Zverev in the semifinals at the O2 Arena.

Djokovic’s serve hadn’t been broken all tournament until the final. Zverev did it once in the first set and three times in the second, completing the victory with a spectacular backhand winner up the line.

Both players began the match in the same form that had seen them earn straight-sets semifinal victories a day earlier, with few points going against the server.

It was Djokovic, who had lost just two of his previous 37 matches, who began to feel the pressure as consecutive forehand errors gave Zverev a chance to serve out the opening set at 5-4.

Fans gave Zverev a huge ovation as he stepped up to serve, and it appeared to inspire him. Three straight aces brought up three set points, the second of which he took when Djokovic sent another forehand long.

Zverev even began to outlast Djokovic in longer rallies, an area of the game the 14-time Grand Slam champion usually dominates. A 26-shot duel brought up another break point in the opening game of the second set and, although Djokovic saved it, Zverev won another lengthy exchange moments later with a forehand winner to go 1-0 up.

With the biggest win of his career in sight, Zverev began to show some nerves. Although he is the only active player outside of the Big Four of Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray to possess three or more Masters titles, the young German has only reached one Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Two double faults and two backhand errors gifted Djokovic an immediate break back, but Zverev quickly refocused to win a 28-shot rally on his way to breaking in the following game.

From there he remained solid on serve, before ending with a flourish. Having been pushed wide, a backhand winner on the run drifted past the helpless Djokovic.

Zverev sunk to the ground in tears as Djokovic sportingly crossed the net to embrace the player who will now be considered among the favorites to end the Serb’s run of two consecutive Grand Slam victories in Australia in two months’ time.

Earlier, American pair Mike Bryan and Jack Sock saved a match point in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Pierre-Hughes Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 5-7, 6-1, 13-11 for their first ATP Finals doubles title together.

Having failed to take advantage of five championship points during the first-to-10 match tiebreaker, Bryan and Sock then had to save one against their French opponents before finally closing out victory.

“It was a hell of a match,” Bryan said.

The 40-year-old Bryan has now won the tournament five times. He won four times with his usual partner – and brother – Bob, who has been out with an injured hip since May.

Sock and Bryan have dominated since teaming up, winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before finishing their season in style in London.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Bryan said. “This could be our last hoorah because Bob’s training back in Florida.”

Bryan, Sock win ATP Finals doubles title

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LONDON — American pair Mike Bryan and Jack Sock saved a match point in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Pierre-Hughes Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 5-7, 6-1, 13-11 for their first ATP Finals doubles title together on Sunday.

Having failed to take advantage of five championship points during the first-to-10 match tiebreaker, Bryan and Sock then had to save one against their French opponents before finally closing out victory at the O2 Arena.

“It was a hell of a match,” Bryan said.

The 40-year-old Bryan has now won the season-ending tournament five times. He won four times with his usual partner – and brother – Bob, who has been out with an injured hip since May.

Sock and Bryan have dominated since teaming up, winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before finishing their season in style in London.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Bryan said. “This could be our last hoorah because Bob’s training back in Florida.”

After reaching the singles semifinals last year, Sock has endured a torrid season in that format, falling outside the top-100 ranked players. However, he became the first American since John McEnroe to add a doubles final appearance at the tournament to his last-four singles showing.

“This is special because it was a pretty bad year in singles,” Sock said. “This makes up for some of the low moments I’ve had.”

The French duo’s season is not over yet. Herbert and Mahut are part of their nation’s squad for the Davis Cup final against Croatia, which starts in Lille on Friday.