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Venus Williams holds off challenge from teen at Rogers Cup

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MONTREAL — Venus Williams advanced to the second round of the Rogers Cup after a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Caroline Dolehide on Monday.

The 14th-ranked Williams made quick work of her 19-year-old fellow American in the second set after coming from behind to win a back-and-forth first set.

The seven-time Grand Slam champion will now face either Sorana Cristea or Monica Niculescu in the second round.

It looked like an upset was in the cards in the early going. The 124th-ranked Dolehide, who was making her Rogers Cup debut, jumped to a 3-1 lead in the first set after breaking Williams’ serve. One of just two teenagers in the main draw, Dolehide used her heavy service game and aggressive play to challenge Williams on every point. She finished the match with three aces. Williams had none.

But the 38-year-old veteran broke Dolehide back to take a 4-3 lead, and she did it again in the deciding game of the first set.

Dolehide, one of 12 qualifiers in the main draw, just couldn’t maintain the same pace in the second set, as Williams only lost 11 points on her way to victory.

“It’s never easy to play somebody you haven’t played before, and she definitely has a lot of talent,” Williams said. “She took advantage of it and I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before she’s able to play even better than today.”

Dolehide earned spot in the main draw of the U.S. Open on Monday when Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia withdrew due to an injured right shoulder.

Rain moved into the area just before 7 p.m., interrupting two matches, including one in the first set between Russia’s Maria Sharapova and Bulgaria’s Sesil Karatantcheva.

With Sharapova leading 4-1 after 24 minutes of play, the match was delayed due to heavy rain and lightning.

Both players returned to the court three times to resume the match over the course of the three-hour delay, only for the rain to keep returning, forcing them back off the court.

Play was finally suspended at 10:30 p.m. The match will resume Tuesday.

The match between Canada’s Francoise Abanda and Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, which was supposed to begin after Sharapova’s match, was also postponed to Tuesday.

Earlier Monday, Eugenie Bouchard and partner Sloane Stephens upset the fifth-seeded duo of Gabriela Dabrowski and Yifan Xu 6-4, 4-6, 1-0 (6) in first-round doubles action.

“The reason I played doubles was to get more games under my belt,” Bouchard said. “It’s better than just a normal practice. I really worked on my service game, my volleys, my return. It can help with my singles game.

“Every victory can give you confidence.”

Bouchard has only played in six doubles matches this season, including three with Stephens.

In singles play, 29-year-old Julia Goerges of Germany avoided an early loss with a 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 win over Timea Babos of Hungary in a match that lasted nearly 2 1/2 hours. Goerges had 17 aces and five double faults to Babos’ eight and one, respectively.

Goerges will next face qualifier Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic in the second round.

In other singles matches, Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic beat Katerina Siniakova 6-4, 6-4; Anett Kontaveit of Estonia defeated Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 4-6, 6-3, 6-1; and Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia cruised past Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia 6-1, 6-0.

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.