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Yannick Noah taking no chances ahead of Davis Cup final

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PARIS — Laid-back in everyday life, Yannick Noah is meticulous when it comes to being a tennis coach.

So over the last 10 days, the France captain has been paying close attention to anything that could derail his team’s chances of winning an 11th Davis Cup title against Croatia this weekend.

“The most important thing was to spend as much time as possible together thinking about this final,” said Noah, who summoned his players for a demanding training camp in northern France about two weeks ahead of the final.

“We could have imagined a training camp in Paris. Once the day is over, everybody gets back home,” Noah said. “In fact, you lose your focus. Here, as soon as we woke up, we were in the final. When we started to run in the morning, it was still dark, but we were already in the final. During our meals, we thought about the final.”

Noah guided France to Davis Cup titles in 1991, 1996 and 2017, but he will step down after this weekend and Amelie Mauresmo will take over.

Since he returned to captain France in 2016, Noah has been rewarded with success. Despite a drop in individual performances, Noah’s players have reached the Davis Cup semifinals every year during his most recent stint, losing only once to Croatia in 2016. They won the title against Belgium last year and now have the chance to conquer the last final played in its traditional format. Beginning next year, the top team event in men’s tennis will be decided with a season-ending, 18-team tournament at a neutral site.

“We’ve got a unique chance, which will never happen again, to play a Davis Cup final at home,” Noah said. “We fought for this chance throughout the year. Not only for the team, but also for the event. Most of us have been obsessed by (this final). We want to make sure we are on top of all the things that can be controlled. Then there will be the craziness of the match.”

The Croats are favored to claim a second title after their team became the first unseeded nation to win the 2005 Davis Cup by defeating Slovakia.

While French players have been struggling individually over the last 12 months – Lucas Pouille is the best ranked Frenchman in Noah’s team at No. 32 – Croatia will be led by seventh-ranked Marin Cilic, who qualified for the ATP Finals this month after a consistent season. In singles, Cilic will be backed by No. 12 Borna Coric.

The final will be played on clay under the retractable roof of the Pierre Mauroy Stadium in Lille and Cilic might struggle to adapt to the slow surface, having competed on hard court last week in London.

“I will be ready,” Cilic said. “We had Davis Cup ties already on clay immediately after hard court tournaments. I believe I’m going to be fine, adjusting my play, a bit more of sliding, running. The conditions (on) indoor clay are slightly faster than outdoor clay. I will be fine.”

Pouille wrapped up France’s 10th Davis Cup title last year by winning the decisive point against Belgium in the final. In the absence of Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon, he will play in singles while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who has been sidelined with a knee injury for most of the season, is likely to be used as France’s No. 2. Noah has also the option of fielding Jeremy Chardy.

In doubles, France has the better team with French Open champions Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who reached the final at the ATP Finals.

This year’s Davis Cup final has a familiar ring to it, at least for fans of soccer. France defeated Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup final in July.

Croatia captain Zeljko Krajan said his team did not receive any encouraging messages from the country’s soccer players but added “they will be happy if we (avenge) the World Cup final.”

Serena Williams launches pop-up shop during Art Basel Miami

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Strong. Sophisticated. Sexy. Like the tennis champ herself, Serena Williams’ fashion line is all about power moves and she’s hoping it will also inspire woman to find their own voice.

“I want everyone to be able to do that and to step into their power,” she said Wednesday night at the launch of her first pop-up shop.

Williams launched her shop at the luxe Faena hotel during Miami’s Art Basel where guests, including fellow tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, drank cocktails draped with fluffy pink cotton candy and snapped selfies from a life-size swing covered with botanicals.

Everything in the line, from a black sequined top with the word “Unbothered” to a crisp, white button-down that says “Slay” in red letters, is under $200.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion not only designed all the clothing in the shop, but also painted all the art on the walls, saying many of the paintings took a month to complete because of their intricate textures.

“I’ve painted for years, probably like ten years now. It’s my outlet,” she said. “I jokingly said I’m going to be at Art Basel one day.”

It’s been an awe-inspiring year for Williams, who said she was “pinching myself, like what the heck am I doing here,” at the Wimbledon final in July after a difficult pregnancy and childbirth.

She said her recent accomplishments on the court helped her persevere through the challenges of being a first-time mom.

“If I can be in the final less than a year (after giving birth), I’m OK to handle my little baby who’s starting to have tantrums. I’m OK to handle this tantrum baby. I can do it. I can do it,” she joked, speaking of her 15-month old daughter.

Last month, GQ magazine named her its 2018 Woman of the Year, featuring an image of Williams wearing a black bodysuit and Chanel belt. The headline crossed out “Men” and some fans took offense.

But Williams, who has been criticized for being too muscular, too strong and too outspoken throughout her career, said it was “really cool” and just another example of women breaking down barriers.

“This is a strictly men’s thing but they broke and said, `Let’s also put a woman on (the cover) because this is a strong woman. She’s just as strong as our men.”‘

Art Basel Miami Beach, the prestigious extension of the annual contemporary art fair in Basel, Switzerland, has spawned dozens of other art shows around Miami over the years, along with star-studded parties days in advance.

Bono, Leonardo DiCaprio and rapper Cardi B, fresh from a split with rapper Offset, were all spotted making the rounds Wednesday night.

Mauresmo gives up France Davis Cup captaincy to help Pouille

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PARIS — Amelie Mauresmo won’t be captaining France’s Davis Cup team after all because the two-time major winner is going back to coaching to help Lucas Pouille.

The French Tennis Federation announced Thursday it was searching for a new captain, who will also look after the national team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

A statement from the federation said Mauresmo gave up the role to focus on her new job with French player Pouille, ranked 32.

The winner of the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006, who retired from playing in 2009, previously coached Andy Murray.

The former top-ranked Mauresmo was announced in June as the successor to Yannick Noah, who is stepping down after France’s 3-1 loss to Croatia in the final last month, having previously guided the team to three Davis Cup titles.