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Davis Cup organizers downplay criticism from French players

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MADRID — Despite renewed complaints from France’s players about the upcoming changes to the Davis Cup, the organizers of the revamped tennis tournament are adamant that everything will soon be better.

Javier Alonso, the CEO of the company behind the new competition, spoke to The Associated Press two days after France’s Davis Cup team lashed out at the changes being made to the traditional tournament. Lucas Pouille even said he would boycott the competition.

“There are several reasons why there is a negative perception in France,” Alonso said. “If France hadn’t made it to the finals these last few years, the perception there would be different.

“France also is a particular case because the French federation is richer, having a Grand Slam, a Masters (event) and many other tournaments. Other federations are not like that. There are some countries that don’t want to host matches because they would lose money if they did.”

France hosted this year’s final, losing to Croatia 3-1. It was the team’s second straight final appearance, and third in five years.

The new format will be an 18-team tournament played over a week in a single venue, with the first two editions being hosted by Madrid on an indoor hard court at the Magic Box arena, which already hosts the Madrid Masters.

The revamped competition was developed in a partnership between the International Tennis Federation and Kosmos, the investment group founded by Barcelona defender Gerard Pique. The ITF says the changes will help increase revenue for the national federations.

Besides the French, others have also complained about the new format. Among those showing opposition was top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who said the Davis Cup would conflict with the ATP Cup, a newly created team competition. Roger Federer has said he does not intend to play in the new Davis Cup event, but Rafael Nadal has already confirmed his presence.

Alonso said he was not too concerned about top players not committing to the new competition.

“I’m not worried, but we are working to try to show that these changes were needed and that it will be good for the players to come to Madrid and play,” he said. “First, we need to know which teams will qualify, then we can start talking to the players to try to convince them. Right now we have a lot of people talking and they may not even qualify.”

Organizers said the new format is supposed to alleviate the calendar by decreasing the number of dates allocated to the Davis Cup, which currently is played over four weekends throughout the year. The new event would be decided in November after a qualification round in February.

“What we are doing is trying to solve a point of conflict for the players,” Alonso said. “We have taken three to four weeks from the calendar.”

Alonso also said plans to include the women’s Fed Cup in the new format would be considered in a second phase of the project.

He said the third edition of the men’s tournament is expected to be played in the United States.

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.