AP

Serena welcomes rule change on players back from pregnancy

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Serena Williams has welcomed the extra protection given to new mothers when they return to the women’s tennis tour.

“It’s great,” the 23-time Grand Slam champion said on Thursday in quotes published by BBC Sport. “Women that are younger can go out there and have kids and not have to worry about it, and not have to wait until the twilight of their years to have children.”

The WTA rule changes were agreed on this month and are meant to ensure players are not penalized after they return from pregnancy or an injury that causes a long absence.

The changes were prompted in part by the experiences of former No. 1 players Williams and Victoria Azarenka, both of whom returned to competition after giving birth.

The WTA announced that players returning to the tour may use a special ranking for up to three years after the birth of a child, and the exemption can be used for seedings at big events.

“Having gone through the experience myself really opened my eyes. Would I have done it sooner had there been different rule changes? I don’t know,” Williams said in Abu Dhabi ahead of an exhibition tournament where she played her sister Venus in a one-off match.

“But now there is an opportunity, people don’t have to ask that question.”

Williams was unseeded at the French Open in her first major since the birth of her daughter — despite having won the previous major she played, the 2017 Australian Open. Williams was seeded 25th at Wimbledon and 17th at the U.S. Open, and she reached the finals and lost at both of those majors.

Murray completes fairytale return, Lopez claims 2 titles

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LONDON (AP) Andy Murray completed a fairytale return from hip surgery by winning the Queen’s Club doubles title with Feliciano Lopez, who ended Sunday with two titles after earlier winning the singles title as well.

The Spaniard is the first man to win both titles at the grass-court tournament in London since Mark Philippoussis in 1997.

Murray spent five months away from the sport until this week. He and Lopez defeated Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury 7-6 (6), 5-7, 10-5 in the doubles final – not long after Lopez outlasted Gilles Simon 6-2, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (2) in the singles.

Murray capped a remarkable week 146 days after undergoing what he hopes was career-saving hip surgery. In January he had said he was planning to retire after Wimbledon because of the severe pain he felt on a daily basis.

The three-time Grand Slam champion is approaching Wimbledon, which starts July 1, full of confidence after playing freely and without pain as he secured his first doubles title since winning with his brother Jamie Murray in Tokyo in 2011. Murray won’t play singles at Wimbledon but has already confirmed that Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert will partner him in the men’s doubles.

Murray and Lopez hadn’t played together in a tournament before beating top-seeded Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah on Thursday. They completed their darkness-delayed quarterfinal win over British duo Daniel Evans and Ken Skupski on Saturday, right before their semifinal win over Henri Kontinen and John Peers.

Lopez, who had been forced to play in three matches on Saturday including his singles semifinal, played almost 5 hours of tennis altogether on Sunday. He reaffirmed his status as the tournament’s oldest winner at age 37 with the singles title.

The veteran Spaniard was already its oldest winner when he took the title in 2017.

Lopez was playing his first final since defeating Marin Cilic in the decider two years ago and was made to work hard by the 34-year-old Simon.

Lopez saved all but one of the break points he faced and converted three of his 13 opportunities to prevail in 2 hours, 49 minutes. Lopez had won five of their previous seven meetings and all four on grass.

Lopez is the first wild card to claim the title since Pete Sampras defeated Tim Henman to win in 1999. He would have been the oldest player to win a tour-level title since the 43-year-old Ken Rosewall won the Hong Kong Grand Prix final in 1977, but Roger Federer beat him to that accolade after winning his 10th Halle Open title earlier Sunday. Federer is a month older than Lopez.

Barty beats Goerges in Birmingham final to take No. 1 spot

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BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) Ashleigh Barty defeated Julia Goerges 6-3, 7-5 to win the Birmingham Classic title on Sunday, a victory that ensures the Australian will be No. 1 in the rankings on Monday.

The 23-year-old Barty, who lost the final to Petra Kvitova in 2017, did not drop a set all week at the grass-court tournament, and she fought back from being 4-5 down in the second set to beat the German in 1 hour, 28 minutes.

Goerges fought back tears as she congratulated her friend on taking top spot in the rankings ahead of Wimbledon, which starts July 1.

French Open champion Barty, currently ranked No. 2, will take over from Naomi Osaka, who lost 6-2, 6-3 loss to Yulia Putintseva in the second round on Thursday.

Barty is only the second Australian woman to hold the top spot after Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1976.

Barty, who extended her winning streak to 11 matches, and Goerges reached the semifinals in doubles together before Barty withdrew from their semifinal with a right arm injury.