Strong start, finish lift Serena past Bouchard in Australia

AP Photo
0 Comments

MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams figured it was important to get off to a strong start against Eugenie Bouchard in the Australian Open’s second round Thursday.

“Serena,” she said she told herself beforehand, “you’ve got to come out hot; you’ve got to come out firing.”

No problem. Seeking her eighth title at Melbourne Park and 24th Grand Slam singles trophy overall, Williams opened as well as can be, and closed rather well, too, grabbing 13 of the initial 17 points, and 20 of the closing 24, to put together a 6-2, 6-2 victory over 2014 Wimbledon runner-up Bouchard.

“She has to be the favorite to win this tournament,” Bouchard said. “It was tough to play against her. I always felt rushed, a bit on the back foot. She just has so much power.”

The evening did not begin well for Bouchard. Not well at all.

The Canadian player, who has been ranked as high as No. 5 and is currently No. 79, won the coin toss and chose to serve. On the very first point, Bouchard offered up an 86 mph (138 kph) second serve that Williams jumped all over, ripping a blink-and-you-missed-it backhand return that landed just wide.

So, yes, Bouchard won that point, but that sequence led her into trying to do a tad too much on second serves, because she ended the game with consecutive double-faults to get broken right away.

That was part of a run in which Williams raced to a 3-0, double-break lead after less than 10 minutes.

“Sometimes I would hit even good first serves and it was right at my feet at the baseline. That’s what she does well,” Bouchard said. “When she’s blasting returns, it’s almost intimidating.”

Bouchard began the second set in better shape, even hitting one big backhand cross-court winner that Williams saluted by clapping her racket and exclaiming, “Good shot!”

Ahead 2-1, Bouchard got to love-30 on Williams’ serve and seemed – maybe, just maybe – on the verge of making things interesting. That, though, was when Williams regained control, taking eight points in a row to hold there, then break at love, on the way to claiming the last five games.

On Saturday, the 37-year-old Williams will face Dayana Yastremska, an 18-year-old from Ukraine who is ranked 59th and eliminated No. 23 seed Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to get to the third round of a major for the first time.

Yastremska was born in 2000, the year after Williams won her first Grand Slam title.

What goes through Williams’ mind when she faces opponents so much younger than she is?

“Well,” she replied, “I think, `God, Serena, are you still out here on the tour, seriously?”‘

French players get life bans for fixing

Getty Images
0 Comments

LONDON — Two low-ranked French players were banned from the sport for life after being found guilty of match-fixing by a hearing officer.

Jules Okala, a 25-year-old with a career-best ATP ranking of No. 338, and Mick Lescure, a 29-year-old with a top ranking of No. 487, “admitted multiple charges,” the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Neither player is allowed to compete at – or even attend – any sanctioned event again.

Okala was found guilty of seven match-fixing charges and fined $15,000 in addition to the permanent suspension. Lescure was found guilty of eight charges and fined $40,000 on top of the ban.

The punishments come after both players were involved in law enforcement investigations in France and Belgium, according to the sport’s integrity agency.

Ash Barty wins Australia’s top sports award for second time

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

MELBOURNE, Australia — Ash Barty’s Australian Open singles title in January was enough to ensure the former top-ranked player won Australia’s most prestigious annual sports award — despite retiring from the game less than two months later.

Barty has been given The Don Award, named after its most accomplished and famous cricketer Don Bradman.

Barty shocked the tennis world in March when she announced her retirement at the age of 25. The three-time major winner was the No. 1-ranked female player at the time of her retirement decision.

The Sport Australia Hall of Fame’s Don Award is given to an athlete or a team “which has provided the most inspiration to the country through performance and example in the past year.”

Barty (2019, 2022) joins Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sally Pearson (2012, 2014) and Olympic champion pole vaulter Steve Hooker (2008, 2009) as a multiple winner of the award.

Barty said she had decided before the Australian Open started that it would be her last major tournament.

“This year was certainly my most enjoyable Australian Open . . . because it felt free,” Barty said in a television interview. “I played without consequence, I played like a little kid. In my eyes, there was no pressure. It was just about me trying to redeem myself, in a way, and playing how I’d always wanted to play – go out there and play like the kid that fell in love with sport.”

Barty said she has no plans to return to tennis.

“In my mind there was never going to be a perfect ending, but it was my perfect ending,” Barty said of her retirement. “It was never about finishing on a win or on a really high emotional feeling. It was just about collectively, I felt it was right.

“Now (that decision) has led to nine months of just an incredible life off the court. It’s been amazing.”

Barty married her long-time partner Garry Kissick in late July. She also golfs frequently and is reported to be playing off a handicap of low single figures.