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Underarm serves return to Paris, 30 years after Chang’s shot

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PARIS (AP) Thirty years after Michael Chang hit the most famous underarm serve in history at the French Open, that little bit of strategy – frowned upon by some – is making its way back into tennis, it seems.

Alexander Bublik served that way three times against 2018 runner-up Dominic Thiem in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday. And Bublik won two of those points.

Earlier this year, Nick Kyrgios drew a lot of attention and managed to annoy Rafael Nadal by employing the tactic during their match at Acapulco, Mexico.

Here’s what Thiem and Nadal have in common: Both stand waaaaaay back to return serves, making them particularly vulnerable to softly struck underarm serves that are effectively drop shots.

Nadal might have been mad, but Thiem appreciated the strategy.

“To be honest, it’s a good choice against players like us who are that far behind the baseline,” Thiem said after beating Bublik in four sets. “There is nothing bad about it. I was prepared for that.”

Bublik, who is known for his wide variety of shots, attempted his first underarm serve while trailing 4-1 in the first set.

After missing a first serve, he noticed that Thiem backed up almost all the way to the wall behind the baseline. Bublik bounced the ball twice, as usual, but then instead of tossing the ball into the air for a standard, overhead serve, he quickly just let it drop from his hand and hit it delicately down the middle.

The ball landed on a line and, with so little force behind it, quickly bounced back toward the clay. Thiem had to rush forward to reply, opening up plenty of space for Bublik to produce a backhand, cross-court passing shot.

It was a similar result to what a cramping 17-year-old Chang achieved in the final set of a fourth-round win over Ivan Lendl in 1989 en route to becoming the youngest male Grand Slam champion in tennis history.

The 91st-ranked Bublik won another point with an underarm serve later in the match against Thiem. But when Bublik tried it a third time, Thiem had caught on and replied with a perfect drop-shot winner.

“At least he didn’t hit … an ace,” Thiem said. “Some players do it well – him, Kyrgios. … Against these guys, you have to be prepared to sometimes … sprint when you return.”

While it wasn’t quite the raucous reception that Chang’s effort received, the spectators inside Court Philippe Chatrier greeted Bublik’s shot selection with mild applause.

Thiem will next face Pablo Cuevas, who once used an underarm serve at a tournament after he had double-faulted 13 times and needed to save a match point.

“It was a second serve, and I didn’t want to do another double-fault,” Cuevas said. “More than thinking about winning the point, I thought, `I don’t want to miss the serve,’ and so I did an underarm serve. And I ended up winning the match.”

Might another underarm serve be in order against Thiem in the French Open’s third round?

“Better not announce it,” Cuevas said. “But no, I prefer that the normal serve works better.”

Kvitova to decide this week whether to play at Wimbledon

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PRAGUE — Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova says she will decide later this week if she’s ready to play at the All England Club.

The 29-year-old Czech player injured her left forearm during training in Paris ahead of the French Open and has not played since. The injury prevented her from defending her title at the Birmingham Classic this week.

Kvitova wrote on Twitter that she was “Happy to tell you that my arm is improving and I just hit some balls on the beautiful grass for the first time.

The sixth-ranked Kvitova, who won the Wimbledon title in 2011 and 2014, reached the Australian Open final and won tournaments in Sydney and Stuttgart this year.

Anna Tatishvili appeals $50,000 French Open fine

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LONDON — American tennis player Anna Tatishvili has appealed her fine of about $50,000 for what the Grand Slam Board ruled was a violation of its first-round performance rule at the French Open last month.

Tatishvili was docked a first-round loser’s full prize money after losing to 29th-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece 6-0, 6-1 in Paris.

It was Tatishvili’s first competition since October 2017 because of an ankle injury. She has been ranked as high as 50th and is currently outside the top 700 because of her long absence from the tour, but used a special ranking to make the field at Roland Garros.

The Grand Slam Board introduced the performance rule before the 2018 season. The aim is to deter players who enter tournaments while injured from retiring during first-round matches to collect prize money. Players can be fined their first-round check if they do not “perform to a professional standard.”

Injured players who withdraw before the tournament – allowing someone who lost in qualifying to get into the draw – receive half the first-round prize money.