Venus Williams upsets Kiki Bertens in Ohio; Serena withdraws

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MASON, Ohio — Going small paid off big for Venus Williams.

Tuesday didn’t go as well for sister Serena.

On a day when back problems forced the younger Williams to withdraw before her second-round match, Venus Williams reached the third round of the Western & Southern Open with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (4) upset of defending champion Kiki Bertens. Her key? Not going for it.

“I just tried not to go too big, because I can go so big and I have a lot of power and it’s not always easy to control it,” the 39-year-old Williams said. “So I’m trying to play smart instead of going hog wild, which is extremely easy to do.”

Hours before her match was scheduled to begin, Serena Williams withdrew, citing the same back injury that forced her to retire from the Rogers Cup final on Sunday in Toronto. The injury raises questions about Serena’s fitness ahead of the U.S. Open, which starts Aug. 26.

“I came to Mason on Sunday and have tried everything to be ready to play tonight, and was still hopeful after my practice this morning, but unfortunately, my back is still not right, and I know I should not take to the court,” Serena, winner of 23 Grand Slam titles and a two-time champion at Cincinnati, said in a statement.

Venus, a seven-time Grand Slam champion, is the oldest woman in the draw. She has made her deepest Cincinnati run since reaching the 2012 semifinals.

“It was just a second round, though,” Venus said. “For me, it’s just round-by-round. I have a third round to play. I’m ready for the next round.”

Bertens, seeded fifth, rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 5-2 in the third set to force a tiebreaker. The 2-hour, 17-minute match ended when she sailed a forehand wide.

“I didn’t do the things I was doing well coming back – playing aggressive, going for my shots,” Bertens said about the tiebreaker. “I didn’t do that anymore in the tiebreak, so there she could play her game again, which she did pretty good, I would say.”

On a star-studded day that was scheduled to include Serena and Roger Federer in the evening session, top-seeded and defending champion Novak Djokovic cruised into the third round with a 7-5, 6-1 win over wild card Sam Querrey.

Federer, the third seed who was playing for the first time since Wimbledon, needed 61 minutes – not including a 61-minute rain delay – to defeat Juan Ignacio Londerom 6-3, 6-4.

Djokovic felt a little rusty in his first match since his epic Wimbledon final triumph over Federer on July 14.

“It was kind of a nervous start,” he said. “I hadn’t played in weeks. It took time to adjust. It was a tricky match against a qualify opponent. He’s a big hitter. I was happy to be tested.”

Two-time Grand Slam-champion Petra Kvitova didn’t weather the rain delay as well as Federer. The sixth seed lost to Maria Sakkari 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

Counting Serena Williams, Kvitova was one of six seeded women to withdraw or be eliminated on Tuesday in this U.S. Open tuneup. Thirteenth-seeded Angelique Kerber was knocked out by unseeded Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (7), 6-2, and 15th-seeded Qiang Wang lost to Su-Wei Hsieh 6-3, 6-4.

Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, who won Cincinnati in 2013, reached the second round after 12th-seeded Belinda Bencic retired because of an injured left foot while trailing 6-4, 1-0.

Madison Keys, the 16th seed, pulled out a 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over two-time Grand Slam winner and 2017 Cincinnati champion Garbine Muguruza.

On the men’s side, Stan Wawrinka advanced with a 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over Grigor Dimitrov, and fourth-seeded Dominic Thiem withdrew because of illness.

In a match that lasted 2 hours, 34 minutes, Dimitrov fought off two match points in the eighth game of the third set and forced a tiebreaker. Wawrinka closed out the match with an ace.

Wawrinka next faces qualifier Andrey Rublev, who advanced with a 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-2 victory over 15th-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Daniil Medvedev, the ninth seed and runner-up to Rafael Nadal at last week’s Rogers Cup in Montreal, beat Kyle Edmund 6-2, 7-5.

French players get life bans for fixing

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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

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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.