Federer to play in South Africa, where his mother was born

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Roger Federer shakes his head and sounds a bit embarrassed when he’s asked why he’s never played a tennis match in South Africa until now.

It is, after all, where his mother was born.

“I don’t know what took me so long, to be quite honest,” the 20-time Grand Slam champion said. “I said, ‘It’s not possible that I’m on the tour for 20 years, I’ve become the player that I have been, and I’ve never played in South Africa. It’s just not OK.’ I couldn’t live with myself if that happened.”

Federer, a 38-year-old from Switzerland, is planning to finally fill that gap on his rather full resume on Friday, when he and his longtime rival, Rafael Nadal, are scheduled to play an exhibition match in Cape Town.

“You know how it is. Life on tour sometimes is what it is. I couldn’t be more excited now that it’s actually really happening. I hope I’m going to be really fine to play. I believe I am, but we’ll see,” Federer said after losing in the semifinals at the Australian Open, where his movement was hampered by a painful groin muscle.

“Also, that Rafa is willing to do it is exciting, of course, to say the least. I know my parents are very happy, very proud, as well. I’m sure it’s going to be very, very special for me on many levels to play there.”

The hope is to generate more than $1 million for the Roger Federer Foundation, which supports early childhood education in six African countries and Switzerland. Its CEO, Janine Haendel, said the foundation already has reached more than a million children in its history.

“It will be such an emotional moment for him,” Haendel said about the event in South Africa, which also is slated to include an appearance by Bill Gates. “For him, it’s really a dream. It’s been a project for quite some time.”

But this wasn’t just about raising – or making – money, Federer said. He wanted to make sure the event was accessible for spectators, so 10,000 tickets were available for about $11 each. The aim is an attendance of 50,000, which would be the largest crowd on record for a tennis match.

That goes along with part of Federer’s interest in burnishing his legacy – and that of the game he plays.

“Reminding people,” he said, “that tennis is a big-time sport.”

He tries to do that in various ways, such as appearances at the Oscars or the Met Gala or by playing in exhibition matches all over the globe.

“Maybe spread the word, the gospel, a little bit,” Federer said. “Go to places I don’t usually get a chance to play and maybe also bring tennis where it’s not maybe seen as much.”

U.S. sweeps Uzbekistan, advances to group stage in Davis Cup

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The United States swept its way into the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals, getting the winning point in a 4-0 victory over Uzbekistan from the doubles team of Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek.

They beat Sergey Fomin and Sanjar Fayziev 6-2, 6-4, after Tommy Paul and Mackenzie McDonald had won singles matches in Tashkent.

Ram is No. 3 in the ATP Tour doubles rankings and partnered with Joe Salisbury to win the last two U.S. Open men’s doubles titles. But the Americans opted not to use Ram last year in the final round, when they dropped the doubles match in a 2-1 defeat against Italy in the quarterfinals.

Krajicek was making his Davis Cup debut, having reached No. 9 in the doubles rankings late last year.

“They had five great days of preparation, and as anticipated they came out really sharp and got the early break in the first set. And after that it was like two freight trains, there was no stopping them,” interim captain David Nainkin said.

Denis Kudla then beat Amir Milushev 6-4, 6-4.

The winners of the 12 qualifiers being held this weekend advance to the Davis Cup Finals group stage in September, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

In other matches:

France 3, Hungary 2: On indoor hard courts in Tatabanya, Hungary, Ugo Humbert won it for the French with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Fabian Marozsan. Adrian Mannarino had forced the deciding match by beating Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (6), 6-2.

Serbia 4, Norway 0: On indoor hard courts in Oslo, the visitors, playing without top-ranked Novak Djokovic, put away the match when Filip Krajinovic and Nikola Cacic edged Viktor Durasovic and Herman Hoeyeraal 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Hamad Medjedovic then outlasted Durasovic 6-4, 6-7, 10-4.

Sweden 3, Bosnia 1: On indoor hard courts in Stockholm, Mikael Ymer sent the hosts through by beating Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.

Lesia Tsurenko to face Zhu Lin in Thailand Open final

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine reached her first final in four years after the top-seeded Bianca Andreescu retired with a shoulder injury during their semifinal match at the Thailand Open.

Tsurenko, in search of her fifth WTA title, was leading the 2019 U.S. Open champion 7-5, 4-0 when the Canadian stopped playing.

The former world No. 23 fought from 3-5 down to take the first set and reeled off eight straight games before Andreescu retired with a right shoulder problem.

“Bianca is such an amazing player. She is capable of hitting all kinds of shots and gave so much trouble today,” said the 33-year-old Tsurenko, now ranked 136th. “But I was just fighting and I told myself positive things that I can do it. Unfortunately, she had to retire.”

The Ukrainian last lifted a WTA trophy in Acapulco in 2018 and hasn’t been to a final since Brisbane in 2019.

She will face Zhu Lin of China in the final.

“She had some good wins in the Australian Open,” Tsurenko said. “She is one of the dangerous players in this tournament. She is going to give a good fight.”

In the all-Chinese semifinal earlier, Zhu benefited from a barrage of unforced errors from Wang Xinyu and prevailed 6-2, 6-4 for her first WTA final.

The world No. 54 player, who reached the last 16 at the Australian Open in January, relied on her solid baseline game to force errors.

“It was very windy, so I tried to be patient and keep my first serves in,” said the 29-year-old Zhu, who will team up with Wang in the doubles final against Hao-Ching Chan and Fang-Hsien Wu of Taiwan.