Serena beats Venus in 31st meeting

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) There was zero interaction between the two, not even a furtive glance, when Venus Williams walked past Serena Williams in the Top Seed Open’s warmup area Thursday before their 31st matchup as pros.

Moments later, both headed to the court, each wearing a face covering – Serena sporting a leopard print design, Venus with a light blue medical mask – and were greeted not by the roars of an appreciative audience but basically by silence. Zero fanfare because, well, there are zero fans at the first tennis tournament in the U.S. since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

When the match began, though, everything seemed normal: hard hitting, big serving. Serena came back and won the last four games to beat her older sister, Venus, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a second-round match – 22 1/2 years after the first between the two.

Folks could be seen laying on the ground to peek through the opening at the bottom of the fence at the back of the court.

“It definitely felt more relaxed than the stadium at Wimbledon or at the U.S. Open,” said Serena, who now leads the all-in-the-family series 19-12. “But it still is not like the practice courts.”

When it ended, the siblings simply tapped rackets. No handshake or hug, owing to rules about social distancing. Another sign of the times: There was a “Black Lives Matter” stencil on the wall behind the baseline.

It was a back-and-forth contest, with each woman appearing to move out in front until the other pulled even. Make no mistake: The competitive juices were flowing. In the first set, Serena questioned an overrule by the chair umpire that granted Venus an ace.

“This was a real match with real points and real consequences,” said Venus, who owns seven Grand Slam singles titles, 16 fewer than Serena’s 23.

Serena broke right away and led 2-0, but Venus responded by grabbing five games in a row on the way to taking the opening set. Then Serena regrouped to win the second.

With the temperature at 90 degrees and high humidity, the heat rule was in effect, so there was a 10-minute break after the second set. Venus took advantage, leaving the court, but Serena stayed put.

In the third, Venus went ahead 4-2 thanks to a three-game run. Naturally, Serena came back, earning the break for a 5-4 lead with the help of one of Venus’ 11 double-faults and closing it with a running, down-the-line backhand from wide of the doubles alley that capped a 12-stroke exchange.

“I just ran out of time there, is kind of what it felt like,” Venus said.

Venus is 40, and Serena turns 39 next month, making their combined age the highest in a WTA match since 2004, when Martina Navratilova, 47, played Amy Frazier, 31.

The top-seeded Serena next faces American wild-card entry Shelby Rogers, a 6-2, 7-5 winner over Canadian qualifier Leylah Fernandez.

Jil Teichmann advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over No. 5 seed Yulia Putintseva. Teichmann now plays CiCi Bellis, who eliminated Jessica Pegula 6-3, 6-2.

Tennis star Kyrgios to fight charge on mental health grounds

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CANBERRA, Australia – Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios will apply to have an assault charge dismissed on mental health grounds, his lawyer told an Australian court on Tuesday.

Lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith appeared on behalf of Kyrgios in a court in the tennis star’s hometown of Canberra and asked for an adjournment so forensic mental health reports could be prepared.

Magistrate Glenn Theakston adjourned the case until Feb. 3, when Kyrgios’ lawyers are expected to apply to have the charge dismissed under a section of the local crimes law.

The 27-year-old Australian tennis star will appear in court in person on that date for the first time since he was charged by police by summons in July.

The law gives magistrates the power to dismiss a charge if they are satisfied an accused person is mentally impaired, and dealing with an allegation in that way would benefit the community and the defendant.

The common assault charge, which has a potential maximum sentence of two years in prison, relates to an incident in January 2021 that was reported to local police last December.

The charge reportedly relates to an incident involving his former girlfriend.

Kukulies-Smith told the court his client’s mental health history since 2015 made the application appropriate, citing a number of public statements made by Kyrgios.

In February, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense last month to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

Theakston questioned whether Kyrgios would need to appear in court for the February hearing, but Kukulies-Smith said his client wanted to attend.

Kyrgios was scheduled to play at the Japan Open later Tuesday against Tseng Chun-hsin of Taiwan.

Speaking in Tokyo before his matter returned to court, Kyrgios said it was “not difficult at all” to focus on tennis despite the pending charge.

“There’s only so much I can control and I’m taking all the steps and dealing with that off the court,” he told reporters. “I can only do what I can and I’m here in Tokyo and just trying to play some good tennis, continue that momentum and just try to do my job.”

Wimbledon champ Rybakova beats Keys in Ostrava opener

Agel Open Ostrava - Day One
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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakova came from a set down to defeat Madison Keys 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round of the Agel Open on Monday.

Rybakova had lost to Keys this year at the French Open and Cincinnati.

In other first-round matches in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava, Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia defeated Zhang Shuai of China 6-3, 6-3, and local hope Petra Kvitova overcame American Bernanda Pera 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

Fresh from her second title of the year in Seoul last month, Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia knocked out former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.