Serena Williams returning after ‘very intense’ training

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ROME — Forget all that speculation about Serena Williams considering retirement after her emotional hand-to-heart gesture upon her Australian Open exit three months ago.

While Williams has not played since losing to Naomi Osaka in the Melbourne semifinals in February, she has been practicing “very intensely” on clay courts and is ready to “start fresh” in her pursuit of Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles.

Preparing to return at this week’s Italian Open to gear up for Roland Garros later this month, Williams on Monday detailed her recent training regimen.

There was a block of time on clay courts back home in the United States followed by 2+ weeks on the red dirt at the French academy run by her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.

“So we had an intense several weeks of training – very intense,” Williams said. “I feel good. … I’m going to have some good matches here hopefully, and then I will be at another Grand Slam, which always makes me excited. So I think either way I’ll be ready.”

The 39-year-old Williams, who only needs one more Grand Slam title to match Court’s record, added that her fans shouldn’t read too much into the lack of tennis information she shares on social media.

“I don’t do a lot of sport content, so I do feel like people are wondering if I’m playing, and I have to say I always am, you just don’t see it,” she said. “I don’t show what I do. I don’t always show my cards.”

Williams, a four-time champion in Rome, will face either French Open semifinalist Nadia Podoroska or German qualifier Laura Siegemund in her opening match at the Foro Italico. She’s in the same quarter of the draw as Osaka and has a first-round bye.

“It’s good to start fresh but it’s also hard to start fresh,” Williams said.

Williams was also asked if she will play at the Tokyo Olympics if coronavirus protocols mean she can’t bring her 3-year-old daughter into Japan.

“I haven’t spent 24 hours without her, so that kind of answers the question itself,” Williams said. “We’re best friends.

“I haven’t really thought much about Tokyo, because it was supposed to be last year and now it’s this year, and then there is this pandemic and there is so much to think about,” she added. “Then there is the Grand Slams. It’s just a lot. So I have really been taking it one day at a time to a fault, and I definitely need to figure out my next moves.”

Unseeded Parks beats top-seeded Garcia for her 1st title

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LYON, France — Unseeded American Alycia Parks secured a stunning 7-6 (7), 7-5 upset win over WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in the Open Metropole de Lyon final to clinch her first career title.

“I think France has a special part in my heart right now,” Parks said. “I’ll be back next year.”

The 22-year-old Parks, who is ranked 79th, had 15 aces and saved all four break points against the top-seeded Garcia.

Parks secured the only break of a tight contest to win the match.

The fifth-ranked Garcia, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year, was seeking a 12th career title.

“Congrats on a great tournament,” Garcia told Parks in English. “If you keep playing like this for sure you’re going to keep going up (the rankings).”

Parks has a career-best ranking of 75th.

The 29-year-old Garcia, who grew up in Lyon, took time to thank her home crowd – this time in French.

“It means a lot to play here, thanks for being here,” Garcia said. “You supported me from the first point to the last. Thanks for all your encouragement.”

Zhu beats Tsurenko to win Thailand Open

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Zhu Lin of China won her maiden career title after beating Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the Thailand Open.

In a match lasting one hour and 45 minutes, both players exchanged nail-biting baseline rallies before Zhu finally found a way past her determined opponent.

The 29-year-old Chinese player managed a break to go up 5-3 in the first set. Although she was broken to love in the following game, Zhu returned the favor straight back, also to love, to take the opening set in 46 minutes.

The second saw players trade breaks with Zhu eventually securing her first match point at 5-3. She sprayed a shot wide to miss the chance but capitalized on her third in the 10th game with a backhand winner.

“I’m so happy to finally win my first tour title. All the hard work finally paid off,” said the No. 54-ranked Zhu, who will crack the top 50 when the new WTA rankings are updated.

Zhu has started the season strongly, reaching the quarter-finals in Auckland and the last 16 at the Australian Open.

The victory also allowed Zhu to avenge her loss to the Ukrainian at the WTA Dubai Championships back in 2019.

Despite the loss, the No. 136-ranked Tsurenko, 33, will return to the top 100.