Venus, Murray get Wimbledon wild cards; prize money reduced

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LONDON — Former Wimbledon champions Venus Williams and Andy Murray will receive wild cards to compete in the grass-court Grand Slam tournament when it starts in less than two weeks.

The men’s and women’s singles winners will each get $2.4 million, a nearly 28% decrease from 2019, although the overall reduction in prize money is 5.2%, the All England Club also announced.

Organizers highlighted plans to have a full crowd of 15,000 at Centre Court for the men’s and women’s finals next month, a year after the tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The tournament begins June 28.

Five-time champion Williams was runner-up in 2017, when she lost to Garbine Muguruza. Williams, who has slipped out of the top 100, turns 41 on Thursday. The former world No. 1 won Wimbledon in 2000, `01, ’05, `07, and ’08. She lost her opening match at the French Open on June 1.

Murray, a two-time champion at Wimbledon, earned his first victory in more than a year on Tuesday at the Queen’s Club tournament. It was the 34-year-old Murray’s first grass-court match in three years.

The 124th-ranked British player, a former world No. 1, won Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016. The often-injured Murray is trying to come back from two hip surgeries.

Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz was also given a wild card.

The total prize money will be just under $49.5 million, down from $52.1 million in 2019. The biggest decrease (27.7%) is for the men’s and women’s singles winners, who earned $3.3 million last time. The club said factors included crowd constraints, a “substantial investment” in player accommodations and testing programs.

“As in previous years, and particularly in this challenging year for tour players, the focus of distribution has been on supporting players in the early rounds of the tournament,” the club said, citing a 6.7% increase in first-round prize money in singles and a 17% increase in wheelchair and quad wheelchair events.

Under an agreement with the government, capacity will begin at 50%.

As part of a trial COVID-19-status certification, fans must show proof of either vaccinations or a negative lateral flow test. They can also show “their natural immunity” through a positive PCR test in the prior six months.

Face masks will be required while moving around the grounds but not while fans are seated.

Wimbledon’s cancellation in 2020 was the first time since World War II that the tournament hadn’t been played.

Top-ranked Swiatek, Kvitova reach quarters at Agel Open

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – Top-ranked Iga Swiatek advanced to the quarterfinals of the Agel Open after Ajla Tomljanovic retired with an injury during the second set of their second-round match on Wednesday.

The Polish U.S. Open champion was leading 7-5, 2-2 when her Australian opponent retired due to a left knee injury at the indoor hardcourt event in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava.

Swiatek, who also won the French Open in June, will next face American qualifier Catherine McNally or Karolina Muchova.

Home favorite and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova upset second-seeded Paula Badosa of Spain 7-6 (4), 6-4 to set up a quarterfinal against this year’s Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina, who rallied to eliminate Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-5.

Czech players also won the last two first-round matches on the schedule.

Muchova knocked out seventh-seeded Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil 6-4, 6-4 and Barbora Krejcikova ousted American Shelby Rogers 6-2, 6-2 for her sixth straight victory after she won the Tallinn Open on Sunday for her first WTA title of the year.

Djokovic near flawless to reach second round in Astana

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan – Novak Djokovic delivered a near-flawless performance to ease into the second round of the Astana Open with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Cristian Garin on Wednesday as he goes for a third straight tournament title.

Djokovic dropped just six points on his serve and won the last five games to seal the win in just 62 minutes.

Djokovic is coming off a victory in Tel Aviv last week and – aside from a match at the Laver Cup – the Wimbledon champion hasn’t lost since the French Open quarterfinals.

“From the start to the end, (it was) a great performance,” Djokovic said. “Playing in a new tournament, different conditions, the first match is never easy. Obviously you are looking to see how you are going to adapt, but I did it perfectly, really, played as well as I can.”

Djokovic will next play Botic van de Zandschulp.

Top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz lost in the opening round on Tuesday in his first match since winning the U.S. Open title to capture the No. 1 spot.

Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the quarterfinals by beating 19-year-old Luca Nardi of Italy 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3). Nardi was playing just his fifth tour-level main-draw match and impressed the third-seeded Greek, who didn’t earn a single break point.

“He’s a player that can play very well in the future,” Tsitsipas said. “There weren’t any holes. I believe today he was able to sustain that level from the beginning to end, and that was extremely impressive.”

Roberto Bautista Agut also reached the quarterfinals as he followed up his first-round upset of Felix Auger-Aliassime by beating Pavel Kotov 6-1, 7-6 (5).

Marin Cilic, who lost the Tel Aviv final to Djokovic, had to come from behind to beat Oscar Otte 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the first round to set up a round-of-16 match against Karen Khachanov.