U.S. Davis Cup players try to stay out of Serena controversy

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ZADAR, Croatia – Serena Williams isn’t getting much support from the men on the United States’ Davis Cup team over her insinuation that sexism played a role in the code violations she received during the U.S. Open final.

Then again, Steve Johnson, Mike Bryan and Ryan Harrison are trying their best to stay out of the debate since Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire who penalized Williams, is also handling their best-of-five semifinal series against Croatia this weekend.

U.S. captain Jim Courier tells The Associated Press “it’s been polarized and in some ways politicized. But we have no doubt that Carlos was just enforcing the rules as he sees them.”

USTA president and CEO Katrina Adams was overheard apologizing to Ramos on the sidelines of Thursday’s draw ceremony.

Williams was given three code violations by Ramos in the straight-set loss to Naomi Osaka on Saturday, and Williams and critics inside and outside of tennis argued that she wasn’t treated the same as some male players.

Johnson says “I don’t want this to come out the wrong way, but he enforced rules that have been enforced on me over the years.”

Serena to face Osaka in first round of Miami Open

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — It has never happened before: an opening-round match pitting a player who just won her first tennis title against a 23-time Grand Slam champion.

Naomi Osaka, a rising star who won Indian Wells on Sunday, will face Serena Williams in the first round of the Miami Open on Wednesday. It’s a freakishly difficult way for both players to start a tournament.

“The luck of the draw,” tournament director James Blake said Monday. “It’s great in one sense – we have an unbelievable blockbuster match for Wednesday. But one of them is going to be gone unfortunately by Thursday.”

The marquee matchup at the outset of the two-week tournament came about because neither player is seeded. Osaka is ranked a career-best No. 22, while Williams is ranked No. 491 after becoming a mother and returning to the tour at Indian Wells following a layoff of more than a year.

Osaka, a 20-year-old slugger from Japan, earned the biggest victory her career when she beat Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-2 in the Indian Wells final. Along with the title she won $1.3 million, nearly doubling her career earnings.

Serena lost in the third round at Indian Wells to her sister Venus. An eight-time Key Biscayne champion, Serena enters the tournament as a wild card and has never faced Osaka.

“We’ll see a lot of heavy hitting,” Blake said. “Both of them hit the ball so big. There are a lot of story lines. How is Naomi going to react to winning her first big title? There’s the cross-country flight. Is she going to be nervous playing Serena now that expectations are higher?”

Osaka lost just one set at Indian Wells and beat Maria Sharapova and top-ranked Simona Halep en route to the title.

“But anyone who is counting Serena out,” Blake said, “is doing so at their peril.”

 

Chris Evert: Serena will soon pass Margaret Court’s record

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NEW YORK — Chris Evert expects new mom Serena Williams will eclipse the Grand Slam record of 24 singles titles, maybe even this season.

The former No. 1 tennis player also says the name of current record-holder Margaret Court should remain on the arena at the Australian Open despite her controversial views on LGBT rights.

“I don’t agree with Margaret and her thinking,” said the ESPN analyst and 18-time Grand Slam singles champion. “I think it honors her tennis career.”

Williams restarts her tennis career on the WTA tour next week with 23 major titles. She’ll play an exhibition match Monday night at Madison Square Garden in New York, then compete at Indian Wells, California, in her first tour event in more than a year.

Williams dealt with serious health issues after the birth of her first child in September and missed the first major in January.

But the 36-year-old Williams has been winning majors at a swift clip. Williams passed Evert and Martina Navratilova’s 18 at the 2015 Australian Open, and won four more majors in the next three years.

Evert thinks Williams will win at least one Grand Slam title this season.

“I just cannot bet against her,” she said in a recent phone interview with The Associated Press. “I’d be surprised if she won two; I would bet on her to win one.”

Evert knows a bit about records. Raised in a tennis family and taught by her father Jimmy in Florida, she turned pro at 17 in 1972 and promptly earned the No. 1 ranking two years later after winning the French Open and Wimbledon.

She won a record seven French Opens and reached the semifinals or better in 52 of 56 majors. The tennis Hall of Famer won 157 singles and 32 doubles titles in an 18-year career, which spanned the eras of Billie Jean King, Navratilova and Steffi Graf.

Her career winning percentage (90 percent) is better than top-ranked Roger Federer (82 percent). It remains the highest for men or women since the Open era of professional tennis began in 1968.

Here are a few more thoughts from the 63-year-old Evert, the publisher of Tennis magazine and mother of three adult sons.

ON SERENA

Evert says Serena’s best chance of winning more majors rests on the grass of Wimbledon.

“Who knows how she’ll come out of the starting gate,” she said. “Wimbledon, that would be her best shot because that favors power, rewards power and the rallies aren’t long. She’s got the big serve. The U.S. Open is going to be tough because it’s on a hard court, it’s hot. She’ll have to be moving well and be very, very fit.”

Incorporating tennis and family becomes the new challenge after marrying Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and giving birth to baby Olympia. He recently bought four billboards along the highway to Indian Wells that say “Greatest Momma Of All Time.”

“When you have a child, that’s an emotional component that you’ve never experienced before,” Evert said. “I keep saying this – whenever anybody doubts Serena, she thrives. That gives her more motivation, more incentive and she always comes out the winner.”

ON COURT

Court won 24 major singles titles from 1960-77, including 11 at the Australian Open when most players didn’t venture Down Under. She won a combined record of 64 Grand Slam singles and doubles titles.

Court became an ordained Pentecostal minister in 1991 and has been a constant critic of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage in Australia. After a national referendum, the Australian Parliament voted overwhelmingly to legalize gay marriage in December.

Over the years, Court has singled out gay Australian players and Navratilova, a rival and friend of Evert. Court’s remarks last year about transgender youth upset King, who said at the recent Australian Open that Court’s name should be removed from the arena . Navratilova wrote an open letter suggesting it be renamed for Australian tennis great Evonne Goolagong.

Evert says she disagrees with Court’s opinions and believes in freedom of speech. “She goes by the bible and she’s just very rigid in that.”

ON ACADEMY

Evert still hits the courts almost daily at her tennis academy in Boca Raton, Florida. Madison Keys, who reached the U.S. Open final last year, and Lauren Davis, who had triple-match point on top-ranked Simona Halep at the Australian Open, came through her academy.

Evert’s proud “100 percent of the kids” who don’t turn pro earn a college tennis scholarship.

“That’s like winning Wimbledon for these kids,” she said. “That’s a wonderful goal. It’s really just fun to mentor these kids and try to help them reach their goals and their dreams.”

Known for her two-handed backhand and returning nearly every ball, Evert recently partnered with Osteo Bi-Flex to help keep up with the 14-year-olds on her practice courts.

ON ROGER/VENUS

At 36, Federer recently won the Australian Open and regained the No. 1 ranking . Evert marvels at his “frame of mind” and relatively injury-free career.

“He’s not a grinder like (Rafa) Nadal. Roger wins a lot of free points off his serve, he has shorter rallies, he glides to the ball, he doesn’t muscle anything. It’s all about timing and finesse with him.

“He’s so endearing. When he cried (after the win), I think the whole world cried along with him. He shows his emotion … that’s why people love him so much.”

Evert isn’t concerned 37-year-old Venus Williams joined several American women making early exits at the Australian Open.

“She had a big year last year – got to the finals of two majors, got to the WTA Finals. You can understand why maybe her body didn’t recover as quickly. She can still have a great year.”