Fed Cup champs open in Asheville, NC

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The U.S. Fed Cup team players have been champions for barely 48 hours.

And already they have to think about doing it all over again.

The USTA announced Tuesday that the Americans’ first-round tie against the Netherlands will take place in Asheville, NC on Feb. 10 and 11.

The US Cellular Center, which will host the tie, is a multi-purpose arena that seats about 7,600.

It will be the first time for Fed Cup in North Carolina since they played in Charlotte, back in 2002.

One of the changes made by the International Tennis Federation at its annual general meeting last August was that the finalists would automatically get home-court advantage for their first round the following year.

It’s a tidbit, but it’s better than holding the Cup and having to travel somewhere halfway around the globe after the Australian Open.

The presale for USTA members began Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. and ends Thursday. Click here to if you’re a USTA member and want to get in on that.

General tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m.

Venus, Stephens fly flag in double QF win

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NEW YORK – Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens did their part.

You’re up, Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys.

The 37-year-old Williams and the 24-year-old Stephens both survived third-set tiebreak wins by near-identical scores Tuesday at the US Open.

The fact that both advanced to the women’s singles semifinals, and will play each other, guarantees there will be at least one American woman in Saturday’s final.

In the day session, Stephens continued her wondrous month of winning with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (4) victory over No. 16 seed Anastasija Sevastova. It is a run that has taken her from outside the top 900 in July to just outside the top 30 with her effort here.

She’s already almost all the way back to where she was before a foot injury suffered last summer required surgery in January. 

“A month ago, before I started winning a lot of matches, I was really worried, about my protected ranking, not having enough  tournaments, not being able to play,” Stephens said during her on-court interview. “Once I realized my life is good, I play tennis, I have fun every day, that relieved a lot of stress. I was able to play loose, play my game and – Bam! Semifinals.”

Stephens calm, cool and eager

StephensThe tennis during her win over Sevastova of Latvia wasn’t necessarily the best. But it was very good at times.

And the drama was topnotch as Stephens looked to be running out of energy in the middle of the second set.

But she fought. Calm-looking on the outside, there was nothing of the pre-absence Stephens who sometimes could look as though she wasn’t as invested in the outcome as maybe she should have been.

She was down a break in the third set – very nearly, two breaks. Stephens got that back, and then went down a break again.

The American kept running, even when her legs were probably telling her to stop. She fought as she never used to fight. And she won.

“Yeah, it’s incredible, amazing. Like I said before, if someone would have told me when I started at Wimbledon that I’d be in the semifinals or making, well, three semifinals back-to-back, I would have said they’re crazy. Just happy to be playing really well and happy that my foot is good and I don’t have any pain and my body is holding up,” she said. 

Venus v Kvitova: perseverance personified

Noisy Arthur Ashe Stadium was one-way traffic for Stephens’ match against Sevastova.

For the first night match, Williams had to face off against Petra Kvitova, already a popular player and one whose emotional and near-miraculous comeback from a horrific home invasion has struck a chord with tennis fans.

Still, this is America’s Slam. And Venus, at 37, perhaps has never been more appreciated or revered as she has thrived through some personal trials of her own.

Stephens

The tennis was superb, as it has so often been when these two power players have met before. Both women were on the attack – and both were fighting on defense with everything they had. Most of the points were short, and the velocity was breathtaking.

Up a set but down 0-3 in the second, the roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium was closed because of some expected thunderstorms. All that did was ensure the place would be even noisier by the time the players were deep into the third set.

By the end of it, Williams had several chances to break Kvitova and close it out at 5-6 in the third. She had an open court for her forehand, but she missed it in the net. She had a very makeable return on a second serve, but sent it sailing long.

So the momentum coming into the deciding tiebreaker was not with Williams.

Champion rises at key moment

But like a champion, Williams regained it with the snap of a finger and played an absolutely brilliant decider to win 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (2). She lost her visor in the middle of it. No matter. She was called for a foot fault on match point. No matter.

“Our last few matches, I mean, if you can imagine the quality of this match was high, I would say the others were even higher. A lot of times in those matches I just felt a little unlucky. Like she would hit these amazing shots out of nowhere, and all I could do was say, ‘well done’. I never really did anything wrong in those matches,” Williams said. “Sometimes you have opportunities and sometimes you take them and you don’t But it’s not like you get opportunity after opportunity after opportunity in these sorts of matches. You have to take the ones you have. I was happy to have a little more luck today, actually.”

Arthur Ashe Stadium opened 20 years ago, and that was Williams’ first US Open, as a 17-year-old. She made the final, losing to Martina Hingis. Williams won the single title in 2000 and 2001, but hasn’t come close again since making the final in 2002 – 15 years ago. She has reached the semis only twice since then.

Reaching the Australian Open final earlier this year was already quite a feat. Williams has won more matches at Grand Slam tournaments this year than any other player.

But winning in New York, at 37? Off the charts. 

Can she win two more?

“I think she can. I hope so, actually,” Kvitova said, smiling.

“Sport is, you know, a little microcosm of life, and it shows the human spirit, just being out there on the court, fighting against all odds. If you’re down, you keep going. Great champions came back from injuries or circumstances they could never have planned for,” Williams said. “You never know whose life you’ll touch just by being your best.”

Two more Americans Wednesday

Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe, the two Americans in the second set of quarterfinals Thursday, will have a tough act to follow after what Williams and Stephens did on Tursday.

StephensBut four Americans in the semifinals?

The younger folks might not remember. But for Williams, when she was coming up in the game, it was situation normal.

Perhaps, if you stick around long enough, everything good comes around again.

“There was a time in tennis, when all my rivals were American. (Jennifer) Capriati and (Lindsay) Davenport and Monica Seles. So I love to see these young Americans coming up playing big,” Williams said during her on-court interview after the match. “I would love to have that again – top four, top five playing in the semifinals.

“That would be huge.”

After 25 years, an American girls’ champion at Wimbledon

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WIMBLEDON – On the grownups’ side, female American champions have not been lacking at Wimbledon in recent years.

Either Serena or Venus Williams have won the ladies’ singles title seven of the last 10 years. And Venus could extend that streak this year.

But on the girls’ side, it has been 25 years.

Chanda Rubin was the last American Wimbledon girls’ champion, back in 1992.

This year, there will be another. And it could be a teenager who wasn’t anywhere close to the top of the list when the girls’ event began.

No. 3 seed Claire Liu, who reached the French Open girls’ singles final last month, will play unseeded Ann Li for the girls’ crown.

Li who turned 17 on June 26 and is currently at No. 44 in the combined ITF junior rankings, isn’t as well known (but her ITF biography says she plays the ukelele, so there’s that).

Liu was beaten by a younger American in the French Open junior final. But she’s on a roll on the grass. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

It will be the first all-American girls’ final since Mary-Lou Piatek defeated Alycia Moulton 6-1, 6-3 in 1979.

Li lost to Serbia’s Olga Danilovic – a highly-touted prospect – 61 63 in the first round of the Orange Bowl last December. She defeated her (Danilovic was the No. 11 seed) 6-2, 6-4 here. And Li needed a wild card to get into the US Open juniors last September.

This is her first junior Grand Slam. And the last few months have been the first time she has even been to Europe to play tournaments. She has only played three main-draw pro matches, and lost two of them. And she will play college tennis at LSU. She is, in other words, a junior in the true sense of the world.

But she has progressed rapidly.

Hailey Baptiste and her amazing, flowing mane lost in the second round. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Contrast that with her opponent in the final, Liu, currently the No. 2-ranked junior girl in the world. 

Liu is 22-1 in the juniors this year; her only loss came to countrywoman Whitney Osuigwe, two years her junior, in the French Open junior girls’ final. She already is ranked inside the top 300 on the WTA Tour, and she won the last two pro tournaments she played (at the ITF $25,000 level,)this spring. She also won the junior tuneup grass event in Roehampton last week.

Of the 64 girls in the singles draw, 12 were Americans. And five of them were seeded, including No. 1 Kayla Day and No. 2 Osuigwe.

Day, already ranked No. 126 on the WTA Tour and the 2016 US Open girls’ champion, hadn’t played juniors all season. She lost in the first round of qualifying for the ladies’ singles at Wimbledon to 17-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu. 

If she was a surprise entrant, she left without any hardware. Li defeated her 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 in the quarter-finals.

Osuigwe, her knee taped, was beaten by unseeded Sofya Lansere of Russia in the quarterfinals.

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16-year-old Taylor Johnson, the No. 7 seed, has a serve-volley game that would seem Taylor-made for grass. But that’s in the future; she went out in the first round. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The last American to make the Wimbledon junior girls’ final was Taylor Townsend in 2011; Townsend lost to Belinda Bencic of Switzerland.

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Kypson is the only American in the boys’ singles semi-finals. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Other than Piatek, there have been surprisingly few American girls’ champions here.

Since 1970, only six in all.

Ann Kiyomura won it in 1973, defeating some scrub whose career never went anywhere. A girl named Martina Navratilova.

Lea Antonoplis won it in 1977. Tracy Austin won it in 1978, and Zina Garrison in 1981. And then the last, Rubin.

Venus and Serena, of course, never played it.

On the American boys’ side, 10 boys were entered – two of them seeded. Unseeded Patrick Kypson has reached the semifinals.

American Harrison wins in Paris

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ROLAND GARROS – There was going to be an American champion regardless of the outcome of the men’s doubles final Saturday, with Ryan Harrison on one side and Donald Young on the other.

And in a dramatic final, it was Ryan Harrison and lifelong friend Michael Venus of New Zealand who won their first major title. They defeated Young and Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-3 in a match that featured no breaks of serve until the sixth game of the deciding set.

Here’s what they looked like.

Venus, 29, moved to the U.S. from New Zealand when he was young and despite the difference in age, he and Harrison, 25, grew up playing together.

Harrison’s father Pat, now based out of the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., remains Venus’s coach. Venus was a groomsman at Harrison’s March wedding to Lauren McHale.

“You always dream of winning a Grand Slam every time you’re playing as a kid. Idolize people you see winning Grand Slams. You picture yourself in those moments, and it kind of hasn’t really sunk in yet. Feels a little surreal,” Harrison said. “(Venus) was like a brother growing up. He taught me how to drive, taught me how to do a lot of things. Didn’t teach me how to talk to girls, one thing he didn’t teach me how to do.

“I can only think of one person that I also want to share this experience with one day, and I think that’s my brother (Christian). Hopefully we can have that opportunity again in the future,” he added.

A win with big implications

The victory and the 2,000 ranking points that come with it rocket the team from No. 54 in the doubles race to the ATP Tour Finals in London in November all the way to … No. 3.

There are two more Grand Slams and therefore two more 2,000-point gets to come this year, though. If they did get bumped out of the top eight, their doubles rankings would have to be in the top 20 for them to make it via the format’s “win a major” wild card.

Harrison and Venus hadn’t spoken about playing together going forward. They didn’t want to jinx anything as they were going through the tournament. But it likely will happen for the rest of the season. 

The American is mainly a singles guy and his focus on that this year has brought him back to the top 50 after years on the Challenger circuit, trying to get back to the career-best ranking he had in 2012.

But he says he’s not one of those guys who failed to give the doubles his full attention when he plays. So if he commits, he’s all in.

Harrison’s singles ranking stands at a career-high No. 42.

His doubles ranking after this effort should check in at No. 30 on Monday.

Ryan Harrison – a story of perseverance

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ROLAND GARROS – Ryan Harrison got to the top 50 five years ago.

It has taken him this long to get back there.

But at 25, not only did he finally win his first ATP Tour title this year, he’s in the finals of the French Open doubles. And he’s a newlywed; he married Lauren McHale (sister of tour player Christina) in March.

Pretty good 2017 so far.

Here’s a feature piece the ATP did on him in Paris this week.

Flash back a decade, and Harrison was one of those hotshot kids the agents were falling over themselves to get β€“ even though he yet hadn’t done a single thing. He was just 15 when he signed with IMG and turned pro (and brother Christian was even younger).

That’s far too young, but when you’re getting all that money thrown at you, it’s hard to turn down. It might not happen again; a new class of fresh meat comes along every year.

Harrison had a good, not great junior career with big success at the U.S. level. But he only reached one Grand Slam semifinal (in Australia in 2008) at the very top level of the junior game. 

By 2012, he made the top 50. For the last five years, he has spent most of the time outside the top 100 (a lot of it well outside), until finally breaking back in at the end of 2016.

Now, ranked No. 42, he’s at a career high. With a new wife, and a title. And, at the end of Saturday, perhaps a Grand Slam title.

When you hang in there, and keep working hard, sometimes good things happen.

Two Americans in the French dubs final

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ROLAND GARROS – The French Open has had some funky men’s doubles champions over the years.

But rarely as funky as this year.

Two American men – neither of them named Bryan – have reached the final and will be on opposite sides of the net, guaranteeing arguably the most unexpected American French Open champion ever.

Unseeded Donald Young and partner Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico will square off Saturday against Ryan Harrison and his partner, Michael Venus of New Zealand.

It’s the first time Americans have found themselves on opposite sides of the net in a French Open doubles final since … 1980.

That year, No. 12-seeded Americans Hank Pfister and Victor Amaya upset No. 1 seeds Brian Gottfried (with RaΓΊl Ramirez of Mexico) 1-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.

At stake is a major title both probably didn’t, at this point in their careers, think they had a chance to win. 

Young’s current doubles ranking stands at No. 180. The 27-year-old’s best career ranking was No. 100 nearly two years ago. He had played four Tour events in doubles this year and gone 3-4, with the shocker a win with countryman Sam Querrey over the former No. 1 team of Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares in the first round of the Australian Open the outlier.

His career doubles won-loss record coming in was 33-56.

Harrison, 25, stands at No. 139 in the doubles rankings even as his singles is at a career-best No. 47. His doubles resumΓ© is a little more lustrous than Young’s; Harrison’s career won-loss record will inch over the .500 mark with the effort in Paris and he does have three career doubles titles – one this season.

Harrison and Venus won Estoril last month, an early clay-court event in the leadup to the French Open.

Definitely not doubles specialists

But still …

Both players lost in the first round of singles. But it was well worth their while to hang around another 10 days for the opportunity of their respective careers.

Harrison and Venus took out three quality seeded teams on the way to the final: No. 4 seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo in the second round, No. 7 Ivan Dodig and Marcel Granollers in the quarters, and No. 16 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah in the semis.

Young and Gonzalez surprised No. 14 seeds Daniel Nestor and Fabrice Martin in a tight first-round contest (Nestor has won the French Open doubles four times, and been a finalist three additional times, with other partners during his career).

Their big win was over No. 5 seeds Murray and Soares (again) in the quarters, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6.

Big money at stake

The American who wins will earn more during this fortnight than he has the entire 2017 season. And both Harrison and Young have are having good seasons; both have earned over $300,000 US so far.

The men’s (and women’s) doubles champions will split 540,000 Euros (just over $600,000 US).

The runners-up  split 270,000 Euros. Still a great payday.

In a first-round loss, American Ryan Harrison takes racquet sculpture to a new level

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INDIAN WELLS – In the annals of tennis racquet destruction, American Ryan Harrison earned a place of honour Thursday night after a dramatic first-round loss to Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia on the main stadium at the BNP Paribas Open.

Harrison showed ingenuity, imagination, clear-headed thinking and impeccable technique as his Babolats took the brunt of his major annoyance at being eliminated from the Masters 1000 tournament in the first round.

 

Take a look:

Of course, despite the “A” for effort, even this performance can’t top the gold standard, one Marcos Baghdatis.

In the middle of a match, no less.