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AP

Indian police probe Maria Sharapova housing fraud case

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NEW DELHI (AP) — Maria Sharapova is being investigated by police in India in a cheating and criminal conspiracy case involving a real estate company who used the tennis star to endorse a luxury housing project that never took off.

Real estate firm Homestead Infrastructure is accused of taking tens of millions of rupees (millions of dollars) from home buyers for a project named “Ballet by Maria Sharapova,” a luxury apartment complex with its own helipad, tennis academy and other amenities.

The five-time Grand Slam champion and Olympic silver medalist traveled to India in 2013 to launch the project at a glitzy ceremony. Police began the investigation on Nov. 16.

Piyush Singh, a lawyer representing one of the home buyers, said Wednesday that Sharapova’s celebrity was the reason most people put their money into the project.

Singh said his client, Bhawana Agarwal, paid Homestead Infrastructure 5.3 million rupees ($81,678) in 2013 because she was impressed by Sharapova’s association with the project located in Gurgaon, a suburb of the Indian capital. The cost of an apartment in the swanky project was 20 million rupees ($308,000).

Agarwal then spent the next three years chasing the builders for updates on the property and her investment in it but they stopped taking her calls, Singh said. On Wednesday, several calls to the numbers of the building company’s website went unanswered.

“The project never saw the light of day,” Singh said.

Singh said the police investigation based on his client’s complaint was testing relatively new legal ground – that celebrities endorsing projects that draw vast sums of money from investors had a responsibility “to do some due diligence” on the project before lending their name and credibility to it.

Sharapova isn’t the only international sports celebrity that the real estate firm roped in. Its website also advertises a project with Formula One great Michael Schumacher called the Michael Schumacher World Tower.

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Jana Novotna, Wimbledon champ and Olympic medalist, dies at 49

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PRAGUE (AP) — Jana Novotna, who won the hearts of the tennis world when she sobbed on the shoulder of a member of the British royal family after a heartbreaking loss in the Wimbledon final, has died at the age of 49.

The WTA announced Novotna’s death on Monday, saying she died Sunday in her native Czech Republic following a long battle with cancer.

Novotna died “peacefully, surrounded by her family,” the women’s tennis body said.

Her family confirmed her death to the Czech Republic’s CTK news agency. No details were given.

Martina Navratilova, the tennis great who was also born in what was then Czechoslovakia, tweeted: “The tennis world is so sad about the passing of Jana Novotna. I am gutted and beyond words. Jana was a true friend and an amazing woman.”

Novotna won her only Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 1998, eventually triumphing after two losses in the final at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in 1993 and 1997.

She added three Olympic tennis medals — singles bronze at Altanta 1996 (knocking out top seed Monica Seles) and doubles silver in 1988 and 1996 with Helena Sukova.

She also lost in the 1991 Australian Open final.

While she finally captured the Grand Slam singles title she longed for in 1998, she won over the Wimbledon crowd five years earlier after wasting a big lead in the decisive set in a tough three-set loss to Steffi Graf.

Unable to hide her disappointment, Novotna cried on the shoulder of Britain’s Duchess of Kent at the prize giving ceremony and was gently comforted by the royal, who told her: “I know you will win it one day, don’t worry.”

Novotna ultimately had her moment five years later when she beat Nathalie Tauziat in straight sets to win Wimbledon. At the time, she was the oldest first-time winner of a Grand Slam singles title at age 29.

There wear tears again from Novotna, this time of joy, and the Duchess of Kent was present again to congratulate her.

“She was a true champion in all senses of the word, and her 1998 triumph will live long in the memory,” Wimbledon organizers the All England Club said in tribute to Novotna. “The thoughts of all those at Wimbledon are with her family and friends.”

Fellow Czech and four-time Grand Slam champion Hana Mandlikova, who coached Novotna for her Wimbledon win, said: “It’s hard to find words. Jana was a great girl and I’m happy that she won Wimbledon after all. It’s so sad when someone so young dies.”

During a 14-year professional career, Novotna won 24 singles titles and reached a career-high No. 2 in the singles rankings in 1997. She was a prolific and top-ranked doubles player, collecting 16 slam titles in doubles and mixed doubles.

She also won the Fed Cup with her country in 1988. Novotna was inducted into tennis’ Hall of Fame in 2005.

Even after retiring in 1999, Novotna was desperate to stay involved in tennis and became a commentator and coach.

“I’m dependent on tennis,” she said in an interview two years ago. “A day without it would be terrible.”

Members of the current Czech Fed Cup team said Novotna “supported us in the stands any time she could be there. We’ll miss her.”

“Jana was an inspiration both on and off court to anyone who had the opportunity to know her,” WTA chief executive Steve Simon said. “Her star will always shine brightly in the history of the WTA.”

Martina Hingis retires, ending unique Olympic career

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Swiss tennis champion Martina Hingis played at her first Olympics in 1996. She announced her retirement Thursday (for a third time), two months after the demolition began of the Atlanta Games tennis center.

The 37-year-old Hingis went 20 years between Olympic appearances, taking doubles silver in Rio last year.

“I think if you asked me 10 years ago if I would be here in Rio, I would say you’re crazy,” Hingis said at the Rio Games, according to Agence France-Presse. “Because I didn’t play for six years and being able to play for gold is unbelievable.”

Her first Olympics came six months before the first of her five Grand Slam singles titles in the late 1990s.

She was the second-youngest singles player at the Atlanta Games, behind Anna Kournikova. Hingis, then 15, lost in the second round in singles in Atlanta but hoped to continue farther in doubles with Patty Schnyder so she could watch equestrian events.

“I have seen the dressage, but I would also like to see the jumping so I hope we can stay one more day,” the Slovakian-born Hingis said in 1996, according to the Independent. “If we lose, I go home.”

Hingis and Schnyder lost in the quarterfinals.

The next year, she rattled off her first three major victories — the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open. She skipped the Sydney 2000 Olympics to avoid injury risk.

Hingis missed the 2004 and 2008 Olympics during separate retirements.

Then, in 2011, the still-retired Hingis was asked by countryman Roger Federer‘s team to consider a comeback. She and Federer discussed playing mixed doubles at the London 2012 Olympics but decided against it.

Hingis unretired in 2013, to play doubles, and rose to No. 1 in the world. She won four more Grand Slam doubles titles — giving her 13 total — and six mixed doubles crowns, giving her seven total.

She was to play mixed doubles with Federer at the Rio Olympics until Federer pulled out with a knee injury.

That same week, less than two weeks before the Opening Ceremony, Hingis lost her Olympic doubles partner, Belinda Bencic, to a wrist injury.

Hingis went on to play in Rio with Timea Bacsinszky, losing the final to Russians Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina. Hingis was the second-oldest female player in Rio, behind Venus Williams.

Only one female Olympian has gone longer between Olympic appearances than Hingis’ 20-year gap — U.S. equestrian Jessica Newberry-Ransehousen (from 1964 to 1988), according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon of OlympStats.com.

The overall record is held by Japanese equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu, who went 44 years from 1964 to 2008.

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