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Coco Gauff, Venus Williams to meet in Australian Open first round

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Get ready for Coco Gauff vs. Venus Williams, Part II.

That headline-grabbing pair of tennis players — Gauff, 15, is the youngest woman in the Australian Open; Venus is the oldest — will meet again in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament after Thursday’s draw at Melbourne Park put them in a tough quarter that also includes Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka.

Gauff had a breakout run at Wimbledon last year, when she became the youngest qualifier in tournament history, upset Venus Williams to start her main draw run and became the youngest player to reach the round of 16 there since Martina Hingis in 1996.

The winner of Coco vs. Venus — no last names required — could meet defending champion Osaka in the third round. The winner there potentially faces Venus’ younger sister, 23-time major winner Serena, in the quarterfinals.

Serena Williams is coming off a victory in the ASB Classic in Auckland, her first title since her victory at the 2017 Australian Open and her time off the tour to have her daughter. She is seeded eighth in Melbourne and will meet Anastasia Potapova in the first round. Osaka opens against Marie Bouzkova.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer were drawn into the same half of the field at Melbourne Park, where play begins Monday, so they could meet in the semifinals.

The second-ranked Djokovic has won a record seven Australian Open trophies and is coming off his unbeaten run at the inaugural ATP Cup, where he guided Serbia to the title. Federer hasn’t added to his 20 Grand Slam titles since winning the Australian Open in 2018, his sixth title at Melbourne Park.

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal could face a fourth-round match against Nick Kyrgios — their blockbuster at Wimbledon last year was memorable — and a projected quarterfinal against Dominic Thiem, the man he has beaten in the last two French Open finals.

The so-called Big Three of men’s tennis joined other stars, including Serena Williams, Osaka and Gauff, at the Rally for Relief on Wednesday night, an exhibition event that raised millions of dollars for relief efforts for the wildfires that have devastated parts of Australia, leaving at least 27 people and millions of animals dead. Smoke from the bush fires had the air quality in Melbourne ranked among the worst in the world earlier in the week.

On the court, Gauff looked comfortable and relaxed in the company of champions.

Osaka, speaking before the draw was revealed, said she didn’t like to look at who she was playing until the day before her match. She joked in a TV broadcast that she’d leave the studio if she was forced to watch the draw.

It will certainly have her interest.

Osaka won back-to-back majors, claiming her first Grand Slam title at the 2018 U.S. Open before winning in Australia last year. Her best run since then was to the fourth round at the U.S. Open, where she thinks she got some benefit from the experience.

“I had a try at being defending champion at the U.S. Open. I’m more prepared this time,” she said.

Top-ranked Ash Barty is in the same half of the field and is a potential semifinal opponent for Osaka.

Barty will open against Lesia Tsurenko. That quarter includes 10th-seeded Madison Keys, the U.S. Open runner-up in 2017, and seventh-seeded Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion and the runner-up in Australia last year in her first major final since a violent home invasion in late 2016 left her with career-threatening hand injuries.

Serena Williams is aiming to equal the all-time record for most women’s majors, held by Australia’s Margaret Court.

After her drought-breaking run to a 73rd career singles title in Auckland, Williams will again be among the favorites at Melbourne Park, where she has won the title seven times dating back to 2003.

In other standout first-round matches, five-time major champion Maria Sharapova, playing as a wild card because of an injury-interrupted 2019, will meet 19th-seeded Donna Vekic, and two-time major champion Simona Halep, the runner-up here in 2018, will take on Jennifer Brady, who upset Barty at the Brisbane International last week.

On the men’s side, U.S. Open finalist Daniil Medvedev, seeded No. 4, will take on Frances Tiafoe, who made a breakthrough run to the quarterfinals in Australia last year.

The projected men’s quarterfinals are Nadal vs. Thiem, Medvedev against Alexander Zverev, Djokovic against Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Federer against Matteo Berrettini. The injury-enforced absence of Alex de Minaur lifted Milos Raonic, the 2016 Wimbledon runner-up finalist, into the 32nd and last spot among the men’s seeds.

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Maria Sharapova wraps up tennis career after nearly two decades, career Slam

Maria Sharapova
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Maria Sharapova has announced her retirement after a professional tennis career that includes five Grand Slam wins, 36 singles titles and an Olympic silver medal.

Sharapova was only 17 when she won her first major in 2004 at Wimbledon. She won the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008 before completing her career Grand Slam in the 2012 French Open. She won the French Open again in 2014.

After moving from Russia to Florida at age 9 to train at the Bollettieri Academy, she made her professional debut just after her 14th birthday in 2001. She graduated to top-level events and majors within two years and reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2003.

In 2004, she upset Lindsay Davenport and Serena Williams at Wimbledon and beat Williams again at the Tour Championships.

By 2005, the 6-foot-2 player had claimed the top spot in the world rankings. She remained in the top five for most of the next four years before suffering an injury to her right shoulder that limited her tournament schedule in 2008 and 2009. By 2011, she had reclaimed her status as a top-five player and remained there until 2016.

Her career declined after a positive drug test at the 2016 Australian Open. The substance in question, meldonium, had been given by Russian doctors to many athletes.

An initial suspension of two years was reduced to 15 months, but she wasn’t able to get back to her previous form. She won one more tournament in 2017 and reached the quarterfinals of the 2018 French Open, but she fared poorly in sporadic appearances in 2019. Her last match was a loss to Donna Vekic in the first round of the Australian Open in January.

SEE: Sharapova discusses reduced ban on TODAY

Her meldonium suspension also cost her commercial sponsorships and her role as a UN Development Program ambassador, which she earned with her work to help survivors of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.

She was involved in the Olympics as a silver medalist in 2012, losing to Williams in the final, and as one of the final torch bearers in the relay to the 2014 Olympics opening ceremony in her home country.

She’s also third on the all-time WTA earnings list behind Serena and Venus Williams, taking in more than $38m in her career on top of lucrative endorsement deals.

Federica Brignone hopes World Cup rival Mikaela Shiffrin will return soon

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Mikaela Shiffrin‘s prolonged absence from the World Cup Alpine skiing circuit has opened the door for Italy’s Federica Brignone to break the American’s grip on the season title, but Brignone hopes her friend and rival will be back in competition soon.

“I really do hope that she will return soon for herself so she can do again what she loves most,” Brignone said.

Brignone took the season lead from Shiffrin, who has won the last three World Cup overall titles, on Sunday and has a 73-point advantage with 11 of the season’s 40 races remaining. She also leads Shiffrin by 74 points in the giant slalom standings.

READ: Brignone moves into World Cup lead

No Italian woman has won the overall World Cup. Brignone was fifth in 2017 and won the Alpine combined discipline title last season.

Brignone will have a chance to clinch another Alpine combined discipline title and extend her overall lead in her home country this weekend. While some other sports events in Italy have been canceled or otherwise affected by the coronavirus outbreak, the host resort of La Thuile has so far been spared from the virus’ spread.

Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, the only other skier with a realistic chance of winning the overall trophy, is dealing with a knee injury and might not be able to race this weekend. Vhlova leads Shiffrin by 20 points in the slalom standings.

Shiffrin has not competed since the death of her father Feb. 2, and she has not announced plans to return. She was not on pace to match her astounding 17-win 2018-19 season but still had six wins and had reached the podium in 13 of 19 races.

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