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Serena Williams to kick-off 2016 at the Hopman Cup

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Serena Williams in action during the 2015 Hopman Cup (image via livetennis.com)

World No.1 Serena Williams will end her hiatus from tennis at the Hopman Cup, which begins on January 3rd.

Williams hasn’t played a match since losing in the semi-final of the US Open to Roberta Vinci. The 34-year-old was two wins away from becoming the first woman since 1988 to win all four Grand Slams within the same year before losing to Vinci. Due to her loss, Williams decided to skip the remainder of the season, including the WTA end of year finals in Singapore, so that she can focus on her ‘health issues’.

Williams will team up with Jack sock at the Hopman Cup. She has won the tournament twice before in 2003 and 2008. Last year the 34-year-old reached the final with John Isner before losing 2-1 to Poland (Jerzy Janowicz and Agnieszka Radwańska). Speaking about the upcoming tournament, the world No.1 labelled the event as ‘great preparation’ for the first Grand Slam of 2016.

“We were so close to winning last year. I’m really excited to be back”. Williams said.
“For me the Hopman Cup is super great preparation for the Australian Open. In 2016 I want to play doubles in Australia so it will be really exciting for me to get there, play some doubles and get some little experience at the Hopman Cup.”

The Hopman Cup will be the first tournament that Williams has played in for almost four months. Along with Sock, the American duo will be one of eight teams participating in the event.

Full list of Team for the 2015 Hopman Cup

Group A
Australia Gold – Casey Dellacqua and Lleyton Hewitt
Czech Republic – Lucie Safarova and Jiri Vesely
Ukraine – Elina Svitolina and Alexandr Dolgopolov
United States – Serena Williams and Jack Sock

 Group B
Australia Green – Nick Kyrgios and TBC
France – Caroline Garcia and Gael Monfils
Germany – Sabine Lisicki and Alexander Zverev
Great Britain – Heather Watson and Andy Murray

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Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal Shine At Laureus World Sport Awards

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Novak Djokovic has been named the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year for a record-equalling fifth time in his career. 

The world No.1 has won received his latest honour in recoinition for his 2023 season which saw the Serbian win three out of the four Grand Slam tournaments with the only exception being Wimbledon where he finished runner-up to Carlos Alcaraz. Djokovic also won the ATP Finals in Turin for a seventh time, as well as two Masters 1000 tournaments. 

“I am truly blessed to be among sports greats as a winner, but also as a supporter and admirer of Laureus Sport for Good as I too believe in the power of sport to make a difference in the world.” Said Djokovic.
“Finally, this Laureus Statuette stands alone because it represents more than sporting achievement. The Laureus mission of using sport as a power for good has been changing lives for 25 years and embodies the values of its founding patron, Nelson Mandela. I want to add my support to Laureus Sport for Good and the work they are doing to transform lives around the world.”

It is the first time the 36-year-old has won the award since 2019. He also received the accolade in 2012, 2015 and 2016. Djokovic has become only the second person to win the award on five separate occasions after Roger Federer who won it four years running between 2005-2008 and then again in 2018. 

Rafael Nadal was another winner at the awards with his federation claiming the Laureus Sport for Good award. It is presented to those who have illustrated a “tremendous contribution to sport or society through sport.” The Fundacion Rafa Nadal was recognised for helping more than 1,000 vulnerable young people in Spain and India.

“It’s a very familiar project, a personal one that we started 13, 14 years ago,” Nadal said during an interview at the event in Madrid on Monday.
“It is a thing that we are super proud of. It is a way to give back. We have been lucky to be able to work on our hobby and be successful. I think it is a moment to give a positive example to society that we need to help the people who need help.”

The Laureus Sport Awards was first held in 2000. Each year athletes get shortlisted for specific categories based on votes from more than 1000 sports media across the world. The winners are then selected by members of the Laureus World Sports Academy which is a group of former sporting greats.  Boris Becker, li Na, Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles are all members of the academy. 

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Casper Ruud Ends Tsitsipas’ Winning Run To Claim Biggest Title Of Career In Barcelona

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Casper Ruud has avenged his defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Monte Carlo Masters last week by beating the him in straight sets to win the Barcelona Open. 

The world No.6 rallied to a 7-5, 6-2, win over Tsitsipas who was on a 10-match winning streak coming into Sunday’s final. It is the first time Ruud has won an ATP 500 event with all 10 of his previous triumphs occuring at 250 level. In contrast, Tsitsipas is still yet to win an ATP 500 trophy after losing all 11 finals he has played at this level. However, the Greek has won more prestigious titles (three Masters and the 2019 ATP finals) than his rival. 

Ruud’s latest triumph saw him oust Tsitsipas with the use of some heavy hitting after overcoming a testing opening set. Overall, the Norweigan hit 19 winners against 15 unforced errors to become the first Scandinavian champion in Barcelona since Sweden’s Kent Carlsson in 1988. 

“Just to give it to him a little bit more than last week. In the final in Monte Carlo, I was always on the back foot and he had too much time to control the game,” Ruud told TennisTV when asked about his game plan against Tsitsipas. 
“I had a bit of a tricky start (in today’s final) but I managed to settle in. It’s been two long weeks for both of us. It’s obvious that fatigue was going to kick in and winning the first set was huge.” 

In what was their fifth Tour-level meeting, a nervous Ruud was tentative early on as he dropped serve in the first game of the final. Despite the blip, he worked his way back to draw level midway through the opener before seizing his opportunity. Nudging ahead to a 6-5 lead, a blistering backhand winner down the line followed by a forehand winner in the next point rewarded Ruud with two sets points against the Tsitsipas serve. He converted his first opportunity with the help of a slice slot that forced an unforced error from his rival. 

Closing in on the biggest win of his career, Ruud clinched his next break four games into the second set following an error-stricken performance from Tsitsipas. He then had an opportunity to get a double break but failed to convert on his chances. Nevertheless, Ruud still managed to seal victory convincingly. A Tsitsipas forehand shank rewarded him a trio of championship points. He triumphed on his first after another mistake from his opponent. 

“A lot of finals I have lost has been tough and a bit of a disappointment. But anytime you reach a final is nonetheless a good week so you can’t be too hard on yourself,” the new champion reflected. 
“This one has been a long time coming.”

The fact Ruud has claimed his biggest title yet in Barcelona is even sweeter given his history with the tournament. 

“The Rafael Nadal court is special to me. I looked up to him all my childhood and came here (to Barcelona) as a 13-year-old boy to watch him and others play. It’s a great feeling.” He said. 

Ruud has now won 29 matches this season which is more than any other player on the ATP Tour. Furthermore, he has become the fourth player in 2024 to have won an ATP trophy without dropping a set in the entire tournament. 

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Martina Navratilova Stands By Criticism Of WTA’s Move To Saudi Arabia

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Tennis legend Martina Navratilova says it is ‘egotistical’ to believe that hosting the WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia will affect the country’s policies.

The multiple Grand Slam winner has spoken publically about concerns over hosting tennis events in the country due to its human rights records, especially concerning women and those from the LGBT community. Saudi Arabia has been accused of sportswashing which is the process of hosting sports events to improve the image of a country whose reputation has been tarnished by wrongdoing. Earlier this year, Navratilova and fellow tennis icon Chris Evert co-wrote an editorial for the Washington Post opposing a move to the country. 

However, the WTA has formed an agreement with the Saudi Tennis Federation (STF) to host their season-ending event there from this year until at least 2026. A record $15.25m (£12m) in prize money will be available which will make the event the biggest annual women’s sporting event held in Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to reporters at a Laureus event in Madrid on Sunday, Navratilova says she has no plans to work in Saudi Arabia as a pundit for the upcoming event. Even though she has previously been invited to the country by STF chief Arij Almutabagani who is among those arguing that her country is making positive changes to their rules and regulations.

“We’re going to Saudi Arabia which is about as big a change as you can make, except for maybe going to North Korea,” Navratilova told reporters.
“Chris Evert and I have made our views clear on that, but the players have made their choices. We’ll see how things work out.
“I heard players say they ‘don’t want to be political’. Going to Saudi is about as political as you can get.
“Welcome to sport. Sports is political and has been at the forefront of social change. I don’t see how anything happens there without the blessing of MBS (Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi ruler).
“He decides what goes and what doesn’t. We’re a bit egotistical to think we can make a difference, but who knows?
“The players have to honour that, they’re the ones competing. We’re not affected by it. We’re not going there to play.”

Praise for tennis’ young guns

Navratilova has also shared her views about two players who have impressed on the men’s Tour in recent months. The former world No.1 paid tribute to Carlos Alcaraz by describing him as the best player who can use improvisation in the men’s game. 

“I have to say that Carlos is so complete…. Djokovic is incredible but Alcaraz takes tennis to a different level because he improvises better than anyone else”. She commented. 
“Wimbledon has given us matches for history but I think last year’s final between Alcaraz and Djokovic was the most exciting I have ever seen.”

As for Jannik Sinner, she paid tribute to his work ethic. The Italian has already claimed a trio of titles in 2024 and only two players have beaten him so far. One of those was Alcaraz in Indian Wells and the other was Stefanos Tsitsipas in Monte Carlo. 

“Jannik is unbelievable. He is the proof of how work allows you to improve and play at the highest level. I’m looking forward to the next ten years and the duels between Alcaraz, Sinner and some other player who can join.” Navratilova said of Sinner.

Navratilova is an ambassador of the Laureus Awards which will take place on Monday evening. 

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