Davis Cup semi-finals preview: France favourites against Serbia, Aussies take on Belgium

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Ready for battle: Yannick Noah (l) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Yannick Noah’s France take on star-starved Serbia and 28-time champions Australia face Belgium in the Davis Cup semi-finals this weekend.

Lucas Pouille leads hosts France into battle in Lille against Dusan Lajovic in Friday’s opening singles.

That’s followed by French number one Jo-Wilfried Tsonga crossing swords with Davis Cup debutant Laslo Djere, the highest-rated Serbian on the squad at No. 80 in the world.

Noah’s team are favoured to progress to the final against a Serbian side sorely missing injured former world No. 1 and 12-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic, Viktor Troicki and Janko Tipsarevic.

But Pouille insisted despite their rankings superiority the semi-final was no foregone conclusion for France.

“We are not over confident, we’ve got an enormous amount of respect for this team which has a lot of very good players,” said Pouille, who was beaten in the fourth round at the US Open.

NO EXHIBITION MATCH

A similar note of caution was sounded by Noah ahead of the tie being held on the same clay where France lost the 2014 final to Roger Federer’s Switzerland.

“We are sufficiently intelligent to know that it’s going to be a difficult match,” the 1983 French Open winner said.

“Even if their players aren’t at the top of the rankings they’ve got nothing to lose. We won’t be playing an exhibition match this weekend.”

Serbia won their sole Davis Cup title in 2010, beating France in Belgrade 3-2.

France, who secured their ticket to the semi-finals after seeing off Great Britain 4-1 in the last eight, are seeking a 10th title but first in 16 years.

Steve Darcis and Nick Kyrgios.

Steve Darcis and Nick Kyrgios.

In Brussels, Belgium’s David Goffin (ranked 12 in the world) will be out to embellish his phenomenal record in the competition against 185th ranked Australian John Millman.

Millman’s appearance in the opening singles represented a surprise with the slot expected to go to Thanasi Kokkinakis.

Aussie coach Lleyton Hewitt explained the switch, telling the Davis Cup’s official website: “John is match hardened, he’s played a lot of five-set tennis, particularly in New York. We have full belief in that he can do the job for us.”

Goffin, ranked No. 12 in the world, has won 13 of his 14 Davis Cup matches, the lone loss coming in the 2015 final to Britain’s Andy Murray.

Belgian’s medical team have been working round the clock to ensure Goffin’s presence after the Belgian star injured his left knee at the US Open.

“I feel good, everything’s OK,” Goffin told Belgian radio RTBF. “My knee hurt after the US Open, but day by day it got better so I told (coach) Johan Van Herck that I was 100 per cent available for the team.”

Goffin, the ninth seed in New York, was stunned by Russian teenager Andrey Rublev 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the fourth round.

Next up on the indoor clay court in the Belgian capital is Australia’s gifted but combustible Nick Kyrgios (20th) who faces 33-year-old Steve Darcis (77).

Kyrgios, who helped Australia beat the United States in the quarters, was picked by Hewitt despite his first round exit at Flushing Meadows.

The victorious semi-finalists will meet in the 2017 final scheduled for the end of November.​ 

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Serena Williams gives birth to baby girl

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Serena Williams.

Serena Williams has given birth to a baby girl, according to reports in the United States.

There was no official confirmation from Williams or her management but, asked how it felt to become an aunt again ahead of her third-round US Open match, Serena’s sister Venus told ESPN: “Obviously I’m super excited. Words can’t describe.”

Venus declined to answer any questions about the birth following her victory over Maria Sakkari but family members including her mother Oracene were absent from her box and messages of congratulations have begun to flood in.

Serena’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou wrote on Twitter: “Congratulations @SerenaWilliams for your baby girl. I am so happy for you and I feel your emotion. Recover well & enjoy without limitation.”
The Frenchman then followed up with a message reading: “Btw @serenawilliams I wish you a speedy recovery… we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Serena accidentally revealed her pregnancy in April when she posted a picture of herself in a yellow swimsuit, showing off a prominent bump, on the social media app Snapchat.

It came with the caption ”20 weeks”, but was then deleted without explanation before official confirmation came several hours later.

The 35-year-old, who announced her engagement to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian last December, discovered she was expecting shortly before the Australian Open in January but nevertheless went on to win the tournament without dropping a set.

She has not played on tour since her grand slam success Down Under, when she overtook Steffi Graf to set a new Open era record of 23 slam singles titles.

Serena has insisted she will return to the tour and has targeted a comeback at the Australian Open in four and a half months’ time.

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Second seed Simona Halep draws Maria Sharapova at US Open

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Maria Sharapova.

World number two Simona Halep of Romania will face Russian wildcard Maria Sharapova in the first round of the US Open as the draw was conducted in New York on Friday.

Sharapova, making her first Grand Slam appearance since a 15-month doping ban, has a 6-0 career record against Halep, who last Sunday lost for the third time in as many months with a chance to advance to world number one with a victory.

Former world number one Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, was issued a two-year suspension after testing positive for the banned heart and blood boosting drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced the ban on appeal.

She said that she had taken it for several years and did not know it had been placed on the banned list at the start of 2016.

Sharapova made her return in April at Stuttgart, reaching the semi-finals as a wildcard, but such invitations sparked criticism from some WTA rivals, saying she should have to work her way back without such benefits, and some suggesting a life ban.

Sharapova was refused a wildcard by French Open organizers and missed Wimbledon with a thigh injury.

Sharapova has missed three of the past four US Opens, her last visit ending in the 2014 fourth round.

Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain humbled Halep 6-1, 6-0 in last Sunday’s final at Cincinnati to deny her the top ranking.

Halep also lost playing for number one in the French Open final against Jelena Ostapenko and the Wimbledon quarterfinal against Johanna Konta, each time after taking the first set.

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