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TENNIS

Defending champs France up 2-1 over Italy in Davis Cup

In Genoa, Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert put defending champions France 2-1 up against Italy with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 win over Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli.

Defending champs France up 2-1 over Italy in Davis Cup
France's Nicolas Mahut (L) and Pierre-Hugues Herbert celebrate a point against Italy's Fabio Fognini and Italy's Simone Bolelli during the Davis Cup quarter-final doubles tennis match on Saturday. PHO
It took two-time major winners Mahut and Herbert just 1 hour 54 minutes to take revenge for a loss to the Italian duo in the 2015 Australian Open final.
 
Lucas Pouille, the world number 11, will have the chance to clinch a semi-final spot for France for the third time in four years when he faces Fognini in the first of Sunday's reverse singles.
 
“Pierre-Hugues and Nico played the perfect match,” said France captain Yannick Noah. “Now we are going to prepare Lucas to beat Fabio — we will give 150 percent for this match.”
 
The winner of the tie will face either Spain or Germany for a place in the final.
 
Croatia, the 2005 champions, are also one win away from the last-four after Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic defeated the Kazakh pair of Timur Khabibulin and Aleksandr Nedovyesov 6-7 (2/7), 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.
 
“We played together for the first time and that's why we needed some time to find our game,” said Dodig.
 
On Sunday, world number three and former US Open champion Marin Cilic can wrap up the tie when he faces Mikhail Kukushkin, the world 92 in the first of the reverse singles.
 
Kukushkin stunned world number 28 Borna Coric in Friday's singles.
 
In Nashville, the United States became the first country to punch their ticket to the Davis Cup semi-finals on Saturday following a doubles win by Jack Sock and Ryan Harrison.
 
The pair had to work for the victory on the hardcourts which gave the Americans an insurmountable 3-0 lead and a berth in the semis for the first time since 2012.
 
Sock and Harrison needed three hours to dispatch Belgian debutants Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen in four sets 5-7, 7-6 (7/1), 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 in front of a crowd of 5,000 at the Curb Event Center.
 
John Isner and Sam Querrey lifted the United States into a 2-0 lead over last year's runners-up Belgium on Friday.
 
Isner needed three hours and 14 minutes to dispose of world number 319 Joris de Loore 6-3, 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (10/8), 6-4, while world number 14 Querrey beat 110th ranked Ruben Bemelmans 6-1, 7-6 (7/5), 7-5.

TENNIS

Williams slams Sharapova book ahead of French Open clash

Serena Williams turned up the heat on Saturday ahead of her French Open clash with bitter rival Maria Sharapova, saying the claims about her in the Russian's book were "hearsay" and not "necessarily true".

Williams slams Sharapova book ahead of French Open clash
Serena Williams of the US holds a ball as she prepares to serve to Germany's Julia Goerges on day seven of the French Open. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP
Sharapova, who Williams has beaten 18 times in a row, claimed in her recent memoir 'Unstoppable' that Serena “hated” her for hearing her cry after the 2004 Wimbledon final.
   
The fourth-round match at Roland Garros on Monday will be the first time the two have faced off since the American's win in the 2016 Australian Open quarter-finals — Sharapova's last match before serving a 15-month doping ban.
   
“I think the book was 100 percent hearsay, at least all the stuff I read and the quotes that I read, which was a little bit disappointing,” said Williams after her 6-3, 6-4 third-round win over Julia Goerges.
   
“I have cried in the locker room many times after a loss, and that's what I have seen a lot of people do. I think it's normal. It's a Wimbledon final, you know. So it's just, like, I think it would be more shocking if I wasn't in tears…
   
“The book was a lot about me. I was surprised about that, to be honest. You know, I was, like, 'oh, okay. I didn't expect to be reading a book about me, that wasn't necessarily true'.”
   
The 23-time Grand Slam champion, who holds a 19-2 record over Sharapova, is playing her first major tournament since winning the 2017 Australian Open, after giving birth to her daughter Olympia.
   
Williams's only two losses to fellow former world number one Sharapova came 14 years ago — in the 2004 Wimbledon final and at the WTA Tour Championships — before even the birth of Twitter and YouTube.
   
But both are on the road back towards the top of the sport after their recent absences.
   
Williams had played only four matches since taking time off due to pregnancy before arriving at Roland Garros.
   
Sharapova is seeded for the first time at a Grand Slam since her suspension for using meldonium and is playing her first French Open since 2015 after being refused a wildcard by tournament organisers last year.
   
But the 36-year-old thinks the Russian should be the favourite on Monday as she lacks playing time, while Sharapova produced her best tennis since returning to the court in dismantling former world number one Karolina 
Pliskova 6-2, 6-1.
   
“Quite frankly, she's probably a favourite in this match, for sure,” added Serena. “She's been playing for over a year now. I just started. So I'm just really trying to get my bearings and trying to feel out where I am and see where I can go.”
 
'Numbers don't lie'
 
The rivalry between the two has been a bitter one since the Russian's shock victory over Williams as a 17-year-old at Wimbledon, but she admitted that the “numbers don't lie”.
   
Sharapova has lost their last seven meetings in straight sets and has managed to take only three sets in those 18 straight losses.
 
“Any time you play against Serena you know what you're up against,” said the 31-year-old. “You know the challenge that is upon you. You know, despite the record that I have against her, I always look forward to coming out on the court and competing against the best player.
   
“I think there is a lot of things in her game that she's done much better than I have… Numbers don't lie.”
   
But for all the bad blood between the two over the years — often involving claims and counter-claims over their private lives — Sharapova added in her book that reconciliation may come once the on-court battles are over.
   
“Serena and I should be friends; we have the same passion. But we are not. I think, to some extent, we have driven each other. Maybe that's what it takes,” she wrote.
   
“Only when you have that intense antagonism can you find the strength to finish her off. Who knows? Some day, when all this is in our past, maybe we'll become friends.”
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