Canada’s Fernandez beats Rodionova, advances to main draw

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Canada’s Leylah Fernandez has advanced to the main draw at the Top Seed Open.

The 17-year-old Fernandez downed Australia’s Arina Rodionova 6-2, 6-3 on Monday to advance to the tournament’s main draw through qualifiers.

The teenager from Montreal secured the match in one hour 20 minutes.

The 30-year-old Rodionova didn’t help her cause with eight double faults, including five in the deciding set.

Fernandez, the 2019 French Open junior girls champion, will play American Sloane Stephens in the first round of the main draw.

She beat Stephens in March at the Monterrey Open, before the COVID-19 pandemic put WTA Tour play on hold through the spring.

Fernandez returned to the court in late June at the Credit One Bank Invitational in Charleston, S.C.

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Ferro upsets Kontaveit to win Palermo Open

PALERMO, Italy — Fiona Ferro of France upset fourth-seeded Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in the Palermo Ladies Open final on Sunday to win the first tour-level tennis title in five months.

Ferro, who is ranked 53rd in the world, won 6-2, 7-5. She had lost just one set on her way to the final.

“It means a lot especially after a five tough months of practice,” Ferro said. “I was already feeling so happy just to be back competing and be on the court but it’s even nicer to finish the week this way.”

It was Ferro’s second WTA title and the 23-year-old sealed it on her second championship point when Kontaveit hit a return long.

“I was feeling relaxed, I don’t know why but I wasn’t really feeling the pressure,” Ferro said. “It was a tough match … but I had a good intensity. I didn’t miss a lot, I had a lot of winners. I’m really happy to have the trophy.”

Kontaveit has lost five of the six finals she has contested.

It was the first official tennis event — for men or women — since March when the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports across the globe.

“I don’t feel like I did too much wrong, she was just too good today,” Kontaveit said. “I’m just really happy we’re back playing tennis and able to compete.

“At the beginning it was terrifying but also really exciting at the same time.”

There were strict health protocols, including fewer ball kids, a limited number of fans and no post-match handshakes between opponents. Players and officials for the tournament were tested every four days for COVID-19 and one player who tested positive withdrew over the weekend.

Ferro and Kontaveit wore gloves to handle their trophies.

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Serena Williams is fit and ready to play after six month break

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Serena Williams flexed and then kissed a sinewy right bicep to show down time well spent in training even without bench pressing.

“This is God given, thank you very much,” the 23-time Grand Slam champion said as she thanked her mother, Oracene.

Williams now looks to flex her muscles on a tennis court for the first time in six months.

She is preparing for the inaugural Top Seed Open that opens Monday near Lexington, a recently added hard court tournament that serves as a tuneup for this month’s U.S. Open in New York.

The WTA’s first event in the U.S. since March features a spectator-free field that includes sister Venus Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam winner herself, Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and rising star Coco Gauff.

Serena Williams, ranked No. 9, is competing for the first time since playing for the U.S. in the Fed Cup in February. The pandemic quickly shut everything down the next month, forcing an extended layoff.

Williams has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms that have affected her lung capacity. She has been “super, super careful” in avoiding exposure to COVID-19. The 38-year-old acknowledged during Saturday’s virtual news conference that she’s been “a bit of a recluse,” in addition to owning 50 face masks and taking social distancing to an extreme.

“And everyone in the Serena bubble is really protective because at the end of the day, yeah, it’s cool to play tennis, but this is my life and this is my health,” Williams said.

“I’ve been a little neurotic to an extent, but that’s just what I have to be right now.”

Williams and Azarenka enter the tournament with open minds, hungry to resume competition.

“You want to just start somewhere,” said Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champ ranked

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