New York, Jul 19 (AP/UNB) — Li Na remembers first watching a tennis match on TV, drawn to the unforgettable style of one of the players.
Andre Agassi had long hair, an earring and wore denim shorts, and made an instant fan in China.
"Andre Agassi is my role model," Li said.
Li went on to become one herself.
The first player from Asia to win a Grand Slam singles title, she will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame this weekend, celebrated not only for her skills on the court but for her contribution to the growth of the sport in her country.
"She's like an icon in China. She's a huge superstar," said Mike Silverman, the director of sport for New York's City Parks Foundation.
Li conducted a clinic with children from the organization on Thursday and her influence was obvious. Many of the young players were Asian, including one teenage boy Silverman thinks is good enough to get a college scholarship. They were probably too young to remember much of her career — she retired in 2014 because of knee problems — but her impact didn't end when her playing days did.
"There's no question that Li Na, when she was playing and even now, tennis in China has never been the same since she won the French Open," Silverman said. "It changed everything."
That was in 2011, when more than 116 million people in China watched the final. Li added a second major title in 2014 at the Australian Open after twice losing in its final, rose to No. 2 in the WTA rankings and earned more than 500 singles wins.
"At least I always try my best in tennis on the court," Li said. "If you try everything I think one day for sure there will be payback."
The mother of two children is a little nervous about the induction ceremony in Newport, Rhode Island, as she tries to put together her thoughts in English. But perhaps she can take a lesson from something else she admired about Agassi.
"He never cared about what other people say, he just did his own," said Li, who is joined in this year's class by fellow two-time Grand Slam singles champions Mary Pierce of France and Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia.
Li said she can see the growth of tennis in China, where the WTA Finals will be played in Shenzhen and which got another event on the tour's calendar this year when the former Connecticut Open was moved to Zhengzhou.
"It's not only good for the athletes, it's also good for the fans to have less traveling," Li said. "They can see a high-level tournament in China."
Fans can see plenty of them, as there are nine women's tournaments in China after the U.S. Open. The country may not have a long tennis history, but Li thinks it will continue to get bigger.
"For me, I think China tennis is still young," she said. "They can have a lot of time to grow up."
Gwangju, Jul 19 (AP/UNB) — Axel Reymond dueled with Russian Kirill Belyaev over the final meters of the 25-kilometer open water race on Friday before the Frenchman lunged ahead for a three-tenths of a second victory at the world championships.
In the women's race over the same distance, Ana Marcela Cunha of Brazil won her second gold of the championships, finishing in 5 hours, 8 minutes 03.00 seconds, 8.60 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Finnia Wunram of Germany. Lara Grangeon of France claimed the bronze, 18.20 seconds behind Cunha.
It was the 27-year-old Cunha's fifth gold and 11th medal overall at the world championships since 2011. She won the 5-kilometer race here on Wednesday.
Reymond finished the men's race in a time of 4:51.6.20 while Belyaev clocked 4:51.06.50. Alessio Occhipinti of Italy earned the bronze medal, 3.30 seconds behind Reymond in often heavy rain.
Another Italian, Simon Ruffini, was fourth, 8.70 seconds behind. Australian Kai Edwards took fifth, 11 seconds behind Reymond.
The top Americans in the men's race were David Heron in 14th place, 4 minutes, 05.60 seconds behind the winner, and Brennan Gravley, who finished right behind Heron in 15th, 6:11.30 behind.
American Erica Sullivan was fifth in the women's race, 3 minutes, 20.20 seconds behind Cunha, while teammate Katy Campbell finished in ninth place, 3:56.60 behind the winner.
Only two of the 24 starters failed the complete the men's race, while five of 21 women did not finish their race.
The 25-kilometer races ended the seven-event open water program at the worlds. Only two open-water events will be held at the Tokyo Olympics next year — the men's and women's 10-kilometer races — and the top 10 finishes here qualified for those events.
Nyon, Jul 19 (AP/UNB) — UEFA has removed Mechelen from the Europa League group stage after reviewing its investigation of alleged match-fixing in Belgium last year.
UEFA says its appeals body overturned a decision from Monday to admit the Belgian cup winner.
The new decision follows a sports court in Belgium upholding an earlier disciplinary verdict of the national soccer federation that Mechelen fixed a top-tier league game on the last day of the 2017-18 season.
The court's ruling prompted the Belgian federation to withdraw Mechelen's Europa League entry.
UEFA says Standard Liege is upgraded to the group stage, and Royal Antwerp advances by one qualifying round.
Gent, which had not originally qualified for the Europa League, was given a spot in the second qualifying round, where it will face Viitorul Constanta of Romania on July 25.
Portrush, Jul 19 (AP/UNB) — An emotional opening shot by Darren Clarke. A shocking one by Rory McIlroy.
Tiger Woods had his worst score to start a British Open. Brooks Koepka quickly got into contention again.
Emiliano Grillo made a 1. David Duval made a 14.
The Open returned to Royal Portrush after a 68-year absence and made up for lost time with an unusual amount of theater Thursday. When more than 15 hours of golf before a robust, sellout crowd finally ended, J.B. Holmes was atop the leaderboard at a major for the first time in 11 years.
Even that might have been fitting. The big hitter from a small town in Kentucky had his first taste of links golf at Royal Portrush during a college trip, and he recalled how the caddies kept giving him the wrong lines off the tee because they had never seen anyone hit it that far.
Holmes drove the downwind 374-yard fifth hole to 12 feet for a two-putt birdie, and he ended with a 5-iron into the wind to 15 feet for a final birdie and a 5-under 66.
"You just have to accept the conditions over here and not get too greedy," Holmes said.
He had a one-shot lead over Shane Lowry of Ireland, who didn't have the level of expectations or the connection to Royal Portrush like McIlroy, Clarke or native son Graeme McDowell, all of whom grew up in Northern Ireland and never imagined golf's oldest championship returning to their tiny country.
"I feel like for me I can come here a little more under the radar than the other guys," Lowry said.
That wasn't the case for McIlroy.
He was the betting favorite who as a 16-year-old stunned Irish golf with a 61 to set the course record at Royal Portrush in the North of Ireland Amateur. The throaty cheers went silent when his tee shot went left and out of bounds. He went into a bush and had to take a penalty to take it out, and he walked off the first green with a quadruple-bogey 8. McIlroy finished with a triple bogey for a 79.
"I'm going to go back and see my family, see my friends, and hopefully they don't think any less of me after a performance like that today," McIlroy said. "And I'll dust myself off and come back out tomorrow and try to do better."
Woods didn't seem quite as optimistic.
That magical Masters victory in April is quickly turning into a memory as Woods struggles to find the balance between playing and making sure his back holds up. He has played only 10 rounds since Augusta National, and this was one to forget. Woods three-putted for bogey on No. 5, bladed a chip on No. 6 for a double bogey and stretched his arms in mock triumph when he finally made a birdie — his only birdie — on No. 15.
He ended with another bogey for a 78, matching his third-worst score in a major.
"Playing at this elite level is a completely different deal," Woods said. "You've got to be spot on. These guys are too good. There are too many guys that are playing well and I'm just not one of them."
The Dunluce Links held up beautifully in such lush conditions, and so did the reputation of Northern Ireland's ever-changing coastal weather. There was a blue sky and dark clouds, a strong breeze and a stiff wind, shadows and showers, all within an hour's time.
"I took on and put off my rain gear probably at least nine times in nine holes," Matt Kuchar said.
Even so, the scoring was good, without anyone being great.
The large group at 68 included Koepka, who has won three of the last six majors and looked very much capable of adding the third leg of the Grand Slam. Koepka was tied for the lead at one point until he made his lone bogey on the 17th hole. He has been runner-up twice and won the PGA Championship this year. He started out the final major in a tie for third after the first round.
As usual, Koepka keeps it simple, and it helps to have Ricky Elliott as his caddie. Elliott grew up at Portrush and knows the course as well as anyone.
"It's easy when he's just standing on the tee telling you to hit it in this spot and I just listen to him," Koepka said. "I don't have to think much. I don't have to do anything. I figure out where the miss is and where I'm trying to put it and then go from there."
Jon Rahm, a two-time Irish Open winner at nearby Portstewart and in the south at Lahinch two weeks ago, joined Holmes and Webb Simpson as the only players to reach 5 under at any point during the day. The Spaniard was particularly sharp from around the greens, controlling chips and putts beautifully. He ran out of luck late, however, missing a 5-foot par putt on the 16th and dropping another shot on the 18th.
Even so, 68 was his best score in his fourth British Open.
Duval had hit his worst score in any tournament — 91 — mainly from the jolt of a bad swing on a tough hole, compounded by an oversight. He never found two of his own tee shots at the par-5 seventh, hit the wrong ball in the process and with all the penalty shots had a 14, the second-highest score in 159 years of the British Open.
"Just one of those God-awful nightmare scenarios that happened today," Duval said. "And I happened to be on the end of it."
Forty-one players broke par, and 15 of them were within three shots of the lead.
Clarke turned and applauded the grandstand that filled up before his opening tee shot at 6:35 a.m., and he treated everyone else to three birdies through five holes. He wound up with a 71. McDowell wiped a tear from his eye before he teed off, and he was one shot off the early lead until a triple bogey at the last hole sent him to a 73.
McIlroy's only hope was to treat the crowd to four days, a daunting task when only five players in the 156-man field posted a worse score.
He said he wasn't the center of attention, and he was right. That belonged to Royal Portrush and the people who filled the links to see championship golf. They were treated to quite the show.
Portrush, Jul 19 (AP/UNB) — The excitement that always surrounds Tiger Woods even brought out the hired help near the fourth hole at Royal Portrush.
They couldn't help his sore back, or his soaring score at the British Open.
The Masters champion, a three-time winner on the links courses of the only major in Europe, shot a 7-over 78 on Thursday, his highest first-round score at the tournament and third-highest opening at any of the four biggest events in golf.
"I hit a lot of missed shots. They were all left," said Woods, wearing black rain pants and a gray sweater on a day of wet and windy weather. "Wasn't hitting it solid. Everything was off the heel."
Woods started the day with the usual cheers and howls as he stepped up on the first tee. They followed him through an opening shot that went left, but he ended up safely making par. A kid in a tiger suit onesie smiled broadly as Woods headed for the second tee.
The shouts and screams followed the 15-time major winner for the next few holes as Woods held it together, even saving par out of a bunker on No. 2.
Then came No. 4, a long par 4 along the right side of the course heading toward the North Atlantic coast. On the right is out of bounds, where there sits a private home that was ever ready for the day's proceedings. About 50 people stood by the yellow rope marking the course, watching as Woods made his way toward his ball.
From the house ran a young woman wearing a uniform and an apron, excitedly jumping up and down with her phone at the ready to snap some shots.
Woods obliged with a fourth straight par, but it was the last for quite some time.
With his back always an issue following four surgeries over three years to 2017, Woods' score began to balloon. A bogey on the fifth was followed by a double bogey on the sixth. Then another bogey.
He racked up six extra shots over those next six holes, getting only one par along the way.
"I'm just not moving as well as I'd like. And unfortunately, you've got to be able to move, and especially under these conditions, shape the golf ball. And I didn't do it," Woods said. "I didn't shape the golf ball at all. Everything was left-to-right. And wasn't hitting very solidly."
His only birdie came on No. 15. Woods celebrated by holding out both arms to receive the applause of the crowd, then licked his index finger and raised his arm.
But that birdie was also his last.
Woods came into the British Open knowing he wasn't 100 percent healthy, and knowing he never may be again. He even joked ahead of the tournament that his aches and pains are so common now they are the new normal.
Because of that, he has been playing less on the tour. He hasn't competed since June 16 at the U.S. Open, and has only 10 rounds under his belt since his victory in the Masters.
"Just Father Time and some procedures I've had over the time. Just the way it's going to be," Woods said. "One of the reasons why I'm playing less tournaments this year is that I can hopefully prolong my career, and be out here for a little bit longer."
After a 78, he might have only one more day to play in Northern Ireland. Only seven players were behind him on the leaderboard, including favorite Rory McIlroy.
"I have to be realistic about my expectations and hopefully peaking at the right time," Woods said. "I peaked at Augusta well. And hopefully I can peak a few more times this year."