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Swiatek takes an easy first step in search of US Open title

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Swiatek takes an easy first step in search of US Open title

NEW YORK (AP) — The welcome and support for Venus Williams in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday afternoon were not the same as they were for her sister, Serena, a night earlier. Nor was the result.

Venus, who turned 42 in June, has not made any pronouncements about her future in tennis, unlike her younger sibling, and while she has been successful and influential, too — a seven-time Grand Slam champion; a Black woman in a predominantly white sport — the fanfare and attention are not the same.

Playing in front of thousands of empty blue seats in an arena quite silent at the start, although growing louder later, Venus bowed out in the first round of the U.S. Open for the second consecutive appearance, losing 6-1, 7-6 (5) to Alison Van Uytvanck.

“She means so much to female tennis. Tennis, in general,” Van Uytvanck said. “She’s a legend.”

This was the 23rd trip to Flushing Meadows for Venus, who made it to the final in 1997 as a teen then won the trophy in 2000 and 2001, and her record 91st time participating in a major tournament.

Venus had never lost in the opening round at the U.S. Open until 2020, then was absent last year.

Asked what keeps her motivated these days, she answered: “Three letters: W-I-N. That’s it. Very simple.”

At night, Emma Raducanu became only the third defending U.S. Open champion to lose in the first round, eliminated by Alizé Cornet 6-3, 6-3. And yet another past champ bowed out in straight sets when Naomi Osaka, who won two of her four Grand Slam titles in New York, was eliminated by Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins 7-6 (5), 6-3 in a match that ended after midnight.

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Osaka, a former No. 1, also lost in the first round of the French Open this year and has slid to 44th in the rankings. She had been 3-0 head-to-head against Collins, but this fun-to-watch, hard-hitting matchup went the other way.

“When you lose to somebody three times,” said the 19th-seeded Collins, who has struggled with injuries this season, “you have nothing to lose, so I tried to go for it and hope for the best.”

Raducanu, who was 18 and ranked 150th when she won the title as a qualifier a year ago, was bothered by hand blisters — she took a medical timeout for treatment after the first set — and was outplayed by Cornet, a 32-year-old from France who also upset No. 1 Iga Swiatek at Wimbledon.

“Obviously really disappointing. Really sad to leave here. It’s probably my favorite tournament. But also, I mean, in a way, (I’m) happy, because it’s a clean slate,” Raducanu said. “I’m going to drop down the rankings. (Will) climb my way back up.”

Also playing under the lights was 22-time major champion Rafael Nadal, who returned to the U.S. Open for the first time since 2019 and beat 21-year-old Rinky Hijikata 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3. Nadal did not show any serious lingering issues with the torn abdominal muscle that forced him out of Wimbledon in July.

Venus was off the tour in singles entirely from August 2021 until less than a month ago and is now 0-4 since her return. Her ranking — which 20 years ago was No. 1 — is 1,504th this week.

“It was definitely the longest time I have been away from tennis and been without a racket in my hand. So it was a completely new experience for me, getting a racket back in my hand and trying to acclimate as quick as possible to be ready for the U.S. Open, which was not easy,” she said. “Definitely playing lots of great points, but in the end, it’s just rust. There is nothing you can do about that except for, you know, not be rusty at some point.”

It was Serena who announced to the world on Aug. 9 that she was getting ready to step away from her playing career, leaving unclear exactly when the end would be, although she hinted it could come at the U.S. Open. So her first-round match Monday fell into the category of a must-see happening, drawing a record crowd of more than 29,000 to the tournament grounds, including more than 23,000 in Ashe — and the atmosphere was uproarious and electric from start to finish of her 6-3, 6-3 victory over Danka Kovinic.

Now Serena, who won six of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles in New York, will move on to a matchup against No. 2 seed Anett Kontaveit in Ashe on Wednesday night.

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And then she and Venus will join forces in doubles on Thursday, teaming up for the first time anywhere since 2018 this week.

When a reporter wanted to know whether retirement has been on Venus’ mind, she replied: “Right now, I’m just focused on the doubles.”

So how did that reunion of a pairing that has earned 14 Grand Slam titles in that event come about?

“It was Serena’s idea. She’s the boss, so I do whatever she tells me to do,” Venus said. “We have had some great wins. It would be nice to add some more.”

Van Uytvanck now meets Clara Burel, who eliminated Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina 6-4, 6-4.

In other action on a humid and windy Day 2 at the hard-court tournament, women’s winners included 2017 champion Sloane Stephens, No. 1 Iga Swiatek, No. 6 Aryna Sabalenka, No. 8 Jessica Pegula, No. 9 Garbiñe Muguruza, No. 13 Belinda Bencic — whose opponent, Andrea Petkovic, said she is retiring from pro tennis — and No. 22 Karolina Pliskova, the 2016 runner-up in New York.

Men who advanced included 2014 champion Marin Cilic, No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz, No. 7 Cam Norrie, No. 8 Hubert Hurkacz, No. 9 Andrey Rublev, No. 11 Jannik Sinner, No. 15 Marin Cilic, No. 17 Grigor Dimitrov and No. 28 Holger Rune, who meets John Isner next.

Neither Williams attended the other’s first-round singles match; Venus said she watched Serena on TV but was not there in person because of her own early start the next day.

Their mother, Oracene, and sister, Isha, were in the guest box each time. On Tuesday, they saw Venus struggle from the outset, particularly with her used-to-be-feared serve and groundstrokes that were not calibrated correctly. So many into the net. So many landing long.

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After some of her 25 unforced errors, Venus would wince or fiddle with her racket strings or tug on the brim of her visor.

Ten of those miscues came on backhands, far outnumbering her two winners on that side.

There were a half-dozen double-faults, just three aces. She faced 12 break points and dropped four of her 10 service games.

Just 20 minutes in, there was a 4-0 lead for Van Uytvanck, a 28-year-old from Belgium who is ranked 43rd and came into the day with a 1-8 career mark at the U.S. Open.

Venus did make a bit of a stand, breaking to open the second set and holding for 2-0. But that would be her only break of the match and soon enough, Van Uytvanck was putting away a volley winner to close out the win.

A night earlier, Serena was feted during a post-match ceremony that included a video tribute from Oprah Winfrey and a lengthy on-court interview. After this match, Venus simply slung her red equipment bag over her left shoulder, carried her racket in her right hand, and quickly walked off toward the locker room.

___

More AP coverage of U.S. Open tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/us-open-tennis-championships and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Muhammad Yunus: Nobel Peace Prize winner sentenced to 6 months in jail

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Muhammad Yunus: Nobel Peace Prize winner sentenced to 6 months in jail

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A labor court in Bangladesh’s capital Monday sentenced Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus to six months in jail for violating the country’s labor laws.

Yunus, who pioneered the use of microcredit to help impoverished people, was present in court and was granted bail. The court gave Yunus 30 days to appeal the verdict and sentence.

Grameen Telecom, which Yunus founded as a non-profit organization, is at the center of the case.

Sheikh Merina Sultana, head of the Third Labor Court of Dhaka, said in her verdict that Yunus’ company violated Bangladeshi labor laws. She said at least 67 Grameen Telecom workers were supposed to be made permanent employees but were not, and a “welfare fund” to support the staff in cases of emergency or special needs was never formed. She also said that, following company policy, 5% of Grameen’s dividends were supposed to be distributed to staff but was not.

Sultana found Yunus, as chairman of the company, and three other company directors guilty, sentencing each to six months in jail. Yunus was also fined 30,000 takas, or $260.

Yunus said he would appeal.

“We are being punished for a crime we did not commit. It was my fate, the nation’s fate. We have accepted this verdict, but will appeal this verdict and continue fighting against this sentence,” the 83-year-old economist told reporters after the verdict was announced.

A defense lawyer criticized the ruling, saying it was unfair and against the law. “We have been deprived of justice,” said attorney Abdullah Al Mamun.

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But the prosecution was happy with what they said was an expected verdict.

“We think business owners will now be more cautious about violating labor laws. No one is above the law,” prosecutor Khurshid Alam Khan told The Associated Press.

Grameen Telecom owns 34.2% of the country’s largest mobile phone company, Grameenphone, a subsidiary of Norway’s telecom giant Telenor.

As Yunus is known to have close connections with political elites in the West, especially in the United States, many think the verdict could negatively impact Bangladesh’s relationship with the U.S.

But Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen on Monday said relations between Bangladesh and the U.S. would likely not be affected by an issue involving a single individual.

“It is normal not to have an impact on the state-to-state relations for an individual,” the United News of Bangladesh agency quoted Momen as saying.

The Nobel laureate faces an array of other charges involving alleged corruption and embezzlement.

Yunus’ supporters believe he’s being harassed because of frosty relations with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh’s government has denied the allegation.

Monday’s verdict came as Bangladesh prepares for its general election on Jan. 7, amid a boycott by the country’s main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Hasina’s arch-enemy. The party said it didn’t have any confidence the premier’s administration would hold a free and fair election.

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In August, more than 170 global leaders and Nobel laureates in an open letter urged Hasina to suspend all legal proceedings against Yunus.

The leaders, including former U.S. President Barack Obama, former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and more than 100 Nobel laureates, said in the letter that they were deeply concerned by recent threats to democracy and human rights in Bangladesh.

Hasina responded sharply and said she would welcome international experts and lawyers to come to Bangladesh to assess the legal proceedings and examine documents involving the charges against Yunus.

In 1983, Yunus founded Grameen Bank, which gives small loans to entrepreneurs who would not normally qualify for bank loans. The bank’s success in lifting people out of poverty led to similar microfinancing efforts in other countries.

Hasina’s administration began a series of investigations of Yunus after coming to power in 2008. She became enraged when Yunus announced he would form a political party in 2007 when a military-backed government ran the country and she was in prison, although he did not follow through on the plan.

Yunus had earlier criticized politicians in the country, saying they are only interested in money. Hasina called him a “bloodsucker” and accused him of using force and other means to recover loans from poor rural women as head of Grameen Bank.

In 2011, Hasina’s administration began a review of the bank’s activities. Yunus was fired as managing director for allegedly violating government retirement regulations. He was put on trial in 2013 on charges of receiving money without government permission, including his Nobel Prize award and royalties from a book.

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Kim Jung Un says military should ‘annihilate’ US and SKorea if provoked…

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Kim Jung Un says military should ‘annihilate’ US and SKorea if provoked…

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his military should “thoroughly annihilate” the United States and South Korea if provoked, state media reported Monday, after he vowed to boost national defense to cope with what he called an unprecedented U.S.-led confrontation.

North Korea has increased its warlike rhetoric in recent months in response to an expansion of U.S.-South Korean military drills. Experts expect Kim will continue to escalate his rhetoric and weapons tests because he likely believes he can use heightened tensions to wrest U.S. concessions if former President Donald Trump wins the U.S. presidential election in November.

In a five-day major ruling party meeting last week, Kim said he will launch three more military spy satellites, produce more nuclear materials and develop attack drones this year in what observers say is an attempt to increase his leverage in future diplomacy with the U.S.

In a meeting Sunday with commanding army officers, Kim said it is urgent to sharpen “the treasured sword” to safeguard national security, an apparent reference to his country’s nuclear weapons program. He cited “the U.S. and other hostile forces’ military confrontation moves,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

Kim stressed that “our army should deal a deadly blow to thoroughly annihilate them by mobilizing all the toughest means and potentialities without moment’s hesitation” if they opt for military confrontation and provocations against North Korea, KCNA said.

In his New Year’s Day address Monday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said he will strengthen his military’s preemptive strike, missile defense and retaliatory capabilities in response to the North Korean nuclear threat.

“The Republic of Korea is building genuine, lasting peace through strength, not a submissive peace that is dependent on the goodwill of the adversary,” Yoon said, using South Korea’s official name.

At the party meeting, Kim called South Korea “a hemiplegic malformation and colonial subordinate state” whose society is “tainted by Yankee culture.” He said his military must use all available means including nuclear weapons to “suppress the whole territory of South Korea” in the event of a conflict.

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South Korea’s Defense Ministry warned in response Sunday that if North Korea attempts to use nuclear weapons, South Korean and U.S. forces will punish it overwhelmingly, resulting in the end of the Kim government.

KCNA said North Korean officials held talks on Monday to implement an order by Kim to disband or reform organizations handling relations with South Korea to fundamentally change the principle and direction of the North’s struggle against the South. There was no immediate explanation of how that might alter inter-Korean relations, which have been stalled for an extended period.

Experts say small-scale military clashes between North and South Korea could happen this year along their heavily armed border. They say North Korea is also expected to test-launch intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the mainland U.S. and other major new weapons.

In 2018-19, Kim met Trump in three rounds of talks on North Korea’s expanding nuclear arsenal. The diplomacy fell apart after the U.S. rejected Kim’s offer to dismantle his main nuclear complex, a limited step, in exchange for extensive reductions in U.S.-led sanctions.

Since 2022, North Korea has conducted more than 100 missile tests, prompting the U.S. and South Korea to expand their joint military exercises. North Korea has also tried to strengthen its relationships with China and Russia, which blocked efforts by the U.S. and its partners in the U.N. Security Council to toughen U.N. sanctions on North Korea over its weapons tests.

KCNA said Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanged New Year’s Day messages on Monday on bolstering bilateral ties. North Korea faces suspicions that it has supplied conventional arms for Russia’s war in Ukraine in return for sophisticated Russian technologies to enhance the North’s military programs.

Estimates of the size of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal vary, ranging from about 20-30 bombs to more than 100. Many foreign experts say North Korea still has some technological hurdles to overcome to produce functioning nuclear-armed ICBMs, though its shorter-range nuclear-capable missiles can reach South Korea and Japan.

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Sen. Fetterman says he thought news about his depression treatment would end his political career

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Sen. Fetterman says he thought news about his depression treatment would end his political career

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. John Fetterman acknowledges having “dark conversations” about harming himself before he hit “the emergency brake” and sought treatment for depression.

He remembers thinking about his three school-age kids. “I can’t be a blueprint for my children. I can’t let them be left alone or not to understand why he would have done that,” the first-term Pennsylvania Democrat told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in a deeply personal and introspective interview taped before the broadcast that aired Sunday.

So he checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, last Feb. 15. “There was nowhere else to go,” he said, describing how he often felt during his stay that “there wasn’t any hope sometimes and like, ‘What do I have left?’”

He also wondered whether he would survive politically.

“When it got released where I was and where it was going, it was a big story. And so, I had assumed that that would be the end of my career,” he said

When he sought treatment for clinical depression, Fetterman was still coping with the effects of the stroke he had in May 2022, during his campaign for one of the Senate’s most contested seats. “My heart technically stopped, and it was a very touch-and-go situation,” said Fetterman, 54. A pacemaker was implanted with a defibrillator to manage two heart conditions, atrial fibrillation and cardiomyopathy.

His victory over Republican Mehmet Oz had helped Democrats keep control of the Senate and made him a national figure. It was the height of his political career. But he couldn’t make it out of bed at his home in Braddock, in western Pennsylvania.

“I really scared my kids, and they thought, ’You won, Dad. Why aren’t we enough? Why are you still so sad? Why are you even more sad?’ And it was hard for — to explain why I was. And, of course, a 9-year-old child wouldn’t understand that. And it was awful,” Fetterman said.

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So much so that he said he “pleaded not to go down to D.C.” later that November for orientation sessions in Washington for newly elected lawmakers.

His favorite holiday was nearing, yet he was unable to think about getting Christmas presents for his children and “dreading” his swearing in on Capitol Hill early in the new year.

Within two months, he was at Walter Reed. Aides had described the new senator as being withdrawn and uninterested in eating, discussing work or the usual banter with staff.

“This is a conversation that I’ve had with myself and anybody that knows they’re unable to address their depression, is they start to have dark conversations with themself about self-harm,” Fetterman said. “And things continued to kind of tick off the list. And then I kind of hit the emergency brake.”

He added, “I knew I needed help.”

Before checking into Walter Reed, Fetterman had never publicly discussed his battle with depression. He has since said that he has experienced it on and off throughout his life.

He left Walter Reed at the end of March after six weeks of inpatient treatment with his depression “in remission,” according to a statement from his office.

Doctors describe “remission” as when a patient responds to treatment so that they have returned to normal social function and they are indistinguishable from someone who has never had depression.

Fetterman has since become a visible presence in the Capitol, bantering with reporters, joking with Senate colleagues and speaking up at Senate hearings.

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To others who are now “facing a really dark holiday time,” Fetterman offered this guidance: “I know that last year’s was desolate. And this year’s might be desolate. Next year’s can be the best ever. And that’s what happened for me.”

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