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Madrid Open apologizes for treatment of women’s tennis stars

Victoria Azarenka speaks with Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula after the women’s doubles final at the Madrid Open. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

The Madrid Open has apologized for a series of miscues in which the women’s stars received unequal treatment compared to the men’s players.

The women’s doubles finalists — including runners-up Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula as well as champions Victoria Azarenka and Beatriz Haddad Maia — did not receive the opportunity to make the traditional post-match speeches, even though the men’s doubles finalists did.

“Did I think we were not going to be able to speak? No. I’ve never heard of that, like, in my life,” Pegula said Tuesday. “Even in a $10,000 Challenger final you would speak. I don’t know what century everyone was living in when they made that decision or how they actually had a conversation and decided, ‘Wow, this is a great decision we’re going to do and there’s going to be no backlash against this’.”

Gauff took to Twitter after the situation, essentially giving what would have been her speech on social media.

“Wasn’t given the chance to speak after the final today:( But thank you to the fans for supporting us and women’s tennis this week! Thanks @JLPegula for always keeping it fun on the court and hitting unreal clutch shots hahahaha Lastly, big congratulations Vika and Bia,” she wrote.

“Also thanks to my team and Jess’s team of course! Also for the ball kids, tournament staff, and everyone else who works hard behind the scenes. Twitter format doesn’t allow me to say everything I would’ve said during the speech if we had one. But just wanted to say I’m thankful.”

Azarenka also criticized the tournament organizers for the decision.

“What happened in terms of doubles was completely unacceptable,” Azarenka said Thursday. “There’s a lot of conversations, obviously, internally, of what happened and I want to see how that develops and what are the consequences of those decisions. So that’s why I don’t want to make too many comments. I believe to give people the opportunity to figure out what’s the best course of action. Do I think it’s unacceptable? It’s absolutely unacceptable.”

Yet the canceled speeches were just the final straw, capping off an inauspicious week for the tournament filled with charges of sexism.

The revealing outfits worn by ball girls prompted criticism of the tournament organizers, as did birthday cakes presented to men’s and women’s champions, which differed dramatically in size. Meanwhile, world No. 1 Iga Swiatek was scheduled to play in the early hours on Saturday morning.

The organizers of the tournament released a statement apologizing to players and fans on Thursday.

“We sincerely apologize to all the players and fans who expect more of the Mutua Madrid Open tournament,” chief executive Gerard Tsobanian said. “Not giving our women’s doubles finalists the chance to address their fans at the end of the match was unacceptable, and we have apologised directly to Victoria [Azarenka], Beatriz [Haddad Maia], Coco [Gauff] and Jessica [Pegula].

“We are working internally and with the WTA to review our protocols and are committed to improving our process moving forward. We made a mistake and this will not ever happen again.”

The WTA already had indicated that it would investigate the Madrid Open, which ran over two weeks this year for the first time. The tournament is run by sports super-agency IMG.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

Cameron Brink Suffers Season-Ending ACL Tear

la sparks rookie cameron brink being helped off the court after an injury
Brink had to be helped off the court after taking a fall during the Sparks' loss to Connecticut on Tuesday. (M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sparks rookie Cameron Brink will miss the remainder of the WNBA season after suffering a torn ACL in her left knee during Tuesday’s game against Connecticut. 

Brink will also miss the Paris Olympics after having been named to the USA Basketball's 3×3 Olympic roster earlier this month. 

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, Brink started in all 15 games for the Sparks this season. She entered Tuesday averaging 8.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks, while her blocks ranked her third in the league behind Seattle's Ezi Magbegor and Las Vegas's A’ja Wilson.

During Tuesday’s game, Brink appeared to slip on the hardwood while driving to the basket. After standing up with assistance, she then had to be helped off the court before being carried back to the locker room

"You never think it will happen to you," Brink wrote in an Instagram post on Wednesday. "And despite all the hard work sometimes it does. This is hard to fathom but I know it will only make me stronger. I will not be derailed and I will continue to love this life — I'm not defined by basketball, but it is something that I love deeply and I will work everyday to get back to it. It's not goodbye basketball it's just a see you later. I'm always so thankful for your thoughts and prayers."

In a statement, USA Basketball wished Brink a "speedy recovery" and noted that they will be looking for someone to fill her spot on the 3×3 team. Brink's 3×3 teammate Rhyne Howard also took a knock on Wednesday, although the severity of that injury has yet to be announced. 

After the confirmation, Brink's fellow rookies took to social media to offer up words of support, with Angel Reese writing “\"prayers for my sweet girl!" Aaliyah Edwards also sent prayers, as well as "positive thoughts your way, Cam."

"It just breaks your heart," Caitlin Clark told reporters Wednesday.

"You don’t want to see anybody deal with any sort of injury, obviously an injury of that magnitude," she continued. "I know she’s the type of person that will be able to get through it and come through it stronger."

Veteran Swimmer Simone Manuel Makes 3rd Olympic Team

us olympic swimming team's simone manuel rests in a pool
Simone Manuel returns to the US Olympic Swimming Team after battling health concerns ahead of the Tokyo Games. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Decorated swimmer Simone Manuel made her third US Olympic team on Wednesday, touching fourth in the 100-meter freestyle to secure a spot in the relay event in front of a record crowd inside Lucas Oil Stadium.

With her gold medal win at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, Manuel became the first Black woman to win gold in an individual Olympic swimming event. But the former champion in the 100-meter freestyle endured a long road after being diagnosed with overtraining syndrome ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"I think Paris is going to be a blast," Manuel said after qualifying. "It's a different spot than I'm used to right now with only being a relay swimmer. But it's my third Olympic team, and that's something that's really hard to accomplish.

"It's a miracle that I'm even able to stand up here and be able to race again. The people close to me know the journey it took to get here. I'm really proud of myself and proud of Team USA."

Kate Douglass and Torri Huske will advance as the two individual swimmers in the event. They'll be joined by Gretchen Walsh and Manuel. 

Elsewhere, Katie Ledecky added to her long list of accolades by winning the 1500-meter freestyle in a time that she wasn’t entirely happy with — despite finishing well ahead of the rest of the heat.

"I was expecting to go a lot faster," she said afterwards. "I know I have a lot more in me than the end result today. I just didn't have that next gear."

One day prior, Regan Smith reclaimed the World Record in the 100-meter backstroke with a time of record time of 57.33 seconds. Smith had previously set the record in 2019, before Australia’s Kaylee McKeown broke it soon after. The feat marked the second World Record broken at the US Olympic Swimming Trials.

"There were many years that went by after 2019 where I thought that I would never do that ever again," Smith said Tuesday, before adding that she’d love to set a new record in Paris. "I think 56 is a possibility, for sure."

Midge Purce-Backed Docuseries ‘The Offseason’ to Drop This Summer

cast of the offseason nwsl reality series
'The Offseason' follows a group of NWSL stars as they prepare for preseason play. (The Offseason)

The Offseason, a reality series created by Gotham and USWNT star Midge Purce, has officially confirmed its streaming debut, Purce announced in Cannes on Tuesday.

The six-episode, half-hour docuseries will stream this summer on X, though a specific premiere date hasn't yet been set.

The Offseason was filmed in Miami, two weeks before the NWSL preseason. It's a crucial time for athletes, a period where they prepare to join their respective teams and compete for both starting and roster spots. Production designed all the facilities, bringing in top-tier trainers, masseuses, chefs, and gym equipment to create a high-level training environment, ensuring the players were in peak condition, per the show's release. Throughout filming, athletes lived together in one house — a reality TV conceit rife for entertainment.

The series follows a number of NWSL stars, including Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Maria Sanchez (Houston Dash), Lo’eau LaBonta (Kansas City Current), Michelle Alozie (Houston Dash), Taylor Smith (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Nikki Stanton (OL Reign), Ally Watt (Orlando Pride), Taryn Torres (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Paige Nielsen (Angel City FC), and Ify Onumonu (Utah Royals).

"We wanted to create a series that truly captures the essence of what it means to be a professional athlete," said Purce. "This series has always been about more than just sports — it's about the human experience behind the athlete, as well."

The show promises a behind-the-scenes look at professional women's sports, teasing major life decisions, on-field tensions, and players taking stock of the environments they'll be entering once their preseason trip is over. The series delves into the real-life challenges faced by the athletes, including club trades, contract negotiations, burnout, and the relentless pressure from outsiders commenting on the players' personal lives.

The Offseason's official trailer, released on Tuesday, shows snippets of Hubly contemplating retirement, Sanchez joining the group after signing a high-profile contract, and a healthy amount of banter about on-field achievements.

The spirit of the series is reflected in its producers: Box To Box Films is known for their sports content (Drive to Survive, Break Point, Full Swing), whereas 32 Flavors is the creative force behind Vanderpump Rules and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The series was funded by Seven Seven Six, and executive produced by Purce.

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