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Venus Williams defies age, into Wimbledon final for 9th time

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LONDON (AP) — All these years later, Wimbledon still brings out the best in Venus Williams.

With her latest display of gutsy serving and big hitting, Williams beat Johanna Konta 6-4, 6-2 on Thursday to reach her ninth title match at the All England Club and first since 2009.

At 37, Williams is the oldest Wimbledon finalist since Martina Navratilova was the 1994 runner-up at that age.

Williams also stopped Konta’s bid to become the first woman from Britain in 40 years to win the country’s Grand Slam tournament.

“I couldn’t have asked for more, but I’ll ask for a little more. One more win would be amazing,” Williams said. “It won’t be a given, but I’m going to give it my all.”

She will be seeking her sixth Wimbledon championship and eighth Grand Slam singles trophy overall. Her most recent came in 2008, when she defeated her younger sister, Serena Williams, for the title at the All England Club. A year later, she lost the final to Serena.

In the time since, Williams revealed that she was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, which can sap energy and cause joint pain. As time went on, there were questions about whether she might retire, especially after a half-dozen first-round losses at major tournaments. But she kept on going, and lately has returned to winning.

Her resurgence began in earnest at Wimbledon a year ago, when she made it to the semifinals. Then, at the Australian Open in January, Williams reached the final, where she lost to — yes, you guessed it — her sister. Serena is off the tour for the rest of this year because she is pregnant.

“I missed her so much before this match. And I was like, ‘I just wish she was here.’ And I was like, ‘I wish she could do this for me,’” Williams said with a laugh. “And I was like, ‘No, this time you have to do it for yourself.’ So here we are.”

On Saturday, the 10th-seeded American will participate in her second Grand Slam final of the season, and 16th of her career, this time against 14th-seeded Garbine Muguruza of Spain.

“She knows how to play, especially Wimbledon finals,” Muguruza, the 2015 Wimbledon runner-up and 2016 French Open champion, said about Williams. “It’s going to be, like, a historic final again.”

Muguruza overwhelmed 87th-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia 6-1, 6-1 in the earlier semifinal.

Williams arrived in England a few weeks after being involved in a two-car accident in Florida; not long afterward, a passenger in the other vehicle died. At her initial news conference at Wimbledon, a tearful Williams briefly left the room to compose herself after being asked about the crash.

She has tried, coach David Witt said, to “just focus on the tennis.”

In the semifinals, it was Konta who had the first chance to nose ahead, a point from serving from the opening set when it was 4-all and Williams was serving down 15-40.

Williams erased the first break point with a backhand winner down the line, and the second with a 106 mph second serve that went right at Konta’s body. It was a risky strategy, going for so much pace on a second serve, but it worked. That opened a run in which Williams won 12 of 13 points.

“She looks to dictate from the very first ball,” Konta said. “When she puts herself in a position to do that, she plays with a lot of depth, a lot of speed, and you don’t get much of a chance to get your, I guess, grip into the points.”

Williams wouldn’t face another break point and, later, produced another impressive second serve — in the second set, at 103 mph, it went right at Konta, who jumped out of the way.

Konta played quite well, especially early, and finished with more winners, 20 to 19, each greeted by roars from the Centre Court spectators.

“They could have really been even more boisterous. I thought the crowd was so fair. And I know that they love Jo, and she gave it her all today,” Williams said. “It’s a lot of pressure. It’s a lot of pressure. I thought she handled it well. I think my experience just helped a lot.”

This was her 10th semifinal in 20 Wimbledon appearances; Konta had never been past the second round at the grass-court tournament before this year.

In the other semifinal, Muguruza won 15 of the first 20 points en route to a 5-0 lead. Even though Rybarikova entered having won 18 of her past 19 grass-court matches, mostly at lower-level tournaments, she suddenly looked a lot more like someone whose career record at Wimbledon before last week was 2-9.

“Not my best day,” Rybarikova said. “But she didn’t give me much chance to do something.”

Muguruza won the point on 19 of 25 trips to the net and had a 22-8 edge in winners.

That earned the 23-year-old Muguruza a berth in her third career Grand Slam final, second at the All England Club. She lost to Serena Williams with the title on the line at Wimbledon in 2015, then beat her at Roland Garros last year.

“I’ll have to ask Serena for some pointers,” Venus Williams said. “Serena’s always in my corner. And usually it’s her in these finals, so I’m trying my best to represent ‘Williams’ as best as I can.”

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Atlanta hosts 2020 Olympic marathon trials; full history of trials cities

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Atlanta will host the U.S. Olympic marathon trials for the first time on Feb. 29, 2020, joining a long list of cities to stage the event.

The top three male and female finishers will make the Tokyo team. The early favorites include Rio bronze medalist Galen Rupp, Boston Marathon winner Des Linden and world championships bronze medalist Amy Cragg. New York City Marathon winner Shalane Flanagan cast doubt on whether she would go for a fifth Olympics in 2020.

The U.S. Olympic marathon team wasn’t chosen by race results until 1908.

Arthur Blake was the first U.S. Olympic marathoner at the first modern Games in Athens in 1896. How was he chosen for the team? From Bill Mallon of the OlyMADMen and USA Track and Field in 2004:

“At an indoor meet in February in Boston, Art Blake won his [1,000-yard] distance race easily and joked, ‘Oh, I am too good for Boston. I ought to go over and run the marathon in Athens.’ The remark was overheard by Arthur Burnham, a wealthy stockbroker who agreed to partly finance the trip for a group of Boston Athletic Association athletes.”

Blake dropped out of the 1896 Olympic marathon after 14 miles. Greek Spyridon Louis famously won.

Various men competed for the U.S. in the Olympic marathon in 1900, 1904 and 1906 before marathons began being used as qualifiers. The trials host list from Mallon and USATF:

1908: Boston, St. Louis
1912: Boston, Los Angeles, St. Louis, New York (modified to about 12 miles)
1920: Boston, Brooklyn, Detroit, New York
1924: Boston
1928: Boston, Chesapeake Bay, New York to Long Beach AAU Championship race
1932: Boston, Baltimore
1936: Boston, AAU Championship in Washington
1940: Boston, Yonkers (N.Y.)
1948: Boston, Yonkers
1952: Boston, Yonkers
1956: Boston, Yonkers
1960: Boston, Yonkers
1964: Culver City (Calif.), Yonkers
1968: Alamosa (Colo.)
1972: Eugene (Ore.)
1976: Eugene
1980: Niagara Falls (N.Y.)
1984: Buffalo (N.Y.), Olympia (Wash.)
1988: Jersey City (N.J.), Pittsburgh
1992: Columbus (Ohio), Houston
1996: Charlotte, Columbia (S.C.)
2000: Pittsburgh, Columbia
2004: Birmingham, St. Louis
2008: New York, Boston
2012: Houston
2016: Los Angeles
2020: Atlanta

The Olympic women’s marathon debuted in 1984. Separate host cities were used for men’s and women’s trials from 1984 through 2008.

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Kayla Harrison sets MMA debut fight after post-Olympic depression

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Double Olympic judo champion Kayla Harrison will make her MMA debut on June 21 at a Professional Fighters League (PFL) event in Chicago.

The fight, against an opponent Harrison chose not to publicly reveal Monday, will be 20 months since Harrison first announced she joined the promotion and would maybe fight.

“I’ve been waiting for a long time to fight,” Harrison, 27, said on the MMA Hour on Monday. “First, it was more me. I just wanted to get my feet wet, get in there, see if I liked getting punched in the face. Now that I’ve established that I do, we’ve sort of been waiting for the PFL to get their stuff together. So, their stuff is together.”

Harrison said her first two planned opponents for the 145-pound fight (27 pounds fewer than her Olympic weight) pulled out for reasons unknown to her.

“I don’t care who I fight,” said Harrison, the only U.S. Olympic judo champion, who hopes to fight three times this year. “It’s tough because I’m 0-0 in MMA. So it’s not like I’m going to fight someone who’s 10-0. But I think it’s difficult when you have two Olympic gold medals behind your name. Like people are kind of like, are you really an amateur?”

Harrison also said Monday that she was “very depressed” after the Rio Olympics, knowing she was done with judo, not setting a morning alarm or working out and “laying in bed all day” watching TV.

“I was a little bit lost in my life,” she said. “That high is so high that when you come off of that, it’s like your low. You don’t know what to do with yourself.”

Her coaches, Jimmy Pedro and Jim Pedro Sr., were against Harrison filling that void with MMA.

“Even if I was a millionaire or independently wealthy and I had no worries and I didn’t have to work, I would still be doing what I’m doing,” Harrison said. “I think at the beginning I was kind of like skittish about it. It’s tough, too, because everyone is always like, well look at Ronda [Rousey], you always have the comparisons. It’s so different from the judo world, but I’m kind of loving it. I’m kind of starting to become my own person in MMA, if that makes sense. In judo, I always had certain expectations. Everyone is sort of like, this is Kayla. This is the golden girl. This is the poster child, and so I always felt like that’s who I had to be. But in MMA, no one really knows me. Nobody cares about judo.”

In October 2016, Harrison announced she joined MMA promotion World Series of Fighting (now PFL) as a commentator, brand ambassador and potentially a fighter. But she wasn’t 100 percent committed to competing at the time.

“All signs point to a yes, but everything has to work out,” Harrison said then.

Then in June 2017, Harrison said she would fight starting in 2018. The debut was pushed from February to June.

Harrison had been asked time and again for years about her interest in pursuing MMA. That’s in part because of former training partner Rousey’s overwhelming success after she switched from Olympic judo to MMA.

Harrison took boxing and jiu-jitsu lessons as far back as 2013, which should boost her MMA potential. Since Rio, she’s trained in New Jersey, Las Vegas and now Florida.

Harrison previously said that to compete in MMA she will require a weight cut from her Olympic judo class of 172 pounds.

Rousey competed at 135 pounds, the heaviest women’s weight class in UFC at the time. UFC added a 145-pound division last year. Harrison said in 2016 that if she fought, it would probably be at 145 pounds.

PFL, which had no women’s weight class when Harrison signed up, planned to develop a women’s program as Harrison readied for a potential debut. Harrison said Sunday that PFL’s plan is to have a full women’s division in 2019.

“I want to be the best, undisputed,” Harrison said. “I want everyone to say, oh, who’s the best MMA fighter in the world? Oh, that’s Kayla Harrison.”

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