Serena Williams almost cried before winning comeback match

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — Walking on court for the first match of her latest comeback, Serena Williams allowed herself a rare smile. This time, tennis is different for the 23-time major winner.

What didn’t change is Williams winning.

She beat Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan 7-5, 6-3 in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday night after a 14-month layoff for the birth of her first daughter.

“I almost cried before the match,” Williams said. “I texted Alexis, I was like, is it normal that I want to cry? I really missed her, but playing at night really helped because I know she goes to bed and she goes to sleep. I can’t like play with her right now.”

With new husband and Reddit co-found Alexis Ohanian looking on, Williams played from behind until breaking Diyas in the 11th game of the first set. Diyas netted a forehand and Williams yelled, “Come on!” as the crowd cheered.

“Right now, for this particular tournament, I’m really just trying to take it easy and not put so much pressure or stress or expectation on myself,” she said. “I feel like it’s one of the few times I’ve been able to do that.”

Williams has been away since winning the 2017 Australian Open early in her pregnancy. She gave birth to Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. six months ago.

Williams is playing at Indian Wells under a protected ranking of 22nd. She hasn’t been unseeded at a tournament since 2011 in Cincinnati.

“I’m playing with nothing to lose, I only can gain,” she said. “For me, it’s a real joy to be out here.”

The half-full stadium warmly greeted Williams, with many fans giving her a standing ovation as she entered.

Williams served a love game capped by a 100-mph ace in her first service game. She had break points in the first and fifth games but couldn’t convert. She started hitting harder and her familiar grunting returned when she tied the set 5-all.

Diyas and Williams traded service breaks early in the second set. Williams then broke her opponent again en route to winning the final five games in front of the half-full stadium. She smiled as she walked to the net, and her family gave her a standing ovation.

“It definitely wasn’t easy,” Williams said on court. “We always have a couple tight sets. It was good. I’m a little rusty, but it doesn’t matter. I’m just out here on this journey and doing the best I can.”

Also in Williams’ box were her mother Oracene, sisters Lyndrea and Isha, her agent, and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou. Older sister Venus watched from a balcony seat in an upper-level box on a 68-degree night in the Southern California desert.

Ohanian bought four billboards along Interstate 10 outside Palm Springs in tribute to his wife. The fourth billboard shows a photo of Williams and their daughter with the phrase “G.M.O.A.T” — greatest mother of all time — and is signed by Alexis Sr. and Jr.

Now she’s traveling the tour with her baby and sometimes her husband, when he isn’t off working.

“I’ve never done this before,” she said. “I know I’ll make mistakes and I’m OK with that.”

Williams’ only competitive appearances since the birth came in December at an exhibition in Abu Dhabi, a Fed Cup doubles match with sister Venus last month and an exhibition in New York on Monday.

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Final World Cup Alpine skiing races canceled

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ARE, Sweden (AP) — Viktoria Rebensburg won her third season title in the giant slalom on Sunday without hitting the slopes at the World Cup finals.

Strong winds forced the cancellation of the season-ending GS while the German skier led the standings by 92 points from world champion Tessa Worley of France, who won the title last season. With a win worth 100 points, Rebensburg was a strong pre-race favorite to wrap up the title.

The last men’s slalom was also canceled, but that didn’t affect the final standings because Marcel Hirscher had already locked up the overall and discipline titles two weeks ago.

Both races were called off shortly before their respective starts as gusts made conditions on the hill potentially unsafe for the skiers. According to FIS rules, events at World Cup finals cannot be rescheduled.

Rebensburg, the Olympic GS gold medalist in 2010, also won the World Cup GS title in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

“It’s really something special. It’s been a few years now since my last globe. I am very proud that I managed to win it again,” said Rebensburg, who struggled with injuries in recent seasons.

She ruptured ligaments in her left knee three years ago and fractured the tibial plateau in her right leg just before the start of last season.

“Every globe has a special meaning but this one is more emotional because of the time in-between,” Rebensburg said. “I know what’s behind winning a globe. You have to be consistent throughout a whole season.”

In the overall standings, Rebensburg finished third behind winner Mikaela Shiffrin and runner-up Wendy Holdener of Switzerland.

Shiffrin, who had secured her second straight overall title last week, wrote on Twitter that she agreed with the decision to call off the last event of the season.

“Ahhhhhhh shoot! The race is canceled! But it’s really windy up here so probably a good call,” the American said.

Shiffrin finished the season on 1,773 points, 130 more than last season when she won her maiden overall title. Holdener was the only other skier to gather more than 1,000 points this season — 1,168.

The men’s overall champion also applauded the cancellation.

“If you see the wind and how the slalom gates are moving, you don’t have to talk about a fair race or a quality race,” said Hirscher, who missed out on the chance to set a World Cup record by winning his 14th race of the season.

“That’s not the important thing,” he said. “It’s the right decision.”

After the cancellation of the women’s race, Manuela Moelgg announced her retirement after 18 seasons on the circuit. The Italian veteran secured 14 podiums, including three third-place finishes this season, but failed to win a race in 283 World Cup starts.

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Declan Farmer heroics lift U.S. to Paralympic hockey title in OT (video)

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Declan Farmer tied the Paralympic hockey final with 37.8 seconds to play, then scored the golden goal 3:30 into overtime to lift the U.S. over Canada 2-1 for gold on Sunday.

“It’s all a blur at the moment,” said Farmer, a 20-year-old Princeton student, “but when it comes back I will remember this day for the rest of my life.”

Farmer’s heroics gave the U.S. a third straight Paralympic title. No other nation has won two Paralympic golds in seven total tournaments.

The U.S. also finished the Winter Paralympics with the most medals (36) and most gold medals (13) for the first time since Albertville 1992.


When Farmer made a move seconds before scoring the tying goal, with the U.S. having pulled goalie Steve Cash, teammate and captain Josh Pauls thought to himself, “This is Declan Farmer time.” Farmer’s goal was the first allowed by Canada at the tournament, the shutout streak ending after 224 minutes.

Thirty seconds earlier, Canada’s Rob Armstrong had a chance to clinch gold on the empty net, but hit the post from an angle.

Farmer tallied a tournament-leading 11 goals and 17 points in his second Winter Games. His 14 career Paralympic goals are a U.S. record.

Last year, Farmer broke U.S. records for most goals (12) and points (18) at a world championship tournament, though Canada beat the U.S. in that final. He was born a bilateral amputee and started playing sled hockey at age 9.

Cash, who stopped 11 of 12 Canadian shots for his third Paralympic title, told Farmer after Sunday’s game that he was his hero.

“He’s the best overall sled hockey player to ever play the game,” Cash said, according to TeamUSA.org.

The U.S. dedicated its tournament to its 2014 Paralympic coach, Jeff Sauer, who died of pancreatic cancer in February 2017.

“Coach Sauer is watching over us,” Farmer said.

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