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Serena Williams eyes Australian Open return after pregnancy

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Serena Williams hopes to return from pregnancy (due date by the end of the summer) to defend her Australian Open title in January, according to Vogue.

“It’s the most outrageous plan,” Williams said, according to the report. “I just want to put that out there. That’s, like, three months after I give birth. I’m not walking anything back, but I’m just saying it’s pretty intense.”

Williams, a four-time Olympic gold medalist, won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title last January and, two months later, said she played that event while about two months pregnant.

Williams, 35, is already the oldest Grand Slam women’s singles champion in the Open Era. That’s by virtue not of her 2017 Australian Open title but of her 2016 Wimbledon crown.

She hopes to pass Margaret Court‘s record of 24 Grand Slaim singles titles, though Court won the majority of her events before the Open Era began in 1968.

“In this game you can go dark fast,” Williams said, according to the report. “If I lose, and I lose again, it’s like, she’s done. Especially since I’m not 20 years old. I’ll tell you this much: I won’t win less. Either I win, or I don’t play.”

As for another Olympics?

“I can’t promise that … Tokyo 2020 is a lot,” Williams said on Japanese TV on Jan. 28 after winning the Australian Open, while knowing she was already, secretly, two months pregnant.

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MORE: Past two men’s champions out of U.S. Open

Maria Sharapova could be left off Russia Olympic team, official says

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Maria Sharapova doesn’t plan to play for Russia in Fed Cup against the Netherlands in the first week of February, which will jeopardize her Olympic chances.

“If she withdraws from playing with Netherlands and we lose the match she will not play at the Olympics,” Russian tennis federation boss Shamil Tarpishchev said, according to Agence France-Presse, citing comments in Russian to news agency TASS.

Sharapova must be part of a Fed Cup team one more time to be eligible for the Rio Games.

Sharapova was named to Russia’s initial team last week for its Fed Cup date with the Netherlands in Moscow from Feb. 6-7. Russia will be heavily favored to advance, since it has seven players ranked in the top 91. The Netherlands’ best player is ranked No. 95.

Sharapova, who lost to Serena Williams in the 2012 Olympic final and again in the Australian Open quarterfinals Tuesday, said after her latest match that she doesn’t plan to play again until March due to a forearm injury that she’s dealt with since before last week’s Fed Cup announcement.

“I’m going to go and take care of my forearm first,” she said Tuesday. “I think that’s really important. I’m going to go to Moscow [for Fed Cup], be part of the team. I don’t think I’ll be playing. Then I’m not sure.

“But I think this will be a time to just get myself ready for a long year. I don’t see myself playing anything before Indian Wells [in March].”

Regardless of if Russia wins or loses against the Netherlands, it will play Fed Cup again in April, but Tarpishchev said Sharapova’s Olympic eligibility will be tied to Russia winning in February.

“If Sharapova wants to compete at the Olympics she has to play for Russia in the Fed Cup,” Tarpishchev said, according to AFP. “That’s the rule, and she needs either to play against Netherlands or in Russia’s next Fed Cup match if we manage to go through.”

The International Tennis Federation said Sharapova doesn’t need to play Fed Cup to be eligible, but she must be on the team.

“In order to complete her eligibility for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Maria Sharapova must be part of the final nominated Russian team,” an ITF official said in an email. “She does not need to contest a rubber, however she must be present at the tie. If she chooses not to join the team for the first round [against the Netherlands], she will have the opportunity to meet the Olympic criteria again in the semifinals and play-offs in April.”

Sharapova missed the 2008 Olympics due to a shoulder injury and the 2004 Olympics because she wasn’t ranked high enough when the Russian Olympic team was determined, before she won her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon that year.

She carried the Russian flag at the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony and was among the final torch bearers at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Opening Ceremony.

MORE: Serena Williams considers Olympic mixed doubles

NBC Olympics producer Dan Levinsohn contributed to this report.

Martina Hingis eyes Rio Olympics

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Martina Hingis, who won five Grand Slam singles titles in the 1990s but has exclusively played doubles the last two years (and no singles on the WTA Tour since 2007), wants to play Fed Cup later this year for the first time since 1998 at least in part because Fed Cup play is mandatory for Rio Olympic eligibility, according to French reports.

Hingis, 34, played in the Olympics once. She was the second-youngest singles player at the Atlanta 1996 Games, behind Anna Kournikova, according to sports-reference.com. Hingis, then 15, lost in the second round in singles in Atlanta but hoped to continue farther in doubles with Patty Schnyder so she could watch equestrian events.

“I have seen the dressage, but I would also like to see the jumping so I hope we can stay one more day,” the Slovakian-born Hingis said in 1996, according to the Independent. “If we lose, I go home.”

The next year, she rattled off her first three major victories — the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open. She skipped the Sydney 2000 Olympics to avoid injury risk.

Hingis is currently ranked No. 9 in the world in doubles, key as the rankings determine the Olympic tennis fields. She and Italian partner Flavia Pennetta lost in the third round of the Australian Open. Of course, Hingis would have to play with a Swiss in doubles at the Olympics.

Which raises the 2011 news that Hingis, then retired from WTA Tour play, had been asked by countryman Roger Federer‘s team to consider a comeback. She and Federer discussed playing mixed doubles at the London 2012 Olympics but decided against it. Mixed doubles joined the Olympic program in 2012.

Switzerland did not enter a mixed doubles team in London. Federer and Stan Wawrinka lost in the second round of men’s doubles, after winning gold at Beijing 2008. Federer lost to Andy Murray in the singles final, an Olympic singles gold medal still eluding him.

Hingis eventually did come back to WTA Tour doubles play in 2013.

Unlike Hingis, Federer did play at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, losing to Tommy Haas in the semifinals and Arnaud Di Pasquale in the bronze-medal match at age 19, three years before winning the first of his 17 Grand Slam singles titles.

Photos: Lindsey Vonn, Roger Federer play tennis in the Alps