Simone Biles falls, still leads Gabby Douglas at P&G Championships

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INDIANAPOLIS — An arena gasped as Simone Biles crawled on her hands and knees.

Biles, who hasn’t lost an all-around competition in more than two years, who is the favorite for Olympic all-around gold in Rio, fell on her floor exercise routine on the first night of the P&G Championships on Thursday.

The crowd was shocked. So was Biles.

“Everyone thinks I’m a robot,” she said later. “I guess I’m human now, so that clears everything out of the way.”

That may be true, but the standings don’t lie, either.

Counting a fall, Biles leads the all-around halfway through by 1.4 points over best friend Maggie Nichols and by 2.4 over Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas (full standings here).

Neither Nichols nor Douglas fell on any of their four events Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Biles’ overall difficulty and execution are so great that she could probably fall again on the final night of competition and still earn her third straight U.S. all-around title Saturday (NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra, 8-10 p.m. ET). Perhaps fall two or three times.

The pizza-loving Texan who has been known to light a candle to the patron saint of athletes before meets is four routines from becoming the first woman to three-peat at Nationals in 23 years.

“It just shows how amazing she is,” Nichols said. “Honestly, she’s my biggest role model. I look up to her so much.”

Biles, 18, bookended her performance Thursday with her highest scores ever on uneven bars and vault in three years at senior Nationals.

But she also fell on her uneven bars warm-up, made two errors on balance beam that even a non-gymnastics fan could spot and had that spill on a floor exercise pass her coach said she’s been doing since age 9 or 10.

Biles is the two-time reigning World champion on floor, her signature event.

“She’s getting really hard on herself for the mistakes,” said her coach, Aimee Boorman. “I think this meet was great that she had errors, one really significant error, and she really was able to move on.”

The first peer to find Biles after her floor exercise fall (video here) was 2012 Olympic floor exercise champion Aly Raisman, who, like Douglas, is competing in her first Nationals in three years. Raisman was fourth after the first day.

“I fell on beam, it’s OK,” Raisman told Biles with a hug, adding that she hadn’t fallen on beam since she was 8 years old.

“It’s strange,” Biles responded. “I’m not tired.”

Biles went from floor to her final event, vault, in third place behind Nichols and Douglas but close enough that an average landing would let her sleep on a lead.

“She usually lets it carry over,” Boorman said of Biles and mistakes.

Not this time. Biles stuck her Amanar vault (one of the hardest being done in the world today) and scored 16.25 points, the highest of the competition and, apparently, a personal best.

“She’s been trying to get a 16 for so long,” Boorman said. No woman scored 16 points in the vault final at an Olympics or World Championships since 2008.

Biles and everyone else are competing in hopes of making the six-woman team for the World Championships (last week of October in Glasgow, Scotland). That team will be chosen following a fall selection camp at the Karolyi ranch in Texas.

Second-place Nichols, a Little Canada, Minn., native whose Twitter handle is @MagsGotSwag12, led the competition after each of the first three rotations Thursday.

Nichols finished third in the all-around at the 2014 P&G Championships and looked destined for her first Worlds team until dislocating her left kneecap the following week.

“Maggie Nichols, the biggest improvement I can see in this quadrennium is her,” U.S. national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said Wednesday. “At the beginning, she was just average, new elite, two and a half, three years ago. … Of this moment, she is showing definitely world-class gymnastics.”

The Olympic champion Douglas, who finished second to Biles at the Secret Classic on July 25, said she can be better than she was Thursday and has more to show as she continues her return after two seasons away from competition.

“I need to just clean up my landings a little bit,” she said. “I need to work on not being too anxious to land. Just press and stick.”

What does Douglas think of Biles’ big lead while counting a fall?

“It just says that she’s a very good competitor,” Douglas said as Biles sat 10 feet away. “This is definitely going to push me, push Aly to be even better than we are.”

Raisman said she began her beam routine Thursday afraid she would fall. And that’s exactly what happened.

“It’s still not where I want to be, but that’s OK, we’re not supposed to peak at this meet,” she said.

The third active member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic champion team, Kyla Ross, tied for 12th on Thursday. Ross won World Championships all-around silver and bronze medals the last two years but has been off so far this season.

Biles was also not at her best Thursday, but it was still plenty good enough.

“She’s tough on herself, and she doesn’t want to disappoint anyone,” Boorman said. “There’s so much, all of the media hype about her, potentially going three national championships in a row. Then all of the Rio hype and all that. It’s putting a lot on her shoulders. She’s 18, and it’s a lot.”

The P&G Championships continue with the first of two days of men’s competition Friday night (Universal Sports, 8 p.m. ET).

Men’s preview: Sam Mikulak eyes three-peat; top contenders absent

Roger Federer saves 7 match points; next: Novak Djokovic in Australian Open semifinals

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Roger Federer was not going to go gently, of course, no matter how daunting the number of match points — his opponent accumulated seven! — no matter how achy his 38-year-old legs, no matter how slow his serves, no matter how off-target his groundstrokes.

Federer still plays for the love of these stages and circumstances. Still yearns for more trophies, too. Down to his very last gasp, time and again, against someone a decade younger, 100th-ranked Tennys Sandgren of the United States, Federer somehow pulled off a memorable comeback to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the 15th time.

Despite all sorts of signs he was not quite himself for much of the match, Federer beat the biceps-baring, hard-hitting, court-covering Sandgren 6-3, 2-6, 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-3 on Tuesday in a rollicking quarterfinal that appeared to be over long before it truly was.

“For the most time there, I thought that was it. Of course, there’s little sparkles where maybe not. Then you’re like, ‘No, it IS over,’” said Federer, who only once before had won after facing as many as seven match points, equaling his personal best from all the way back in 2003. “Only maybe when I won that fourth set did I really think that, maybe, this whole thing could turn around.”

He said afterward that it had been his groin muscle that was the problem and he couldn’t be certain whether he would be fully recovered for his next match. That will come against defending champion Novak Djokovic, who overwhelmed No. 32 Milos Raonic 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (1) to improve to 10-0 against the 2016 Wimbledon runner-up.

“He was just too good,” Raonic said.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

It’ll be the 50th meeting between No. 3 Federer, who has won 20 Grand Slam titles, and No. 2 Djokovic, who owns 16.

Djokovic leads their head-to-head series 26-23, including their past five matches at majors.

“Roger is Roger. You know that he’s always going to play on such a high level, regardless of the surface,” Djokovic said. “He loves to play these kind of matches, big rivalries, semis, finals of Grand Slams.”

About the only thing that slowed Djokovic’s progression to a 37th career Grand Slam semifinal — Federer earned his 46th — was the medical timeout the Serb asked for at 4-all in the third set so he could put in new contact lenses.

“It was just something I had to do,” Djokovic said, “because those few games, I really couldn’t see much.”

The last two men’s quarterfinals are Wednesday: Rafael Nadal vs. Dominic Thiem, and Alexander Zverev vs. Stan Wawrinka.

One women’s semifinal was set Tuesday: No. 1 Ash Barty, trying to become the first Australian Open singles champion from the host country since the 1970s, against No. 14 Sofia Kenin, a 21-year-old American never before this far at any major tournament.

Wednesday’s quarterfinals are Simona Halep vs. Anett Kontaveit, and Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

There was a lot to live up to after the drama of Federer vs. Sandgren.

“You can’t give a good player — let alone maybe the best player ever — that many chances to come back,” said Sandgren, his voice low, his eyes looking down. “They’re going to find their game and start playing well. That seemed to me what happened.”

In truth, so much had happened.

Federer got into a dispute with a line judge and the chair umpire over cursing. He left the court for a medical timeout early in the third set, then was visited by a trainer later for a right leg massage.

Sandgren was run into by a ballkid during a changeover in the tiebreaker; was distracted by a courtside broadcast commentator.

The 28-year-old from Tennessee has never been a major semifinalist and was trying to become the lowest-ranked man in the Australian Open’s final four since Patrick McEnroe — John’s younger brother — was No. 114 in 1991.

Imagine, then, the heartbreak for Sandgren, who toiled for years on lower-level tours and was so thrilled just to share the stage with Federer.

“Maybe,” Sandgren said, “I’ll get another look, another shot.”

After rolling through the second and third sets as Federer’s serve dropped from an average of 112 mph to 105 mph — “Wasn’t popping like it does normally,” Sandgren observed — and Federer’s unforced errors totaled 30, the underdog led 5-4 in the fourth set.

That’s when Sandgren earned his first trio of opportunities to complete a career-defining victory. But he missed a shot each time. There were four more match points in the tiebreaker at 6-3, 6-4, 6-5 and 7-6.

“Honestly, when they told me seven, I was like, ‘What?!’ I thought it was three,” Federer said. “It’s such a blur.”

Djokovic’s take on Federer’s comeback: “Amazing.”

Raonic’s: “Impressive.”

When Sandgren sent an overhead smash long to give Federer the fourth set. Federer quickly controlled the fifth and ended the victory with a service winner at 119 mph, a little more than an hour after first staring down defeat.

“Just seemed like his level picked up when his back was right up against the wall,” said Sandgren, who only got the chance to serve on one of those seven pivotal points. “He just wouldn’t give me anything.”

That’s how Djokovic makes foes feel.

The key moment for him Tuesday came rather early: Raonic went into the quarterfinals having won all 59 of his service games in the tournament. But that streak ended at 5-4 against Djokovic. On Djokovic’s ninth break point of the match, Raonic missed a forehand to cap a 19-shot exchange, handing over the opening set.

Djokovic yelled and threw an uppercut. Two Raonic service games later, he broke yet again, all he would need to own the second set, too. Soon enough, he was two wins from a record-extending eighth championship at the Australian Open.

Federer has won six titles at Melbourne Park and never lost there to anyone ranked worse than 54th. But Sandgren, whose career tour-level record is under .500, played superbly. He won more points, 161-160, and produced edges of 27-5 in aces, 73-44 in total winners.

“I mean, he never gives up,” Djokovic said about Federer. “When it matters the most, he’s focused and he plays his best tennis.”

Federer knows exactly the sort of pain Sandgren experienced.

Last July, Federer failed to convert a pair of championship points in the fifth set of the Wimbledon final before losing to Djokovic.

“These ones just sting, and they hurt,” Federer said. “But … I was incredibly lucky today.”

MORE: Top U.S. tennis player leaning toward skipping Olympics

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World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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