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

AP
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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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MORE: Serena Williams comments on 2020 Olympics during pregnancy

Scotty James wins fifth X Games snowboard halfpipe title

Scotty James
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Scotty James doesn’t have Olympic gold, but he remains king of the X Games halfpipe.

James, the Australian snowboarder who took bronze and silver at the last two Olympics, earned his fifth Aspen gold, repeating as champ of the biggest annual contest under falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. Only the retired Shaun White has more X Games men’s snowboard halfpipe titles with eight.

Nobody on Friday night attempted a triple cork, which was first done in competition by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano last season en route to the Olympic title. Hirano placed sixth Friday.

“It was a tough night, pretty interesting conditions,” James said. “Had to adjust the game plan. The show goes on.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression over the course of a three-run jam session for the entire field rather than scoring individual runs.

Earlier, Olympic gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand repeated as women’s snowboard slopestyle champion, passing Olympic bronze medalist Tess Coady of Australia on the final run of the competition. Sadowski-Synnott, the only snowboarder or skier to win Olympic, world and X Games slopestyle titles, capped her finale with back-to-back 900s.

The competition lacked 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Jamie Anderson, who announced her pregnancy last month.

Canada’s Megan Oldham landed the first triple cork in women’s ski big air competition history to beat Olympic silver medalist Tess Ledeux of France, according to commentators. Oldham, a 21-year-old ex-gymnast, was fourth at the Olympics.

Eileen Gu, the Olympic champion from China, did not compete but is entered in halfpipe and slopestyle later this weekend.

ON HER TURF: U.S. freeskier Maggie Voisin on grief, loss, finding motivation

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Isabeau Levito wins U.S. figure skating title at age 15, followed by comeback stories

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Isabeau Levito won her first U.S. figure skating title at age 15, cementing her status as the new leading American woman to open the new Olympic cycle.

Levito, the world junior champion, tallied 223.33 points between two strong programs in San Jose, California. She distanced two-time U.S. champion Bradie Tennell, who went 19 months between competitions due to foot and ankle injuries in 2021 and 2022 and scored 213.12.

Tennell was just two hundredths behind Levito after Thursday’s short but had multiple jumping errors in the free skate.

Levito followed her as last to go in the free and nailed the most pressure-packed performance of her young career, including the hardest jump combination done of the entire field. She didn’t receive a single negative mark from a judge for her 19 technical elements in her two programs.

Moments later, she was in tears backstage.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

“I was just so proud of myself for staying so calm and staying so focused, doing exactly what I aimed to do,” Levito, who hasn’t finished off the podium in more than 20 events dating to November 2016, said on NBC. “I’m ready to start bouncing off the walls.”

Amber Glenn, 23, placed third and will likely become the oldest U.S. women’s singles skater to make her world championships debut in at least 45 years. Glenn botched her 11th attempt to join the list of U.S. women to land a clean triple Axel (tally according to Skatingscores.com) but still moved up from fourth after the short program, passing Starr Andrews.

Last year, Glenn entered nationals as the fourth-ranked U.S. woman and a hopeful for the three-woman Olympic team. She placed 14th in the short program, competing unknowingly with COVID-19, then tested positive and withdrew before the free skate.

In 2021, Glenn was the U.S. silver medalist, yet passed over for a spot on the two-woman world team in favor of the more experienced Karen Chen, who finished 35 hundredths behind Glenn at those nationals.

Levito, Tennell and Glenn are expected to make up the team for March’s world championships, decided by a committee.

Gracie Gold, a two-time U.S. champion who was fifth after the short program, popped a pair of planned triple Lutzes and dropped to eighth.

None of the three 2022 U.S. Olympians competed. Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell retired. Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return.

Nationals continue Saturday with the free dance and pairs’ free skate, live on NBC Sports and Peacock.

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