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Venus Williams falls in Wimbledon final to Garbine Muguruza

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LONDON (AP) — Through it all, Venus Williams kept working, kept striving, kept eyeing yet another Wimbledon championship.

Through it all, through the difficult days of adjusting to life with an energy-sapping autoimmune disease, through the disappointing days of first-round losses that led to questions about retirement, through all of the accumulating years, she pressed on.

And on Saturday, facing Garbine Muguruza in the final, Williams had a shot at her sixth title at the All England Club — nine years after her last one and, remarkably, 17 years after her first.

Williams twice was a point from taking the opening set before unraveling completely, dropping the last nine games and losing 7-5, 6-0 to Muguruza, who earned her first Wimbledon championship.

“This is where you want to be. I like to win. I don’t want to just get to a final,” said Williams, at 37 the oldest woman to play in a title match at the grass-court major since 1994. “It’s just about playing a little better.”

She appeared ready to take control Saturday, ahead 5-4 in the first set and with Muguruza serving at 15-40. But Williams netted a forehand to close a 20-stroke exchange on the first set point. And on the second, she sent a return long. Muguruza would go on to win that game — and the next eight, too, to earn her third Grand Slam trophy.

Williams owns seven of them — five at Wimbledon in 2000-01, 2005, 2007 and 2008; two at the U.S. Open in 2000-01.

But her coach, David Witt, offered one explanation for the way everything came undone for Williams against Muguruza.

“It was just nerves,” Witt said.

“She never, I thought, looked like she was relaxed out there,” he added.

Williams arrived in England a few weeks after being involved in a two-car accident in Florida. Two weeks after the crash, a 78-year-old passenger in the other vehicle died. At a news conference following her first-round victory at Wimbledon, Williams was asked about the episode, and she tried to respond, before wiping away tears and briefly leaving the room to compose herself.

Witt said they hadn’t discussed what happened with each other once the tournament began, hoping Williams could “just focus on the tennis.”

Up until late in the first set Saturday, Williams did play quite well.

In 2011, she revealed she had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, a condition that can cause exhaustion and joint pain. Williams has since spoken about how she turned to a plant-based diet and learned other ways to get by. A half-dozen exits from majors after her opening match made some think Williams might stop playing tennis, let alone return to its biggest stages.

“There were definitely,” Williams said this week, “some issues.”

But she never lost her love for the sport or a desire to get her game back in order.

“I’m just very surprised that she’s hungry to keep winning. She has won almost everything. She’s not (still) young, to be looking forward to all these matches. She just shows this toughness,” Muguruza said. “I don’t know if I will be like this at her age.”

The strongest initial sign of a renaissance for Williams came during a run to the Wimbledon semifinals a year ago. Then, this January, she got to the Australian Open final for the first time since 2003, losing to her sister, Serena Williams. And then came these past two weeks and her first appearance in the Wimbledon final since a loss to Serena in 2009.

“I’ve been in a position a lot of times this year to contend for big titles. That’s the kind of position I want to keep putting myself in,” Williams said. “It’s just about getting over the line. I believe I can do that.”

She was asked more than once by reporters Saturday whether the Sjogren’s or the accumulated fatigue or her age played a role in the way the match unfolded. But Williams deflected those questions, instead offering praise of Muguruza, whose power and precision gave the American problems.

“Credit to her,” Williams said. “She just dug in there.”

Williams hit five double-faults, three in one game and once to get broken to begin the second set. She finished with 25 unforced errors, more than twice as many as Muguruza.

“She started pressing in the second,” Witt observed, “and balls were flying out like you don’t see.”

This was Williams’ 16th Grand Slam final, second of 2017.

She sounded certain that it won’t be the last.

Asked during the on-court trophy presentation if she had a message for Serena, who is off the tour while expecting a baby, Venus said: “Oh, I miss you. I tried my best to do the same things you do, but I think that there’ll be other opportunities. I do.”

After all that’s gone on, why doubt her now?

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Geraint Thomas attacks, takes Tour de France lead ahead of Chris Froome

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British Olympic track cycling champion Geraint Thomas grabbed the Tour de France lead, attacking with three and a half miles to win a summit finish on Stage 11 on Wednesday.

Thomas now leads a Team Sky one-two in the overall standings, 85 seconds ahead of four-time Tour winner Chris Froome, as the three-week Grand Tour passed the halfway mark.

Thomas continues to say he’s riding in support of Froome — who could tie the record of five Tour titles — rather than to win cycling’s biggest event himself.

“Froome is the [Team Sky] leader here, so there’s no pressure on me,” Thomas said Tuesday, according to Cyclingnews.com. “It’s a bonus for me to be up there, and hopefully I can be there for as long as possible.”

The Tour continues Thursday with stage 12 to Alpe d’Huez, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold (full broadcast schedule here).

The 109-mile stage features three beyond-category climbs — Col de la Madeleine, Croix-de-Fer and the iconic Alpe d’Huez finish after 21 switchbacks to close out the Tour’s three days in the Alps. The overall standings are sure to change.

Greg Van Avermaet, the Rio Olympic road race champion, went into Wednesday with the yellow jersey and a 2:22 lead, which he had tripled on the first mountain day Tuesday.

But Van Avermaet, who predicted he would lose the yellow jersey before stages Tuesday and Wednesday, cracked on the second of three major climbs Wednesday. He finished in a group 22 minutes after Thomas.

Van Avermaet is a super one-day racer but not a strong climber.

Thomas showed his climbing prowess, finishing 20 seconds ahead of 2017 Giro d’Italia champion Tom Dumoulin and Froome.

“It’s unreal,” Thomas said. “I didn’t expect it at all.”

Thomas dons the yellow jersey for a second straight Tour. The 2008 and 2012 Olympic track cycling gold medalist won the opening time trial in 2017 and wore the maillot jaune four days before Froome took over en route to his fourth title in Paris.

There was talk before and during this year’s Tour that Thomas could challenge Froome as Sky’s team leader, even though Froome has won the last three Grand Tours.

But Thomas and Sky have played that down.

“Whatever happens now is bonus,” Thomas said. “Froomey’s won six Grand Tours. He knows how to race over three weeks. For me, it’s an unknown. … As long as one of us wins, that’s the main thing.”

Dumoulin moved into third overall, 1:44 behind Thomas and 19 seconds back of Froome.

The other top contenders — 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana and Romain Bardet — finished 59 seconds behind Thomas on Wednesday.

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Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics add 7 new events

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Seven new events were added to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic program:

Women’s monobobsled
Short track mixed team relay
Ski jumping mixed team event
Freestyle skiing big air (men and women)
Aerials mixed team event
Snowboard cross mixed team event

The additions bring the Winter Olympic total number of events to 109, an all-time high and nearly double the amount of events at the 1992 Winter Games.

The number of women’s hockey teams will increase from eight to 10 in 2022, but the overall number of athletes is expected to be fewer than the 2,933 in PyeongChang. The International Olympic Committee said athlete quotas will decrease in some sports, but no events have been contracted. Alpine skiing’s super combined events are still under review as to whether they will remain in the Olympic program.

The IOC said the Winter Olympics will have its highest-ever gender balance in 2022, rising from 41 percent female athletes to more than 45 percent.

The IOC had a “long discussion” about adding a women’s event in Nordic combined, the only sport without a women’s event in the Winter Games, IOC sports director Kit McConnell said.

“Nordic combined, and women’s in particular, still need to be developed further in terms of universality [the number of countries with Olympic-level athletes], in terms of the level of the athletes,” McConnell said.

The IOC also weighed whether to add a four-woman bobsled event rather than women’s monobobsled. The Games have two-man and two-woman events and a four-man event.

McConnell said the International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation was “very supportive” of monobob, in part because it is already on the Youth Olympic program.

“Woman’s four-man bob costs three or four times of monobob,” McConnell said. “We felt there would be more universality in the women’s monobob. We really didn’t see more than a handful of countries really developing women’s four-man programs because of the costs involved.”

Beijing will mark the third straight Winter Olympics to add mixed-gender events. In 2014, mixed relays in biathlon and luge debuted, as well as the figure skating team event. In PyeongChang, a mixed Alpine skiing team event and mixed doubles curling debuted.

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