Venus Williams ousted; young American will win U.S. Open

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NEW YORK — Venus Williams‘ incredible Grand Slam season ended without her first major title in nine years.

Instead, a younger American will win her first Slam at the U.S. Open on Saturday.

An inconsistent Williams fell to speedy Sloane Stephens 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 in the first of two all-American semifinals at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday night.

Stephens won 10 of the last 11 points in a 73-minute rubber set after being two points away from defeat.

Stephens, into her first major final in her fifth event back from foot surgery, will play another first-time finalist, Madison Keys, for the championship.

“When I started my comeback [on July 4], if somebody told me I’d make two semis and a Grand Slam final, I would have passed out,” said Stephens, whose biggest prior win was over Serena Williams in the 2013 Australian Open quarterfinals.

A former No. 11 player, she was ranked outside the top 900 a month ago due to the 10-month injury absence.

“I didn’t know if I was going to be able to run down every ball, didn’t know if my power and timing was still going to be there,” said Stephens, who was still in a walking boot in June. “I didn’t know if everything was still going to be right. The only thing I had to rely on was my fight.”

Keys swept CoCo Vandweghe 6-1, 6-2 in the other semifinal for the biggest win of her career.

“It still doesn’t feel real,” Keys said on court shortly after. “I’m still shaking.”

Stephens, 24, or Keys, 22, will become the first U.S. woman other than a Williams to win a Grand Slam since Jennifer Capriati at the 2002 Australian Open.

Venus Williams’ run to the semifinals at age 37 continued a resurgent campaign. Stephens clapped for Williams as she walked off the court immediately after its conclusion. Williams wasn’t in much of a mood for plaudits.

“I’m definitely here to win my matches, not for consolations,” she said later.

The quadruple Olympic champion won the most Grand Slam singles matches of any woman in 2017 — also making the finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon and the fourth round at the French Open.

She posted her best results at every Slam since her last title at Wimbledon in 2008.

Williams will move into the top five of the WTA rankings next week for the first time in nearly seven years with a great shot to move even higher before the Australian Open in January.

“I will continue to play tennis,” Williams said when asked about her near future plans. “It’s nothing complicated.”

With play like this, Williams, who adores the Olympics, can qualify to play singles at Tokyo 2020 at age 40.

However, U.S. women’s tennis is at its deepest in more than a decade: Stephens, Keys and Vandeweghe, plus Serena Williams to return next year from childbirth.

A nation can qualify a maximum of four singles players per gender for the Olympics.

If Williams is not one of the top four Americans come summer 2020, she could be selected for her sixth Olympics in doubles only.

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Emmanuel Korir nearly falls, comes back to win 800m at Pre Classic

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Kenyan Emmanuel Korir overcame getting tripped with 200 meters left to win the 800m on the first day of the Prefontaine Classic on Friday.

Korir was leading when Botswana’s Nijel Amos‘ spike clipped his leg. Korir stumbled, took six steps inside the rail and ceded the lead to Amos, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist.

But Korir overtook Amos on the final straight, winning in 1:45.16, .35 ahead of Amos. The race lacked double Olympic champion and world-record holder David Rudisha, who hasn’t raced since July 4 due to injury.

Korir, 22, ran the fastest 800m in the world last year but was eliminated in the semifinals at the world championships.

Full Pre Classic results are here.

In other events, world champion Sam Kendricks beat the last two Olympic champions in the pole vault, clearing 5.81 meters.

Surprise Rio Olympic gold medalist Thiago Braz of Brazil no-heighted at Pre for a second straight year in his first outdoor meet in 10 months. London Olympic champ and world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie didn’t fare much better, exiting at 5.71 meters for fifth place. Lavillenie still holds the top clearance in the world this year of 5.95 meters.

Rio gold medalist Thomas Röhler led a German javelin sweep, throwing a meet record 89.88 meters. World champion Johannes Vetter, who was second with an 89.34-meter throw, still ranks No. 1 in the world this year at 92.70.

In the two-mile, Ethiopian Selemon Barega upset Olympic 5000m silver medalist Paul Chelimo, outsprinting the American and clocking 8:20.01. Chelimo was second in 8:20.91.

The Pre Classic continues Saturday on NBC and NBC Sports Gold with streaming coverage starting at 2:50 p.m. ET.

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Allyson Felix withdraws from Prefontaine Classic

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Allyson Felix withdrew on the eve of the Prefontaine Classic and will miss Saturday’s anticipated 400m showdown with Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and world champion Phyllis Francis.

No reason was given by the meet director at a Friday press conference, according to media in Eugene, Ore.

Felix, a nine-time Olympic medalist and 16-time world outdoor championships medalist, was scheduled to race on the top international level for the first time since Aug. 20. She has raced in smaller meets this season, most recently last Friday.

This is the one year in the four-year cycle without an Olympics or world outdoor championships, making the Diamond League, and the Pre Classic in particular, marquee meets.

“In the 19 years that I’ve been running track, I’ve never taken a break,” the 32-year-old Felix said in an Instagram video Thursday after an intense training session but before her name was taken off Saturday’s start list. “Never had a year where I took it easy. … Now that this is kind of a year without a championship, I’ve had to force myself to have a different approach because my goal is 2020. … To be able to be at my best when it counts, I think that means not having as intense of a year as I usually do. Being a competitor and an athlete, that’s something that I struggle with. … This year, that’s what I’m really trying to force myself to do is have quality races, quality over quantity. … So, if you guys don’t see me at as many of the races as I usually run, don’t worry, I’m fine, I’m just challenging myself to be smarter.”

Felix will miss the Pre Classic for the second time in the last nine years. She was absent in 2016 with an ankle injury.

The USATF Outdoor Championships are in one month.

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