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Serena Williams to miss Australian Open

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Defending champion Serena Williams has withdrawn from the Australian Open, saying she is not ready to return to tournament tennis.

The season’s first major starts on Jan. 15 at Melbourne Park and seven-time Australian Open champion Williams will be missing it for the first time since 2011.

Williams was pregnant with her first child when she won here last year to collect her Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam singles title.

The four-time Olympic gold medalist gave birth to her daughter, Alexis, in September.

Williams played in an exhibition tournament last week in Abu Dhabi and indicated after her loss to French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko that she might not make it to Melbourne.

“After competing in Abu Dhabi I realized that although I am super close, I’m not where I personally want to be,” Williams said in a statement released Friday by Australian Open organizers.

“My coach and team always said ‘only go to tournaments when you are prepared to go all the way.’ I can compete – but I don’t want to just compete, I want to do far better than that and to do so, I will need a little more time.

“With that being said, and even though I am disappointed about it, I’ve decided not to compete in the Australian Open this year.”

The 36-year-old Williams needs one more Grand Slam singles title to equal the all-time record held by Margaret Court, who won 24 titles before and during the Open era.

Her withdrawal comes less than 24 hours after fellow former world No.1 Andy Murray withdrew from the men’s event with a chronic hip injury.

Several other stars, including top-ranked Rafael Nadal, six-time champion Novak Djokovic and 2014 winner Stan Wawrinka, also are dealing with injuries.

Williams last year beat sister Venus Williams in the final, and later revealed she played the tournament despite knowing she was pregnant.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said Williams waited as long as she could before letting organizers know she wouldn’t be able to compete.

“I’ve been in constant contact with Serena and her team and know this is why she has pushed it and pushed it until the 11th hour to make her final decision,” Tiley said.

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MORE: Serena Williams comments on 2020 Olympics during pregnancy

New Zealand sweeps Rugby World Cup Sevens, celebrates with haka

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SAN FRANCISCO — New Zealand has won a World Cup Sevens double for the second time after the men’s team beat England 33-12 in San Francisco on Sunday to follow the Black Ferns’ win in the women’s tournament.

The New Zealand teams won the men’s and women’s titles in Russia in 2013 and again were dominant.

Sione Molia scored two of New Zealand’s five tries in the men’s final, and South Africa held off Olympic champion Fiji 24-19 to take bronze.

The weekend results mean New Zealanders are the men’s and women’s World Cup holders in the traditional 15-a-side rugby and the sevens.

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MORE: U.S. women get fourth at Rugby World Cup Sevens

Tour de France rider expelled for punching cyclist

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CARCASSONNE, FRANCE (AP) — Team Sky rider Gianni Moscon was expelled from the Tour de France on Sunday after he appeared to deliberately hit a fellow cyclist during the race.

The Italian lashed out at French rider Elie Gesbert of Team Fortuneo while both were competing during Stage 15 from Millau to Carcassonne.

“I’m sorry for today’s incident, and I totally regret my actions,” Moscon said. “I would like to personally apologize to Elie Gesbert…. What happened was wrong and was a bad example coming from me to everyone, and I want to publicly apologize. … I make no excuse for it and accept the decision of the race organizers.”

Team Sky director Dave Brailsford said the team would consider taking further action against Moscon after the Tour concludes next weekend.

The 24-year-old Moscon was suspended by Sky for six weeks last year for using a racial slur against an opponent.

His expulsion leaves Sky with seven riders.

Sky’s Geraint Thomas is leading the race ahead of teammate Chris Froome after 15 of 21 stages.

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