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Serena Williams almost cried before winning comeback match

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — Walking on court for the first match of her latest comeback, Serena Williams allowed herself a rare smile. This time, tennis is different for the 23-time major winner.

What didn’t change is Williams winning.

She beat Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan 7-5, 6-3 in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday night after a 14-month layoff for the birth of her first daughter.

“I almost cried before the match,” Williams said. “I texted Alexis, I was like, is it normal that I want to cry? I really missed her, but playing at night really helped because I know she goes to bed and she goes to sleep. I can’t like play with her right now.”

With new husband and Reddit co-found Alexis Ohanian looking on, Williams played from behind until breaking Diyas in the 11th game of the first set. Diyas netted a forehand and Williams yelled, “Come on!” as the crowd cheered.

“Right now, for this particular tournament, I’m really just trying to take it easy and not put so much pressure or stress or expectation on myself,” she said. “I feel like it’s one of the few times I’ve been able to do that.”

Williams has been away since winning the 2017 Australian Open early in her pregnancy. She gave birth to Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. six months ago.

Williams is playing at Indian Wells under a protected ranking of 22nd. She hasn’t been unseeded at a tournament since 2011 in Cincinnati.

“I’m playing with nothing to lose, I only can gain,” she said. “For me, it’s a real joy to be out here.”

The half-full stadium warmly greeted Williams, with many fans giving her a standing ovation as she entered.

Williams served a love game capped by a 100-mph ace in her first service game. She had break points in the first and fifth games but couldn’t convert. She started hitting harder and her familiar grunting returned when she tied the set 5-all.

Diyas and Williams traded service breaks early in the second set. Williams then broke her opponent again en route to winning the final five games in front of the half-full stadium. She smiled as she walked to the net, and her family gave her a standing ovation.

“It definitely wasn’t easy,” Williams said on court. “We always have a couple tight sets. It was good. I’m a little rusty, but it doesn’t matter. I’m just out here on this journey and doing the best I can.”

Also in Williams’ box were her mother Oracene, sisters Lyndrea and Isha, her agent, and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou. Older sister Venus watched from a balcony seat in an upper-level box on a 68-degree night in the Southern California desert.

Ohanian bought four billboards along Interstate 10 outside Palm Springs in tribute to his wife. The fourth billboard shows a photo of Williams and their daughter with the phrase “G.M.O.A.T” — greatest mother of all time — and is signed by Alexis Sr. and Jr.

Now she’s traveling the tour with her baby and sometimes her husband, when he isn’t off working.

“I’ve never done this before,” she said. “I know I’ll make mistakes and I’m OK with that.”

Williams’ only competitive appearances since the birth came in December at an exhibition in Abu Dhabi, a Fed Cup doubles match with sister Venus last month and an exhibition in New York on Monday.

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MORE: Williams comments on 2020 Olympics during pregnancy

Justin Gatlin, Noah Lyles headline U.S. roster for IAAF World Relays

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Justin Gatlin and Noah Lyles haven’t been in the same race since the 2016 Olympic Trials, but they could exchange a baton at the IAAF World Relays next month.

Gatlin, the reigning world 100m champion, and Lyles, undefeated at 200m outdoors in this Olympic cycle, headline the U.S. roster at World Relays in Yokohama, Japan, from May 11-12.

It’s the fourth edition of the meet that was held in the Bahamas in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Competition includes men’s and women’s 4x100m, 4x200m and 4x400m, a mixed-gender 4x400m (making its Olympic debut in 2020), a shuttle hurdle relay and a 2x2x400m.

The U.S. has topped the medal standings at every World Relays, most memorably beating a Usain Bolt-anchored Jamaican 4x100m in 2015.

This U.S. team also includes world 100m champion Tori Bowie, U.S. 100m champion Aleia Hobbs and Lyles’ younger brother, Josephus.

The full U.S. roster:

Devon Allen
Joanna Atkina
Olivia Baker
Jessica Beard
Chris Belcher
Jasmine Blocker
Tori Bowie
Donavan Brazier
Mikiah Brisco
Ce’Aira Brown
Dezerea Bryant
Cameron Burrell
Michael Cherry
Christina Clemons (Manning)
Shania Collins
Freddie Crittenden
Paul Dedewo
Ryan Fontenot
Justin Gatlin
Queen Harrison
Aleia Hobbs
Ashley Henderson
Je’Von Hutchinson
Kyra Jefferson
Fred Kerley
My’lik Kerley
Jordan Lavender
Josephus Lyles
Noah Lyles
Remontay McClain
Sharika Nelvis
Vernon Norwood
Courtney Okolo
Jenna Prandini
Bryce Robinson
Mike Rodgers
Jaide Stepter
Nathan Strother
Gabby Thomas
Brionna Thomas
Ameer Webb
Shakima Wimbley
Dontavius Wright
Isiah Young

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How to watch 2019 London Marathon

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The London Marathon airs live on NBCSN and streams commercial free for NBC Sports Gold “Track and Field Pass” subscribers on Sunday at 4 a.m. ET.

NBCSN coverage also streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.

Sunday’s race start times (ET)
4:05 – Elite Wheelchair Races
4:10 – World Para Athletics Marathon Championships Ambulant Athletes
4:25 – Elite Women’s Race
5:10 – Elite Men’s Race, Mass Race

The London Marathon is known for the deepest fields of all the annual major marathons. This year is no exception.

Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge will race his first 26.2-miler since shattering the world record by 78 seconds in Berlin on Sept. 16 (2:01:39).

Kipchoge, on a modern-era record win streak of nine elite marathons, won his last three London starts, including setting the course record of 2:03:05 in 2016. Another world record on Sunday is a monumental ask, given Berlin is traditionally a faster course than London.

Kipchoge’s competition includes Britain’s four-time Olympic track champion Mo Farah and fellow Kenyans and past London winners Daniel Wanjiru and Wilson Kipsang.

Yet another Kenyan, Mary Keitany, also eyes a fourth London title. The 5-foot-2 soft speaker bagged either the London or New York City Marathons seven of the last eight years, with the outlier being 2013, when she gave birth to her second child.

Keitany’s greatest feat came in London in 2017, when she won in 2:17:01, erasing Paula Radcliffe‘s world record in a women’s only race by 41 seconds.

But last year, Keitany went out at world-record pace and was passed by yet another Kenyan mom, Vivian Cheruiyot, in the 23rd mile in London. Cheruiyot, a four-time Olympic track medalist, returns to defend her title Sunday.

The top two U.S. runners are Molly Huddle, in her London debut, and Emily Sisson, in her marathon debut. Both are jockeying for position among the deepest group of American female marathoners in history with the Olympic Trials looming in 10 months.

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