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Four U.S. women look to end Boston Marathon drought

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When 14-year-old Shalane Flanagan watched in person as her father ran the 100th Boston Marathon in 1996, she would have seen more than 20 female runners pass by before the first American woman.

When Flanagan made her Boston Marathon debut in 2013, she was the top American in fourth place.

This year, Flanagan is one of four with a realistic chance to become the first U.S. female runner since 1985 to win the world’s oldest annual marathon. In 1986, the Boston Marathon started awarding prize money, and the world’s top runners flooded to the Hopkinton start line year after year.

Flanagan, fellow Olympians Molly Huddle and Desi Linden, plus Jordan Hasay are among the favorites Monday (8:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold).

All have finished in the top three of a major marathon. This year’s Boston field also lacks the world’s fastest women over 26.2 miles — Kenyan Mary Keitany and Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba. The 2017 winner, Kenyan Edna Kiplagat, defends her title, but the feeling is the time is ripe for the Americans.

The 36-year-old Flanagan is coming off the biggest win of her career — which has spanned four Olympics — at the 2017 New York City Marathon.

Flanagan, who grew up in the Boston area, mulled retiring after that race but ultimately chose to continue on, in part because of what happened at her last start in Boston. She has declined media requests to focus on preparation.

The two-time Olympian Huddle is the American record holder at 10,000m. She was last beaten by a countrywoman in a road race in 2012, according to Tilastopaja.org. In her two warm-up races for Boston, the 33-year-old broke the American record in the half marathon and beat Hasay by 50 seconds in a 15km (also in a personal best).

But this is just Huddle’s second marathon and her first since 2016 New York City (where she placed third).

Linden, 34, has the most Boston experience and success of this quartet, including fourth-place finishes in her last two starts and a runner-up in 2011, two seconds behind the winner. But her warm-up, the New York City Half on March 18, produced her slowest career 13.1-mile time in 17 half marathons, according to Tilastopaja, though it came in 29 degrees on a new course and into a headwind.

Hasay, who made the 2008 Olympic Trials 1500m final at age 16, proved successful in her switch to the marathon last year at the tender age of 25.

She finished third in Boston with the fastest debut marathon by a U.S. woman by three minutes. Then she went two minutes faster in Chicago, another third place, and, more notably, the second-fastest marathon ever by an American.

But Hasay was beaten soundly by Huddle in two winter road races, granted Hasay ran faster than she did in the same races in 2017. Then Hasay withdrew before the world half marathon championships three weeks ago with foot tightness.

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2018 French Open women’s draw

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Unseeded Serena Williams will play Czech Kristyna Pliskova in the French Open first round, with Maria Sharapova as a possible fourth-round opponent.

Serena Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles titlist and three-time winner at Roland Garros, plays her first Grand Slam since giving birth to daughter Alexis Ohanian on Sept. 1. Williams was not given a seen by French Open organizers as she comes back from maternity leave, ranked No. 453 due to her absence.

Williams has played four WTA Tour matches, all in March, since winning the 2017 Australian Open. She is one Grand Slam singles title shy of Margaret Court‘s career record of 24.

Pliskova, whose identical twin is former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, is ranked No. 70 and has never advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam in singles.

Williams is on the opposite half of the draw as older sister Venus Williams, U.S. Open winner Sloane Stephens, Australian Open winner Caroline Wozniacki and defending French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

Other noteworthy first-round matchups: No. 1 Simona Halep against American Alison Riske and 2016 French Open winner Garbine Muguruza against 2009 French Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova.

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Brazil beach volleyball shakeup breaks up world champions

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Olympic champions Alison and Bruno‘s breakup was quickly felt throughout the top level of Brazilian beach volleyball. The 2017 World champions are no longer a pair as a result.

Alison, the 6-foot-8 blocker nicknamed “Woolly Mammoth” with a matching rib tattoo, will now partner with Andre, a 2017 World champion with Evandro.

Bruno, a 6-foot-1 defensive standout known as the “Magician,” will play with former partner Pedro. Pedro and Evandro made up the other Brazilian team at the Rio Olympics, getting eliminated in the quarterfinals and then breaking up at the end of 2016 as Evandro began playing with Andre.

Andre and Evandro’s announced breakup came days after they won the most recent FIVB World Tour event in Itapema, Brazil, without dropping a set in six matches.

“I’m very frustrated with [Andre’s] decision,” Evandro said, according to an FIVB translation of a Globo story, “but it happened, and I need to move forward.”

Evandro will be reunited with Vitor Felipe, according to the FIVB. Abrupt changes in Brazilian partnerships, sometimes with federation involvement, are common.

The biggest rival to the top Brazilian pairs the last two seasons has been the U.S. team of 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and his 2016 Olympic partner, Nick Lucena.

Dalhausser and Lucena won the first of three majors this season in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in March. They also won the last major of the 2017 season as well as the World Tour Finals, beating Andre and Evandro in the latter final.

The next major tournament this season is in Gstaad, Switzerland, in July. There are no world championships in even-numbered years.

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