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Serena Williams advances in French Open return; ‘You can’t beat a catsuit’

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PARIS (AP) — For all that has changed in the 16 months since Serena Williams last played in a Grand Slam tournament — she is now married and a mother — so much was familiar about her at the French Open on Tuesday.

The fashion statement, this time in the form of a black bodysuit with a red belt that she said made her feel like a “warrior princess.” The cries of “Come on!” The big serves that provided 13 aces. The returns that eventually produced three consecutive breaks of serve.

And, yes, the victory. Competing as a mom for the first time at a major, and only about nine months since giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia, then dealing with postpartum complications, Williams edged 70th-ranked Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic 7-6 (4), 6-4 at Roland Garros.

Already a transcendent sports star and cultural icon, Williams now carries a new title: working mother.

“Well, my priority is Olympia. No matter what, that’s my priority. I have given tennis so much, and tennis has actually given me a lot, and I couldn’t be more grateful,” Williams said. “She’s my priority, and I work everything around her.”

The 36-year-old American had not played in one of tennis’s biggest tournaments since winning the Australian Open in January 2017 for her 23rd Grand Slam title, breaking a tie with Steffi Graf for the most in the professional era.

Williams, the world found out later, was pregnant at the time. Her baby was born Sept. 1; Williams married Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian in November.

Williams eventually revealed that she had an emergency cesarean section, then encountered trouble breathing afterward because of a pulmonary embolism and needed a follow-up operation.

“Just literally not sure if I was going to make it or not at several different times,” Williams said. “A lot of people have really reached out, because they have so many similar stories, too. I feel like a lot of people don’t talk about it. They talk about the baby and how happy they are. But it’s a lot that goes into it with the pregnancy and with giving birth, and it’s called a ‘miracle’ for a reason.”

FRENCH OPEN: TV/Stream Schedule | Scores | Men’s Draw (PDF) | Women’s Draw

The first match of her comeback was in doubles alongside her older sister, Venus Williams, for the U.S. Fed Cup team in February. She entered two tournaments in singles the next month, going 2-2. An absence of more than two months followed, until Tuesday in Paris.

So a woman who has spent hundreds of weeks ranked No. 1 is currently No. 451 and unseeded at the French Open, a subject of some debate: Should her past success accord her the protection a seeding offers? Williams faces 17th-seeded Ash Barty of Australia next.

“She’s a genuine champion,” Barty said. “What she’s done to be able to get back … is a pretty amazing thing.”

Tuesday’s return was striking, from Williams’ powerful shots to her outfit, which called to mind the “catsuit” she wore at the 2002 U.S. Open.

It was by far the most significant event of Day 3 at Roland Garros, even though there were so many other Grand Slam champions in action. Rafael Nadal finished off a rain-interrupted victory as he begins his try for a record-extending 11th French Open title. Maria Sharapova, a two-time champ in Paris, was pushed to three sets in a win. Garbine Muguruza, who beat Williams in the 2016 final at Roland Garros, beat another past champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova.

All eyes were on Williams, though. On the fifth point, she delivered an ace at 112 mph (181 kph). Moments later, the chair umpire intoned, “Jeu, Madame Williams,” — French for “Game, Mrs. Williams,” a change from the “Mademoiselle” used for unmarried female players.

Pliskova, a lefty whose twin sister upset Williams in the 2016 U.S. Open semifinals, actually hit more aces, 15. That’s the most anyone has hit against Williams since at least 2008, according to the WTA.

Indeed, Williams appeared to have trouble reading Pliskova’s serves early on. There were other blips, of the sort to be expected from someone who hasn’t played lately. Williams double-faulted seven times. She had nearly as many unforced errors, 25, as winners, 29.

But she is not simply skilled. She is smart, too, and she figured things out.

After trailing 3-0 in the tiebreaker, she reeled off six points in a row. After falling behind 2-0 in the second set, Williams came up with a trio of service breaks.

All was not perfect, of course. In the final game, Williams’ right foot gave way as she sprinted toward the net and she landed on her backside. At least she was able to laugh at that as she went to the sideline to towel off. A spectator yelled: “That’s all right, Serena! You still look great!”

After months of worrying more about diapers than drop shots, of breastfeeding for what she called “a really, really, really long time,” of organizing her practice schedule around her newborn’s nap schedule, Williams was back to doing what she’s most famous for, in an arena where she earned trophies in 2002, 2013 and 2015.

On Tuesday, she noted that she showed up at her news conference more promptly than she used to, so she could have more time to spend with Olympia.

“I don’t want her to ever feel like I’m not around. I’m a super hands-on mom,” Williams said. “Maybe too much.”

A reporter wanted to know whether Williams believes she can win the title again.

“I’m definitely here to compete and do the best that I can do, obviously. I’m not putting any pressure on myself as I normally do,” Williams began.

Then, perhaps questioning her own words as she heard them, she paused, before adding with a laugh: “I think deep down, we all know the answer to that.”

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What to watch in Olympic sports this week

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Mikaela Shiffrin weathered a chest cold to win her third medal (and second gold) of the World Alpine Skiing Championships on Saturday.

A hectic racing schedule means she doesn’t get much of a break.

Following her performance at Worlds in Are, Sweden, Shiffrin headed to Stockholm for a city event, which involves a series of head-to-head, knockout-style races in a bracket format. That event will re-air tonight at 11:30 PM on NBCSN. The World Cup circuit continues in Switzerland for the women and Bulgaria for the men, where two-time Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety is expected to compete in Sunday’s giant slalom.

Winter sports action continues in Seefeld, Austria, which will host the world’s top cross-country skiers, ski jumpers and nordic combined athletes at the World Nordic Skiing Championships over the next two weeks. The U.S. contingent is headlined by PyeongChang gold medalist Jessie Diggins, who won her first World Cup race of the season, an individual sprint, last Saturday.

Meanwhile, the road to Tokyo passes through New York City with the USA Track and Field Indoor Championships on Staten Island. Two Rio Olympic bronze medalists, Emma Coburn (3000m steeplechase) and Clayton Murphy (800m) headline the U.S. field, along with their Olympic teammate and 2016 world indoor high jump champion Vashti Cunningham. The event will air Saturday and Sunday on NBCSN.

ALPINE SKIING WORLD CUP — Stockholm, Sweden; Bansko, Bulgaria; Crans-Montana, Switzerland

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Tuesday 11:30 a.m. City Event – Stockholm Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
11:30 p.m. City Event – Stockholm* NBCSN
Friday 3:30 a.m. Men’s Combined (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
7:00 a.m. Men’s Combined (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 4:15 a.m. Women’s Downhill Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
5:45 a.m. Men’s Super-G Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 3:30 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
4:30 a.m. Women’s Combined (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
6:30 a.m. Men’s Giant Slalom (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Women’s Combined (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
10:30 p.m. Women’s Combined (Run 2)* NBCSN

*Same-day delay

WORLD JUNIOR ALPINE SKIING CHAMPIONSHIPS — Val di Fassa, Italy

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Wednesday 5:00 a.m. Men’s Downhill OlympicChannel.com

BOBSLED AND SKELETON WORLD CUP — Calgary, Alberta

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 4:30 p.m. Women’s Skeleton (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
5:30 p.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
7:00 p.m. Women’s Skeleton (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
8:00 p.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Saturday 11:00 a.m. Women’s Skeleton (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
12:30 p.m. Women’s Skeleton (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
2:30 p.m. Women’s Bobsled (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
3:30 p.m. Two-Man Bobsled (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
4:45 p.m. Women’s Bobsled (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Midnight Women’s Bobsled (Run 2) NBCSN
5:45 p.m. Two-Man Bobsled (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Sunday 10:30 a.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
12:15 p.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
3:30 p.m. Four-Man Bobsled (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
4:00 p.m. Men’s Skeleton (Run 2)* Olympic Channel
5:00 p.m. Four-Man Bobsled (Run 2) Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
Monday 12:30 a.m. Four-man Bobsled (Run 2) NBCSN

*Same-day delay

FENCING GRAND PRIX — Cairo, Egypt; Torino, Italy

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 6:00 a.m.  From Torino, Italy* Olympic Channel
Sunday 8:40 a.m. From Cairo, Egypt OlympicChannel.com

*Pre-recorded

FREESTYLE SKIING WORLD CUP — Tazawako, Japan; Sunny Valley, Russia; Minsk, Belarus

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Friday 11:30 p.m. Moguls Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 3:00 a.m. Ski Cross OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
11:00 a.m. Aerials OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
3:00 p.m. Aerials* Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m. Dual Moguls Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 3:00 a.m. Ski Cross OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold

*Same-day delay

GYMNASTICS WORLD CUP — Melbourne, Australia

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 2:00 a.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 1) OlympicChannel.com
9:00 p.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 1)* Olympic Channel
11:00 p.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 2) OlympicChannel.com
Sunday 9:00 p.m. Apparatus Finals (Day 2)* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay

LUGE WORLD CUP — Sochi, Russia

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 2:30 a.m. Doubles (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
3:50 a.m. Doubles (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
5:55 a.m. Women’s Singles (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
7:20 a.m. Women’s Singles (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
1:30 p.m. Doubles (Run 2)* Olympic Channel
7:00 p.m. Women’s Singles (Run 2)* Olympic Channel
Sunday 1:40 a.m. Men’s Singles (Run 1) OlympicChannel.com
3:15 a.m. Men’s Singles (Run 2) OlympicChannel.com
5:00 a.m. Sprints OlympicChannel.com
7:30 a.m. Team Relay OlympicChannel.com
7:00 p.m. Men’s Singles (Run 2)* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay

WORLD NORDIC SKIING CHAMPIONSHIPS — Seefeld, Austria

 

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Thursday 8:30 a.m. Cross-Country: M & W Sprint Finals Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
11:30 p.m. Cross-Country: M & W Sprint Finals* NBCSN
Friday 4:30 a.m. Nordic combined: LH Olympic Channel Olympic Channel/NBC Sports Gold
10:00 a.m. Nordic combined: Indiv. 10km Olympic Channel Olympic Channel
10:15 a.m. Nordic combined: Indiv. 10km NBC Sports Gold
Saturday 5:00 a.m. Cross-Country: Women’s 15km Skiathlon OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
6:30 a.m. Cross-Country: Men’s 30km Skiathlon OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
8:30 a.m. Cross-Country: Women’s 15km Skiathlon* Olympic Channel
8:30 a.m. Ski Jumping: Men’s LH Final OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
9:30 a.m. Cross-Country: Men’s 30km Skiathlon* Olympic Channel
10:30 a.m. Ski Jumping: Men’s LH Final* Olympic Channel
Sunday 4:30 a.m. Nordic Combined: Team LH OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
5:30 a.m. Cross-Country: M & W Team Sprint Final OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
7:30 a.m. Nordic Combined: Team Sprint OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
8:45 a.m. Ski jumping: Men’s LH Team Final* OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
9:30 a.m. Nordic Combined: Team LH* Olympic Channel
10:30 a.m. Cross-Country: M&W Team Sprint Finals* Olympic Channel
2 p.m. Nordic Combined: Team Sprint* Olympic Channel
3 p.m. Ski Jumping: Men’s LH Team Final Olympic Channel
11:30 p.m. Cross-Country: Women’s Team Sprint Final* NBCSN

*Same-day delay

WORLD PARA NORDIC SKIING CHAMPIONSHIPS

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Thursday 1:00 p.m. Biathlon: Individual OlympicChannel.com
Saturday 1:00 p.m. Cross-Country Skiing: Relays OlympicChannel.com
Sunday 1:00 p.m. Cross-Country Skiing: Long Distance OlympicChannel.com

SNOWBOARDING WORLD CUP — Secret Garden, China

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 1:00 a.m. Parallel Giant Slalom OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold
Sunday 1:00 a.m. Parallel Slalom OlympicChannel.com/NBC Sports Gold

WORLD SPRINT SPEED SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS — Heerenveen, Netherlands

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 9:00 a.m. Day 1 NBC Sports Gold
8:00 p.m. Day 1* Olympic Channel
Sunday 9:00 a.m. Day 2 NBC Sports Gold
8:00 p.m. Day 2* Olympic Channel

*Same-day delay

USA TRACK & FIELD INDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS — New York City, New York

Day Time (ET) Event TV Stream
Saturday 6:30 p.m. Day 2 NBCSN NBCSN
Sunday 4:00 p.m. Day 3 NBCSN NBCSN

Shiffrin wins city event, locks up World Cup slalom title

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STOCKHOLM — Mikaela Shiffrin wrapped up the season-long slalom World Cup title Tuesday, three days after winning her record fourth straight world title in the discipline. And she matched yet another record in the process.

Shiffrin won a parallel city event, defeating Christina Geiger of Germany in both runs to win the final by 0.27 seconds.

The victory gave the American two-time overall champion an insurmountable 203-point lead in the season standings with two races remaining. Her closest challenger, Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, was beaten by Geiger in the quarterfinals.

“Each run I was pretty good but not always the fastest,” Shiffrin said. “But I was consistent and for tonight, that was enough. It was really fun, actually.”

It was Shiffrin’s 57th career win and 14th of the season, matching the record for most World Cup victories in a single campaign, set by Swiss great Vreni Schneider in the 1990s.

Ramon Zenhaeusern of Switzerland won the men’s event, beating Olympic champion Andre Myhrer of Sweden in the final.

Marcel Hirscher lost in the quarterfinals but the Austrian seven-time overall champion gained enough World Cup points to lock up the slalom season title.

Both Shiffrin and Hirscher have won the crystal globe for best slalom skier six times in the past seven seasons. They both missed the title in 2016, when Sweden’s Frida Hansdotter and Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen finished top of the rankings.

Beaten by Vlhova in a similar event in Oslo on New Year’s Day, this time Shiffrin took the win, but she had to overcome a tough fight with Anna Swenn Larsson in the semifinal.

Cheered by her Swedish home crowd, Larsson won the first run by 0.09 seconds, but Shiffrin edged her by 0.10 in the second run to progress with the smallest margin possible.

In the final, Shiffrin was faster than Geiger twice as the German settled for her career best result and first World Cup podium in eight years.

Shiffrin triumphed despite still suffering from the cold she also had to deal with at the worlds in Are last week.

“I skied as well as I could. Even if I was healthy, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do better. Now I have some time to really recover,” she said.

Shiffrin will sit out races in Crans Montana this weekend and Sochi next week, before returning to the circuit on March 8-9 for technical events in Spindleruv Mlyn in Czech Republic, the resort where she had her World Cup debut in 2011 at age 15.

In the men’s event, Zenhaeusern beat Hirscher in the quarterfinal on his way to his second career victory, after also winning here last year.

Hirscher still ended up winning the season title as his two main rivals, Clement Noel and Kristoffersen, had gone out in the opening round.

“I am very happy. Winning the title today was one of the reasons for my start here,” said Hirscher, who successfully defended his world title in the discipline just two days earlier.

Noel, who won the World Cup slaloms in Wengen and Kitzbuehel last month, looked like defeating Manfred Moelgg of Italy but the Frenchman was disqualified for straddling the final gate.

And Kristoffersen, beaten by Norwegian teammate Sebastian Foss-Solevaag, has failed to go beyond the opening round of all six city events he has competed in.

The next men’s World Cup races are in Bansko, Bulgaria, from Friday through Sunday.

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