Serena Williams rallies for French Open win, nears possible showdown

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PARIS (AP) — After playing so infrequently, it’s as if Serena Williams is starting from scratch.

Sure looked that way for a bit more than a half-hour in the French Open’s second round on Thursday, when she dealt with muscle soreness, a lack of verve and a bunch of mistakes. So many mistakes.

And then, suddenly, after unleashing one particularly powerful backhand return winner that she punctuated with a shout, Williams was back. She was animated. Determined. Dominant, even. Shaking off some rust in her first Grand Slam tournament since giving birth nine months ago, Williams recalibrated her shots and erased a deficit of a set and a break to beat 17th-seeded Ashleigh Barty of Australia 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a match that ended shortly before dusk.

“I lost the first set, and I thought, ‘I’ve got to try harder. I’ve got to just try harder,’ she told the crowd afterward. “And Serena came out.”

Well put.

Williams had all sorts of trouble in the opening set, compiling 12 unforced errors. By the time the second set was merely one game old, she had been broken twice in the match, each time at love, a rather surprising development for the owner of one of her sport’s most dangerous serves.

Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, attributed much of the poor start to this outing coming about 48 hours after the first match of her comeback following a two-month break. She arrived in Paris having played only four matches all season — none on the red clay used at Roland Garros, and none at a major tournament since she won her 23rd such title at the Australian Open in January 2017, while pregnant.

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

“She had no energy. She was struggling to move,” Mouratoglou said, adding that he had hoped for rain to postpone the match against Barty until Thursday. “She was struggling to use her legs on the serve and she was making much too many mistakes.”

And then?

“This ability to turn a match around and suddenly be like a superhero, basically — she’s normal and suddenly, Poom!” he said, snapping fingers on both hands. “Something happens, and she transforms into someone who’s almost unreachable at the level she gets to. This is something she’s always had. It’s really special, but that’s also why she is who she is.”

Williams started yelling and pumping her fist after pretty much every point that went her way. It woke up Williams’ game. Might have startled Barty, too. As big a hitter as Barty is in her own right, she is hardly in Williams’ class — who is? — and never has been past the third round at a major tournament.

The 36-year-old American, who became a mother on Sept. 1, grabbed four consecutive games over a span of less than 15 minutes to lead 4-1 in the second set, which soon enough would be hers. She gained control of the third almost immediately, breaking to go ahead 2-1, then holding for 3-1.

After only three winners in the first set, she had 25 the rest of the way.

“When push came to shove, the real Serena came out. And that’s one of her best assets: When her back is against the wall, the best comes out,” Barty said. “And that happened early in the second, and early in the third again.”

When Williams served out the victory with a backhand winner down the line, she raised both arms. In the stands, Mouratoglou, shook his fist.

“I felt like it’s been a long way and a long journey, and I’m still getting there, you know. But I have been working really hard, for a really long time,” said Williams, who is ranked 451st, 450 spots below her career high. “I just am hoping that every day I’m out there, every match I’m out there … it will come together.”

Next for Williams is a third-round match against 11th-seeded Julia Goerges of Germany.

Get through that, and Williams would face either five-time major champion Maria Sharapova or 2016 U.S. Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova. Williams beat Pliskova’s twin sister, Kristyna, in the first round in Paris.

There were, to be sure, plenty of other big names in action Wednesday, including victories for Sharapova, No. 1-ranked Simona Halep and 10-time men’s champion Rafael Nadal.

But the 2018 French Open is, first and foremost, about Williams and her return to a Grand Slam stage.

“She’s not quite at the level she was when she was at her best, but that’s normal. That’s expected,” Barty said. “But her level when she’s not quite on her best is still bloody good.”

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Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
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Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

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2022 London Marathon Results

2022 London Marathon
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2022 London Marathon top-10 results and notable finishers from men’s and women’s elite and wheelchair races. Full searchable results are here. ..

Men’s Elite
1. Amos Kipruto (KEN) — 2:04:39
2. Leul Gebresilase (ETH) — 2:05:12
3. Bashir Abdi (BEL) — 2:05:19
4. Kinde Atanaw (ETH) — 2:05:27
5. Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) — 2:05:53
6. Birhanu Legese (ETH) — 2:06:11
7. Sisay Lemma (ETH) — 2:07:26
8. Brett Robinson (AUS) — 2:09:52
9. Weynay Ghebresilasie (GBR) — 2:11:57
10. Philip Sesemann (GBR) — 2:12:10
DNS. Mo Farah (GBR)

Women’s Elite
1. Yalemzerf Yehualaw (ETH) — 2:17:26
2. Joyciline Jepkosgei (KEN) — 2:18:07
3. Alemu Megertu (ETH) — 2:18:32
4. Judith Korir (KEN) — 2:18:43
5. Joan Melly (ROU) — 2:19:27
6. Ashete Bekere (ETH) — 2:19:30
7. Mary Ngugi (KEN) — 2:20:22
8. Sutume Kebede (ETH) — 2:20:44
9. Ai Hosoda (JPN) — 2:21:42
10. Rose Harvey (GBR) — 2:27:59
Joan Benoit Samuelson (USA, 1984 Olympic champion) — 3:20:20
DNS. Brigid Kosgei (KEN)

Men’s Wheelchair
1. Marcel Hug (SUI) — 1:24:38
2. Daniel Romanchuk (USA) — 1:24:40
3. David Weir (GBR) — 1:30:41
4. Tomoki Suzuki (JPN) — 1:30:41
5. Jetze Plat (NED) — 1:30:44
6. Aaron Pike (USA) — 1:33:05
7. Sho Watanabe (JPN) — 1:34:16
8. Jake Lappin (USA) — 1:34:16
9. Patrick Monahan (IRL) — 1:34:16
10. Johnboy Smith (GBR) — 1:34:17

Women’s Wheelchair
1. Catherine Debrunner (SUI) — 1:38:24
2. Susannah Scaroni (USA) — 1:42:21
3. Eden Rainbow-Cooper (GBR) — 1:47:27
4. Merle Menje (GER) — 1:47:28
5. Jenna Fesemyer (USA) — 1:47:28
6. Wakako Tsuchida (JPN) — 1:47:28
7. Vanessa De Souza (BRA) — 1:47:29
8. Yen Hoang (USA) — 1:47:29
9. Aline Rocha (BRA) — 1:47:32
10. Christie Dawes (GBR) — 1:47:33

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