Sloane Stephens into French Open final by winning all-American semi

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PARIS (AP) — When the French Open final was played a year ago, Sloane Stephens was nowhere near Roland Garros. She was in Chicago with coach Kamau Murray, working her way back from a foot injury that required surgery and sidelined her for 11 months.

“Indoors on a hard court. Getting ready for grass. Barely walking. Playing tennis next to a bunch of 5- and 6-year-old screaming kids,” Murray recalled. “So to be here from there, I think, is rewarding, because those times were not easy.”

The times are good now. Stephens closed in on her second Grand Slam title by beating pal Madison Keys 6-4, 6-4 on Thursday in the first all-American semifinal at the French Open since 2002. It also was a rematch of the U.S. Open final won by Stephens last September.

“It’s always hard playing someone from your country and such a good friend,” Stephens said, “so I was really pleased to be able to get through that and play some good tennis.”

The 10th-seeded Stephens’ opponent in Saturday’s final will be Simona Halep, who emphatically ended the impressive French Open run of 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza by defeating her 6-1, 6-4.

Halep, who assured herself of retaining the No. 1 ranking with the victory, earned a fourth chance to win her first major title.

She twice has lost in the final at Roland Garros — to Maria Sharapova in 2014 and to Jelena Ostapenko in 2017 — and was the runner-up to Caroline Wozniacki at the Australian Open in January.

“I lost three times until now and no one died,” Halep said, “so it will be OK.”

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

Muguruza, a two-time major champion, entered the semifinals having not lost a set in the tournament. She also was coming off a lopsided victory in the quarterfinals a day earlier, overwhelming Sharapova 6-2, 6-1.

But it took Muguruza quite a while to get going against Halep, who managed to keep sending ball after ball back over the net.

Backed by fans who loudly chanted her first name between games, Halep went ahead 3-0 with the help of only one winner. Of her first 14 points, 13 arrived via errors by Muguruza — nine unforced, four forced.

It was 5-0 by the time Muguruza eventually claimed a game.

Muguruza’s last stand came at 4-all in the second set, a 13-minute game in which she held three break points. But she failed to convert any of those, and Halep held there, before breaking at love to end it.

While the Romanian sometimes has trouble with so much on the line, Stephens has been perfect in title matches on the WTA tour, going 6-0.

“I mean, there is no formula. I didn’t, like, try to do it. I’m not trying to break a record. It’s just how it’s happened for me,” Stephens said, “I think once I get going in a tournament, I’m pretty consistent, which is good. I just try to keep that going.”

She had never made it past the fourth round on the red clay of Paris until now. This year, she was two points from defeat in the third round against Camila Giorgi of Italy before turning that match around.

Stephens hasn’t dropped a set since.

“When you make it out of that,” Murray said, “you build a little bit of confidence.”

Like Halep, Stephens is an incredibly talented defensive player, and she kept stretching points Thursday until Keys would err.

In all, Keys made 41 unforced errors, 30 more than Stephens.

“It’s really tough to get any ball by her, but especially today, she was neutralizing so well. And she was hitting so many deep, heavy balls, that I really felt like I was having to go for a lot,” said Keys, who is now 0-3 against Stephens.

“There is a lot of times where I feel like she made the ball by a centimeter,” Keys continued, “and I was missing it. Just one of those days where I think she played incredibly well.”

There was a stretch after winning the U.S. Open that Stephens did not manage to do that.

Ever.

She endured an eight-match losing streak after leaving New York, going 0-6 for the rest of 2017 and then 0-2 to begin 2018, including a first-round loss at the Australian Open.

“Life came at me fast after the U.S. Open,” said Stephens, whose late father, John, was the 1988 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year with the New England Patriots.

She regrouped and got headed back in the right direction. At the Miami Open in March, she won the title, beating four major champions in a row.

Now she stands between Halep and her first Grand Slam trophy.

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VIDEO: Steeplechase barrier at wrong height mars Diamond League race

Devon Allen wins U.S. 110m hurdles title by two thousandths of a second

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Devon Allen waited out a three-hour thunderstorm delay to win by two thousandths of a second.

Allen, the University of Oregon wide receiver turned Olympian, claimed his second national title in the 110m hurdles on Sunday. By the fabric of his singlet.

Allen edged NCAA champion Grant Holloway of Florida — 13.452 to 13.454 seconds — on a wet Drake Stadium track in Des Moines, Iowa. It marked the slowest winning time at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships since another wide receiver, Super Bowl winner Willie Gault, captured his title in 1982.

The wind (1.8 meters/second at the hurdlers’ faces) and the delay did not help. The final went off at 8 p.m. local time, three hours later than scheduled, due to a storm passing through the Iowa capital with one hour left of the last day of competition at nationals.

The day’s other marquee sprints — the men’s and women’s 200m finals — were also delayed three hours. Olympians Jenna Prandini and Ameer Webb prevailed over fields that lacked recent U.S. champions and Olympic and world medalists.

The track and field season continues with a Diamond League meet in Paris on Saturday with live coverage on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

USATF Outdoors: Full Results

Also Sunday, Shelby Houlihan repeated as 5000m champion, one day after winning the 1500m. The Sioux City native, who finished 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, moved to the lead with 250 meters left and breezed to win in 15:31.03, 1.68 seconds ahead of Rachel Schneider.

Only Regina Jacobs previously pulled off a 1500m-5000m double at nationals in 1999 and 2000, three years before testing positive for a steroid that would end her career.

Paul Chelimo led for the last mile of the men’s 5000m and held off Ryan Hill by two tenths of a second. The U.S. Army runner Chelimo, an Olympic silver medalist and world bronze medalist, clocked 13:29.47, saluting as he crossed the finish line.

Olympic 800m bronze medalist Clayton Murphy recorded his biggest win since the Olympic Trials, clocking 1:46.50 and holding off NCAA champion Isaiah Harris by .61. Last year, Murphy bid to make the world championships team in the 800m and 1500m but withdrew during nationals with a hamstring injury.

World bronze medalist Ajeé Wilson claimed her third U.S. 800m title in a controlled 1:55.18, .39 ahead of Raevyn Rogers.

In the steeplechase, Evan Jager collected his seventh straight national title, three hours after first taking the track for the final. The Olympic silver medalist clocked 8:20.10 in the first event contested after the rain delay.

Shamier Little took advantage of Georganne Moline‘s stumble coming off the last hurdle to win the 400m hurdles in 53.61. Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer did not finish after crashing over an earlier hurdle. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin, the fastest in the world this year, did not compete at nationals.

Olympic and world silver medalist Sandi Morris won the pole vault with a top clearance of 4.80 meters. Jenn Suhr, the 2012 Olympic champion and 10-time U.S. champion, finished third.

Olympic shot put champion Michelle Carter finished sixth in her second meet since August, failing in a bid for an eighth U.S. title and placing outside the top three for the first time since 2007. NCAA champion Maggie Ewen won with a 19.29-meter throw.

Jeff Henderson earned his third U.S. long jump title to go along with his gold medal from Rio. Henderson leaped 8.10 meters, matching the shortest jump to win a national title since 1975. He recorded the eventual winning jump before the rain delay, then didn’t show up for his final three jumps post-delay.

Erik Kynard, a 2012 Olympic high jump silver medalist, was beaten by Jeron Robinson, who cleared 2.31 meters. Kynard, a four-time U.S. champion, suffered a left foot injury and limped off with help.

Heptathlete Erica Bougard bagged her first national title after finishing third in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and second in 2017.

MORE: Lyles, Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars at USATF Champs

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Matthew Centrowitz redeems, Jenny Simpson upset at USATF Outdoors

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Matthew Centrowitz never doubted — and, based on post-race comments, other top American milers didn’t, either — but after a dreadful year that followed his Olympic breakthrough, and moving across the country, his fifth national title had unique significance.

“Satisfaction out there,” Centrowitz told Lewis Johnson on NBC after winning the 1500m at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. “A little sense of relief, get back on top.

“I wouldn’t say it was my best race since the Olympics, but it was a step in the right direction.”

Centrowitz regained best American miler status 55 minutes after Jenny Simpson‘s run of four straight 1500m titles ended in Des Moines on Saturday.

Centrowitz, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champion in 108 years, won in typical fashion, moving toward the front on a 57-second penultimate lap and outkicking the field on the home stretch.

He crossed in 3:43.37, just .04 faster than his runner-up time a year ago and a comfortable .26 ahead of Izaik Yorks. Centrowitz, whose past celebrations included odes to Cam Newton and J.R. Smith, this time held his right hand to his ear to mimic a phone.

“I was calling 911,” Centrowitz said, “report a murder.”

It marked Centrowitz’s first win on this kind of stage since Rio. Last year, Centrowitz was unable to get more than two straight weeks of healthy training all season due in part to adductor issues and an ER visit with a viral infection. It showed at nationals, where Olympic teammate Robby Andrews beat him. It was clearer at worlds, where a listless Centrowitz finished last in his first-round heat.

Centrowitz announced in January he relocated from Portland, Ore., to work with his dad, a former competitive runner, in the D.C. area but would still be coached from long distance by Alberto Salazar. Then at the Pre Classic last month, Centrowitz was not the top finishing American in the Bowerman Mile for the first time since 2013 (though he missed the meet in 2016 and 2017).

Didn’t matter Saturday. Other U.S. milers still deferred.

“When you get into these big races with Matt, it’s like when you get into a big race with [four-time Olympic gold medalist] Mo [Farah], these guys, you kind of let them do things that you wouldn’t let someone you know you’re better than get away with,” third-place finisher and Nike Oregon Project teammate Eric Jenkins said. “They do what they want. They get into position. They take what they want. It comes with being as good as they are.”

Andrews, bounced in the first round Thursday, texted Centrowitz congratulations. Centrowitz is now one U.S. title shy of Steve Scott‘s post-World War II record. That’s on his mind.

“At this point in my career, I want to keep checking off boxes to leave my mark in the 1500m in the U.S,” said Centrowitz, who personal best from 2015 of 3:30.40 makes him the third-fastest American all time behind Bernard Lagat and Sydney Maree.

With no world championships or Olympics this season, Centrowitz still has motivation. He would like to win a Diamond League race (no U.S. man has done so in the 1500m) and finish the year ranked No. 1 in the country.

“My dad always calls it the three Hs,” Centrowitz said. “I’ve got to be happy, healthy and hungry. …. Relatively speaking, I’ve been healthy since Jan. 1, and I was hungrier than ever today.”

USATF Outdoors conclude Sunday on NBC (4-6 p.m. ET) and NBC Sports Gold (12:30-6 p.m.), highlighted by 200m, 5000m and 110m hurdles finals.

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Results | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

Simpson, the Olympic bronze medalist, was beaten by Olympic 5000m runner Shelby Houlihan for the second time this season. The Sioux City native Houlihan surged past Simpson on the final straight, just as she did at the Pre Classic last month.

“I’m totally bummed, but I guess I have a lot of practice at losing as well as winning,” Simpson told media in Des Moines. “It felt a little weird being at U.S. Championships and getting outkicked.”

Houlihan won in 4:05.48, .73 ahead of runner-up Simpson.

“I feel like she’s way ahead of me,” Houlihan said of Simpson. “She’s someone I’ve looked up to since high school.”

In other events, Deanna Price took the American record back from Gwen Berry with a 78.12-meter hammer throw, the best in the world this year.

Shakima Wimbley and Kahmari Montgomery won their first U.S. titles in the 400m.

Wimbley prevailed in 49.52, lowering her personal best by .66, tying the fastest time in the world this year and torching a field lacking the last two world champions, Phyllis Francis and Allyson Felix. Wimbley showed promise at the Pre Classic last month, finishing third behind Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Francis.

Montgomery clocked 44.58 to win, two weeks after finishing seventh at the NCAA Championships for the University of Houston. The men’s field lacked 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt and Michael Norman, the fastest man in the world this year who opted to race the 200m this week.

World-record holder Kendra Harrison repeated as 100m hurdles champion. Harrison clocked 12.46, off of her world record of 12.20. Olympic champion Brianna McNeal, who beat Harrison in Shanghai on May 12, was not in the field.

World gold and silver medalists Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs went one-two in the 3000m steeplechase. Coburn, the Olympic bronze medalist, earned her seventh national title in eight years by clocking 9:17.70. She pulled away from Frerichs on the last lap to win by .99. Nobody else finished within 15 seconds.

“[Frerichs] gave me a run for my money,” Coburn, who has been beaten by a countrywoman once in eight years, said on NBC. “This is going to be a battle that’s worth watching for years to come.”

In the pole vault, Olympic bronze medalist and world champion Sam Kendricks cleared 5.85 meters for his fifth straight U.S. title.

Vashti Cunningham repeated as high jump champion by clearing 1.95 meters. Cunningham, whose father and coach is retired NFL All-Pro quarterback Randall Cunningham, was 13th at the Olympics and 10th at the world championships.

Darrell Hill upset Olympic champion Ryan Crouser in the shot put, winning with a 21.57-meter throw. Hill improved to 3-17 against Crouser. Crouser came to Des Moines with the top 23 throws by an American this year out of his 24 total legal throws, according to Tilastopaja.org. But on Saturday he had five fouls in six throws. His only legal throw was 20.99 meters for second place.

NCAA runner-up Kenny Selmon won the 400m hurdles from lane eight against a field that lacked Olympic champion Kerron Clement. Selmon clocked 48.21 seconds, three tenths ahead of TJ Holmes, who was fifth at 2017 Worlds.

The favorites advanced to Sunday’s semifinals in the 200m and 110m hurdles, including 400m indoor world-record holder Michael Norman and Olympian Ameer Webb in the 200m and world-record holder Aries Merritt, Olympian Devon Allen and NCAA champion Grant Holloway in the hurdles.

MORE: Lyles, Norman, green teens at Olympic Trials, now stars at USATF Champs

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