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Sloane Stephens upset, Roger Federer debuts new look to open Wimbledon

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LONDON (AP) — Sloane Stephens’ Grand Slam career has fallen into an all-or-nothing pattern: She alternates runs to the final with first-round losses.

At Wimbledon on Monday, it was time for another early exit.

Stephens, No.5 Elina Svitolina and No. 6 Grigor Dimitrov were the top-15 seeds sent packing on the opening day. Roger Federer, wearing Uniqlo for the first time after his Nike contract ended, and Serena Williams, in her first grass-court match in two years, swept into the second round.

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Stephens was the U.S. Open champion last season and the French Open runner-up last month, but otherwise, she can’t seem to win a match at the majors.

The No. 4-seeded American bowed out at the All England Club in the first round for the second straight year, lasting a mere 71 minutes in the tournament before her 6-1, 6-3 loss to 55th-ranked Donna Vekic of Croatia was over.

“Not too much you can do,” said Stephens, her arms crossed and face a blank slate, revealing no emotion. “I’m not going to, like, go cry a bit, bang my racket.”

Might have made her forget how she played, though.

Vekic, who entered the day with a 0-5 record against opponents ranked in the top five, barely needed to produce much in the way of the spectacular. She generated only 12 winners among the 64 points she won.

The other 52 were split evenly between forced and unforced errors by Stephens, who is capable of playing much more cleanly and letting her superior defense hurt opponents. Instead, Stephens’ uneven strokes allowed Vekic to overcome nine double-faults.

“It was frustrating. Obviously I wasn’t making the shots I wanted to make. Wasn’t being as consistent as I wanted to. My feet were a little bit slow,” Stephens said. “Sometimes it happens. There’s nothing more, nothing less to it. I wish I would have made some more shots.”

In 2017, she arrived at Wimbledon to begin a comeback after sitting out for about 11 months because of an injured right foot that required surgery. Stephens quickly began playing the best tennis of her life, posting a 15-2 record to climb from 957th in the rankings and collect her first Grand Slam title in New York.

Right after that U.S. Open triumph, though, Stephens went through a rough patch, losing eight matches in a row, including a first-round loss at the Australian Open in January.

Her coach, Kamau Murray, spoke at Roland Garros last month about how Stephens was able to shrug off that troublesome time without letting it push her off course. He credited Stephens with knowing what matters and what doesn’t, and not allowing “the outside pressure to sort of … make her panic. That’s sort of the key to her success.”

Asked about her attitude in the face of days such as Monday, Stephens said she doesn’t dwell on the bad moments.

“We play a very long season. There’s no one that is going to win every single week. Even the No. 1 player in the world loses. It happens. Sometimes people do overreact, say, ‘I need a new coach, new physio,’ whatever it is,” she said. “I do believe that if you just work on yourself and focus on yourself, you’ll allow yourself to have success, no matter what else is going on around you.”

The eight-time champion Federer began his title defense in style, brushing aside Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 6-1, 6-3, 6-4 in 79 minutes on Centre Court.

Lajovic held serve in the opening game but that was as good as it got for the 58th-ranked Serb. Federer, 36, reeled off the next nine games to take charge and was in cruise control for the rest of the match.

Williams needed six match points to finish off a 7-5, 6-3 win over Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands.

Williams broke for a 5-3 lead in the second set and led 40-15 when serving for the match, but Rus saved the first two match points and then another three after reaching deuce. However, Rus finally sent a shot into the net to give Williams a winning return to the All England Club.

The seven-time champion missed last year’s tournament while pregnant and is playing this week for the first time since withdrawing during the French Open with a pectoral muscle injury.

Williams could have played Svitolina in the third round but now would not play a seed until at least the fourth round (No. 10 Madison Keys).

MORE: Serena Williams says it is unfair she gets drug tested more

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Sam Mikulak to retire from gymnastics after Tokyo Olympics

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Sam Mikulak, the U.S.’ top male gymnast, said he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics, citing a wrist injury and emotional health revelations during a forced break from the sport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does sound like some pretty crazy news, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it,” Mikulak said in a YouTube video published Sunday night. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it during quarantine.”

The 27-year-old is a two-time Olympian, six-time U.S. all-around champion and the only active U.S. male gymnast with Olympic experience.

Mikulak said he noticed significant wrist inflammation last year that was temporarily healed by a November cortisone shot. But during quarantine, the wrist worsened even though he wasn’t doing gymnastics. He took a month off from working out, but the wrist didn’t heal.

He thought for a time that he might not return to gymnastics at all. A doctor told him he would need cortisone shots for the rest of his career.

“At that point, it was really made for me that this has to be my final year of gymnastics because I don’t want to ruin myself beyond this sport,” Mikulak said.

Mikulak also noted realizations from the forced time out of the gym. He learned that he’s much less stressed while not doing gymnastics, a sport he began at age 2. Mikulak’s parents were gymnasts at Cal.

“For so long, I’ve been sacrificing, and I’m sick of it,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to be free from gymnastics and being able to do all these things that I’ve been putting off in my life for so long.”

Mikulak realized a career goal in 2018 when he earned his first individual world championships medal, a bronze on high bar. He wants to cap his career with a first Olympic medal in Tokyo, then, perhaps, become a coach or open his own gym.

Mikulak recently got engaged to Mia Atkins, and they got another puppy, Barney.

“Everything I’ve done in gymnastics is enough for me right now,” said Mikulak, who plans to document the next year on YouTube. “I was actually somewhat happy that I was able to come to that type of decision because for so long I felt like gymnastics really wasn’t going to be fulfilling until I’ve gotten my Olympic medal. And during quarantine, I had this whole revelation where, you know what, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m not doing gymnastics, so even if I don’t accomplish these goals, I am still going to be so damn happy.”

MORE: Simone Biles’ closest rival chases comeback

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April Ross, Alix Klineman complete perfect, abbreviated AVP season

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April Ross and Alix Klineman consolidated their position as the U.S.’ top beach volleyball team, completing a sweep of the three-tournament AVP Champions Cup on Sunday.

Ross, a two-time Olympic medalist, and Klineman won the finale, the Porsche Cup. They won all 12 matches over the last three weekends, including the last 14 sets in a row, capped with a 21-18, 21-17 win over Kelly Claes and Sarah Sponcil in Sunday’s final.

“It feels like we’re midseason in a normal year,” Ross said on Amazon Prime. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

The AVP Champions Cup marked the first three top-level beach volleyball tournaments since March, and a replacement for a typical AVP season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The setting: on the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center parking lot without fans and with many health and safety measures.

AVP is not part of Olympic qualifying. It’s unknown when those top-level international tournaments will resume, but Ross and Klineman, ranked No. 2 in the world, are just about assured of one of the two U.S. Olympic spots.

According to BVBinfo.com, they’re 10-0 combined against the other top U.S. teams — Claes and Sponcil and triple Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Brooke Sweat, who are likely battling for the last U.S. Olympic spot.

Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who do not play on the AVP tour, have a lead for the last spot more than halfway through qualifying, which runs into June.

Earlier in the men’s final, Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb kept 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena from sweeping the Champions Cup. Bourne and Crabb prevailed 21-17, 15-21, 15-12 for their first AVP title since teaming in 2018.

Bourne, who went nearly two years between tournaments from 2016-18 due to an autoimmune disease, and Crabb redeemed after straight-set losses to Dalhausser and Lucena the previous two weekends. Crabb guaranteed a title on Instagram days before the tournament.

“Those guys are the best in the world, and they make you look bad at times, but we’re relentless,” Bourne said on Amazon Prime. “You’re going to have to play the best volleyball in the world to beat us every time.”

Bourne and Crabb, Dalhausser and Lucena and Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb (Trevor’s younger brother) are battling for two available U.S. Olympic spots in Tokyo.

MORE: Team Slaes looks to end Kerri Walsh Jennings’ Olympic career

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