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Garbine Muguruza suffers earliest exit for defending Wimbledon champ in 24 years

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LONDON (AP) — Garbine Muguruza insisted she wasn’t thinking about attempting to collect a second consecutive Wimbledon championship. She was adamant that she was not focusing on defending her title.

“It doesn’t really matter,” she would say, “what happened in 2017.”

Well, it seems safe to say she’ll really want to forget what happened at the All England Club in 2018. Muguruza was stunned in the second round 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 by 47th-ranked Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium on Thursday, the earliest exit for a defending women’s champion since Steffi Graf in 1994.

“It’s a little bit sad,” Muguruza said. “But today didn’t go my way.”

That’s become a familiar refrain for prominent women at this topsy-turvy Wimbledon.

Only two of the top eight seeded women are still in the field after four days of action.

No. 3-seeded Muguruza joined No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki, No. 4 Sloane Stephens, No. 5 Elina Svitolina, No. 6 Caroline Garcia and No. 8 Petra Kvitova on the way out so far, along with five-time major champion Maria Sharapova.

“I mean, anyone, on a good day, can beat anyone,” Van Uytvanck said. “That’s what I think. I still think the top players, their average level is higher than, let’s say, sub-top players. But anyone on a good day can beat anyone, for sure.”

Sure seems that way, particularly this week.

Among the men, too.

Resumes and past performances do not matter. At all.

Marin Cilic, for example, entered his second-round match with all sorts of advantages in experience and success over his opponent, including a runner-up finish at the All England Club a year ago and a U.S. Open title in 2014.

So when Cilic took a two-sets-to-none lead against a guy who began the week with records of 0-2 at Wimbledon and 6-15 at all majors, it appeared the No. 3 seed was on his way to a straightforward victory and a step closer to a potential semifinal rematch against defending champion Roger Federer.

Hold that thought. The outcome that seemed obvious vanished, and Cilic is gone from the field, giving away a big edge in a 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-5 loss to 82nd-ranked Guido Pella of Argentina in a match completed Thursday after being suspended midway through the third set because of rain the evening before.

Cilic called it a “big disappointment.”

“Just didn’t feel so good. I was not as accurate as yesterday,” he said. “I was just missing some balls, giving him chance to keep playing.”

WIMBLEDON: Full Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

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WATCH LIVE: Simone Biles returns to U.S. Gymnastics Championships

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Simone Biles‘ comeback continues at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Friday night.

Biles enters her second meet since the Rio Olympics, where she earned four gold medals.

She is a clear favorite to win her fifth U.S. all-around title, which would break the record she currently shares.

LIVE STREAM: U.S. Gym Championships — 8 p.m. ET (for Olympic Channel subscribers)

Biles showed her comeback was for real at her first meet back three weeks ago, winning the U.S. Classic despite an uneven bars fall. Her all-around score was the highest in the world since Rio.

Friday marks the fifth anniversary of Biles’ first national title, when she was a braces-wearing, first-year senior gymnast oozing with talent but also unproven. She became so dominant that the prevailing notion was that everyone else was competing in a non-Simone division.

A new generation of women go up against Biles in the two-day meet that concludes Sunday.

That includes Ragan Smith and Morgan Hurd, who won the U.S. and world all-around titles in Biles’ absence last year, and Riley McCusker, who led the U.S. Classic going into the final rotation.

Gymnasts are competing to impress a world championships team selection committee. The five-woman world team will be named after an October selection camp.

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GYM NATIONALS: TV/Stream Schedule | Where Are The Final Five?

Ragan Smith defends U.S. gymnastics title, competing through pain

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BOSTON — When Ragan Smith won the U.S. all-around title last August, her margin of victory was greater than Simone Biles‘ average the previous four years.

At the world championships in October, Smith fell off the balance beam in qualifying and still posted the second-highest all-around score, just .001 off the lead. If Smith hit all four routines in the final, she would be crowned the world’s greatest gymnast of 2017 (during Biles’ break from the sport).

But as the all-around final began at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, Smith crutched out of the training gym. She suffered three torn left ankle ligaments on a warm-up vault, according to the Dallas Morning News, that needed four to five months to heal.

Smith is expected to compete in the all-around at the U.S. Championships on Friday and Sunday (broadcast schedule here), looking to impress a world championships team selection committee. The five-woman world team will be named after an October selection camp.

The ankle still hurts sometimes. So do her three or four broken toes. Smith doesn’t know the exact number because she doesn’t like to get medical check-ups before meets. She would think too much about the diagnosis.

In fact, Smith said she felt pain in practice every day for the last year.

“Everything starts hurting worse because we’re getting older,” said Smith, who turned 18 last week. Smith added that a coach joked to her recently, “You already have a 100-year-old body.” 

“Everybody I feel like has injuries here and there,” she said. “Everybody’s like banged up right now. We [gymnasts] are so strong mentally and physically that I feel like we push through it.”

Back home in the Dallas area, Smith marks her goals on a dry-erase board. The chief one for her two summer meets is this: Be the best Ragan I can be.

“That’s all I’m really striving for this competition,” she said Wednesday.

Smith did not do the all-around at the U.S. Classic three weeks ago, skipping floor exercise because she wants to debut it as a surprise this week. She called Classic “a practice run,” where her best result was third on beam.

Only two gymnasts per nation can compete in a world all-around final. If Biles is one of them, then Smith has to beat out Morgan Hurd (who won the 2017 World all-around title after Smith’s injury) and Riley McCusker (second to Biles at the U.S. Classic).

Smith, the youngest Rio Olympic alternate, is determined to compete on the elite level through 2020. She can take motivation from her bedroom wall and that dry-erase board, both of which had the same quote posted — “She believed she could so she did.”

“These coming up years, it’s definitely who’s in the game the longest. It’s definitely who’s not injured,” she said. “That’s pretty much who they pick, I feel like. You’re training your whole life for one year of gymnastics because that’s when you have to be at your highest peak. I definitely feel like it’s who’s in the game the longest and who can survive and who can help their body the best.”

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GYM NATIONALS: TV/Stream Schedule | Where Are The Final Five?