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Serena Williams beaten by Angelique Kerber for Wimbledon title

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LONDON (AP) — Angelique Kerber was not about to be overwhelmed by the setting or the stakes in this Wimbledon final. She knew exactly what to expect — and what to do — against Serena Williams.

Two years after losing to Williams with a title on the line at Centre Court, Kerber came through. So steady, so patient, so accurate throughout, she never really gave Williams much of a chance this time, putting together a 6-3, 6-3 victory Saturday for her first championship at the All England Club and third major overall.

“I think it’s the experience. You have to go through all the things — the good things, the bad things — and then you need to learn,” said Kerber, the first German to win Wimbledon since Steffi Graf in 1996.

“I know that against Serena, I have to play my best tennis, especially in the important moments,” said Kerber, who won the Australian Open and U.S. Open in 2016, but was the runner-up to Williams at Wimbledon that season, “especially in the important moments.”

That’s just what she did.

“Angelique played really well,” Williams said. “She played out of her mind.”

Kerber made only five unforced errors the entire match, 19 fewer than Williams. Perhaps more impressive was this: She broke Williams in 4 of 9 service games.

In doing so, Kerber prevented Williams from claiming an eighth title at Wimbledon and 24th from all Grand Slam tournaments, which would have equaled Margaret Court’s record. As things stand, Williams holds the mark for the half-century of professional tennis, one ahead of Kerber’s idol, Graf.

Williams gave birth only 10½ months ago, then was treated for blood clots. She wore special compression leggings as a precaution during Wimbledon, just the fourth tournament of her comeback.

After all the time away, Williams spoke about being impressed with herself for just reaching the final. She also wanted to win, of course.

“To all the moms out there, I was playing for you today — and I tried,” said the 36-year-old American, her voice shaking during the trophy ceremony.

Kerber addressed Williams during the on-court interviews, saying: “You’re such an inspiration for everybody, for all of us. I’m sure you will have your next Grand Slam title soon. I’m really, really sure.”

The final started more than two hours late, because they had to wait for the end of Novak Djokovic’s five-set victory over Rafael Nadal in a men’s semifinal that was suspended the night before. On Sunday, Djokovic will play Kevin Anderson, who won his semifinal against John Isner 26-24 in the fifth set Friday night.

Despite so much Grand Slam success, despite holding a 6-2 career edge against Kerber entering the day, Williams played tightly right from the outset.

After taking the opening two points, she made four miscues in a row to get broken. That was part of a run in which she dropped 8 of 9 points. Williams was mostly her own undoing, too: She was responsible for the final’s initial six unforced errors. By the time the first set was over, the disparity was 14-3.

That’s not going to work against an opponent of Kerber’s quality.

Trying to sneak a ball by Kerber is something akin to trying to put one past a brick wall. There are no holes.

The left-hander scurried along the baseline, this way and that, using a combination of quickness and anticipation to track down what often appeared to be winners for Williams but were not enough to end a point. Kerber would bend real low, even putting a knee right on the grass to get a ball back.

And when she swung her racket, the measure was almost always true.

Kerber is much more than a defender. She has added a more aggressive element to her game in recent years and worked to improve her serve.

“I’m still sure that we haven’t seen the best Angie,” said her coach, Wim Fissette. “The defense is one of her qualities, but she also knows now that she’s not going to win a Grand Slam with just defense, and that’s, for me, very important.”

Kerber was broken only once. And she delivered a pair of down-the-line forehand passing winners to grab the last break of Williams she’d need, for a 4-2 edge in the second set.

Kerber celebrated match point by covering her face and collapsing flat on her back, getting grass stains on her white outfit. She relished the moment she had dreamt about as a little kid, watching Graf on TV.

Williams, meanwhile, sure sounded like a tennis player who is just starting her career.

“I think these two weeks have really showed me that, OK, I can compete. Obviously I can compete for the long run in a Grand Slam,” she said. “I can, you know, come out and be a contender to win Grand Slams.”

Williams was supported by several celebrity friends at Centre Court.

That group included Tiger Woods, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton and — in the front row of the Royal Box — the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle.

Williams was asked what she’ll tell her daughter, Olympia, about this tournament and this day.

“Well, I think it was a happy story,” Williams said with a smile. “I’ll probably change the ending.”

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Daniel Romanchuk’s ascent to marathon stardom accelerated at University of Illinois

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The rise of Daniel Romanchuk has been one of the major stories of this Paralympic cycle. The wheelchair racer was eliminated in the first round of all five of his races in Rio.

But now, he’s the world’s best marathoner with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, a world-record holder on the track and already qualified for the Tokyo Games.

Romanchuk, born with spina bifida, was profiled by NBC Sports Chicago as part of a series of NBC Sports Regional Networks pieces published this week — marking 150 days until the Tokyo Olympics and six months until the Tokyo Paralympics.

NBC RSN Olympic and Paralympic Profiles
NBC Sports Bay Area

Abbey Weitzeil (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Boston
Margaret Bertasi (Rowing) — LINK
Abbey D’Agostino Cooper (Track and Field) — LINK

NBC Sports Chicago
Ryan Murphy (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Northwest
Galen Rupp (Marathon) — LINK
Mariel Zagunis (Fencing) — LINK

NBC Sports Philadelphia
Vashti Cunningham (Track and Field) — LINK
Julie Ertz (Soccer) — LINK

NBC Sports Washington
Katie Ledecky (Swimming) — LINK
Kyle Snyder (Wrestling) — LINK

Romanchuk, 21, swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon titles in 2019. He attributes that success to his native Baltimore and his training residence of the University of Illinois.

At age 2, he was enrolled in Baltimore’s Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program for children with physical disabilities. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist who dominated women’s wheelchair marathons, also began her career there.

“Their motto is to teach kids they can before they’re told they can’t,” Romanchuk said.

Things really blossomed for Romanchuk after he moved from Baltimore to the University of Illinois. Illinois was designated a U.S. Paralympic training site in 2014 and has produced McFadden, Jean Driscoll and other U.S. Paralympic stars.

“Without this program, I certainly would not be where I am,” Romanchuk said. “It’s a very unique combination of coaching and teammates.”

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MORE: Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch for 2020 Tokyo Games

Chloé Dygert wanted to be Steve Prefontaine. Then Larry Bird. Now, her coach.

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Chloé Dygert is the U.S.’ top cyclist, an Olympic medalist and world champion in line to race on the track and the road at the Tokyo Games.

To get to this point — leading the American contingent at the world track cycling championships this week — Dygert was kicked off a soccer team, bribed by her father and, when she thought her career was over, enrolled in 5 a.m. classes to get back on the bike.

“I had no interest in being a cyclist. I did not want to be a cyclist,” she said. “The funny thing is, my dad kept getting me bikes.”

It began in Brownsburg, Ind., a 25,000-person town 15 miles northwest of Indianapolis. Dygert had an older brother, younger brother and a BMX dirt bike track on a 4.5-acre property.

She played soccer, but was moved from the girls’ team to the boys. Dygert developed physically earlier than the other girls. And, “I was a little too mean and aggressive,” she said.

She played basketball but broke too many bones — her own and those of other girls. “Not on purpose,” she said, “but I was just so much bigger and naturally so much stronger.”

Dygert ran cross-country, too, but none of those sports worked out.

“I was going to be Steve Prefontaine,” she said of the fabled 1972 Olympian. “I had some injuries, and I started playing basketball. I was going to be Larry Bird. I had some more injuries, and cycling was just kind of my go-to.”

Dygert, at first reluctant, picked up cycling at the urging of her father, David, a mountain biker. She received bikes for Christmas and her New Year’s birthday, but it wasn’t until later, when she was 15, that her father’s words changed her life.

That summer, when Dygert needed a shoulder surgery from a basketball injury, she went for a ride at a local park with her father. David marveled.

“He said, ‘Chloe, I don’t think a girl your age should be able to put out the power that you’re putting out,'” Dygert remembered. “That kind of stuck with me and got me into wanting to ride a little bit more and seeing where I could go with it.”

David lured her: a pair of Oakleys if Dygert won at her first major competition. She entered junior nationals and grabbed a victory.

“That’s kind of what gave me the motivation to keep going,” she said. “It took me a while to actually love the sport. It definitely was not an interest that I had. But I thrive on winning. I love to win.”

Dygert pursued cycling, but she didn’t stop basketball. Everything changed when she tore an ACL on the court at age 17, a nine-month injury. She never returned to competitive basketball, but she also lost motivation to get back on the bike. Again, David urged her. One last time.

She joined the cycling team at Marian University, a private Catholic school in Indianapolis. David signed her up for 5 a.m. classes.

“I’m still not happy about it,” she said. “I got really disciplined.”

And reinvigorated. The freshman Dygert noticed in a power booster class that her wattage was impressive.

“If it wasn’t for that and the structure and the discipline that I had gotten from that and my dad, I would not be here,” she said. “There’s not a day that goes by, I’m just so thankful for that and for him.”

Dygert dropped out after that first fall semester to focus on a cycling career. That winter, she won a world title with the U.S. team pursuit and was named to become the youngest female U.S. Olympic track cyclist in history.

“I see myself being a Kristin Armstrong, following in her footsteps, being a good all-around rider and a very good time trialist,” Dygert said before earning team pursuit silver at the Rio Olympics, according to The Associated Press.

Armstrong earned her third Olympic road time trial title in Rio, a day before turning 43. She retired and transitioned from Dygert’s mentor to her coach. Dygert recently moved to Armstrong’s native Idaho.

On the eve of September’s world road cycling championships time trial, Armstrong told Dygert to make sure she hurt more than any other rider on the 18-mile course. Dygert obeyed. She went out and won by 92 seconds, the largest margin in history, to become the youngest world champion ever in the event. She collapsed onto the pavement getting off her bike.

“I didn’t race with a power meter,” Dygert said that day, “and I think that really helped not restricting myself, just kind of going as fast as I could the entire time and not really have anything to gauge it off of.”

It qualified Dygert for the Tokyo Olympics on the road. The track team hasn’t been named, but Dygert will surely anchor a new team pursuit quartet. The U.S. has never won an Olympic women’s track title, but the pursuit has been its trademark event — world titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Olympic silver medals in 2012 and 2016.

The only woman on both of those Olympic teams retired (Sarah Hammer).

The cycling community was floored when Kelly Catlin, on all three world title teams with Dygert, committed suicide last March at age 23.

“It’s definitely hard not having her there, but we will carry her legacy on,” Dygert said. “She will be with us every step of the way when we win gold in Tokyo.”

The U.S. women’s team pursuit finished seventh at last year’s worlds without Catlin and without Dygert, who sat out nearly a year after a May 2018 concussion from a road crash. Dygert wondered if she might not be able to come back from the head injury. Expectations were tempered when she and a new team entered a November World Cup in Belarus.

A coach predicted nothing faster than 4 minutes, 17 seconds. They clocked 4:13 and won in what Dygert believed was the U.S.’ second-fastest time since the Rio Games.

“We’ve never raced together before,” Dygert said. “We didn’t really know what we would be able to do.”

Dygert is bidding to race in three events in Tokyo — road race (July 26), road time trial (July 29) and team pursuit (Aug. 3-4). People compare combining the road and the track to training for both the sprints and the marathon. The plurality of the focus will be on the time trial and follow the path set by Armstrong.

“We’re going to be smart about which event that we choose to be full gas for so my fitness is still there for all the other events,” Dygert said. “Being fit for the time trial will also correlate for the track.”

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