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Serena Williams makes U.S. Open final, emotional in on-court interview

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NEW YORK — Serena Williams is back in the U.S. Open final, one year after childbirth and life-threatening complications. One match win from tying the career Grand Slam singles titles record.

The 23-time major champion swept Latvian Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-0 in Thursday’s semifinal to reach her second straight Slam final and first in Queens since 2014.

“A year ago, I was fighting, for literally my life in the hospital after I had the baby,” Williams said, her voice cracking in emotion, on court after winning 12 of the last 13 games. “So, every day I step out on this court, I am so grateful that I have an opportunity to play this sport, you know? No matter what happens in any match, semis, finals, I just feel like I’ve already won.”

She’ll face Naomi Osaka, one of the most promising players of the next generation, in the final Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.

Osaka, the first Japanese woman in a Slam final in the 51-year Open Era, beat 2017 U.S. Open runner-up Madison Keys 6-2, 6-4 later Thursday.

Keys was 0 for 13 on break points, squandering six of them on one game alone in the second set. How was Osaka able to hold her off?

“This is going to sound really bad, but I was just thinking, I really want to play Serena,” said Osaka, the soft-spoken, uniquely witted daughter of a Japanese mother and a Haitian father who moved from Japan to the U.S. at age 3.

The rising 20-year-old Osaka swept Williams in their only meeting in March, though it was just Williams’ second tournament back from maternity leave. “I definitely wasn’t at my best,” Williams said Thursday. “I was breast-feeding at the time, so it was a totally different situation.”

“She’s the main reason why I started playing tennis,” Osaka said then, noting it took three games to overcome the nerves. “To detach myself a little bit from thinking that I’m playing against her and just try to think I’m playing against just a regular opponent was a little bit hard.”

Williams said the respect is mutual.

“These young ladies have been playing way longer consistently [than my comeback], so I just feel like they’re at a little bit of an advantage,” she said of Osaka and Keys while they were playing. “But I have an advantage of I have nothing to lose.”

The 16-year age difference between finalists is the second-largest in a women’s Grand Slam final, trailing only the 1991 U.S. Open between Martina Navratilova (34) and Monica Seles (17).

“I always dreamed that I would play Serena in a final of a Grand Slam,” Osaka said. “I don’t dream to lose.”

Osaka won the sport’s fifth major — Indian Wells — in March, but came into the U.S. Open having lost three straight matches. She cried in the locker room at her last tournament.

“Because I thought, Wow, I’m really bad at tennis,” she said.

Williams has another name on her mind: Margaret Court, the 1960s and ’70s Australian star who won 24 Grand Slam singles titles. Asterisk: Court won 11 Australian Opens when many of the world’s top players did not play the event.

At 36 (three weeks from 37), Williams would become the oldest U.S. Open singles champion in the Open Era (Ken Rosewall) and the oldest overall since 1926.

And the second mother in the last 38 years to win a Grand Slam singles title. Belgian Kim Clijsters captured the 2009 U.S. Open, 18 months after childbirth, then added two more Grand Slam titles before retiring in 2012.

Williams was bedridden this time last year after giving birth to daughter Olympia on Sept. 1. The pregnancy was followed by pulmonary embolism complications that confined her to bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

She is 15-1 in Grand Slam singles matches since her return, making the fourth round of the French Open before withdrawing with a pectoral muscle injury and taking runner-up at Wimbledon to Angelique Kerber.

“To come this far so fast, I’m just beginning, you guys, this has only been a few months,” Williams said. “I’m really looking forward to the rest of the year, next year. I’m really looking forward to the possibilities.”

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U.S. OPEN: Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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