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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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Athletes, anti-doping leaders issues statement on RUSADA status

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More Olympic athletes and anti-doping leaders have come out in protest of the possible reinstatement of Russia’s anti-doping agency.

Members of the athletes committees from the World Anti-Doping Agency and the U.S. Olympic Committee, along with a group of international anti-doping leaders and a key supporter of a Russian whistleblower, released statements Tuesday urging WADA’s executive committee not to reinstate RUSADA when it meets later this week.

Jim Swartz, a supporter of former Moscow anti-doping lab director Grigory Rodchenkov, said “WADA has undermined its own moral and regulatory authority” by proposing a weakened version of the roadmap to bring RUSADA back into compliance.

The agency has been suspended for nearly three years in the wake of what investigators said was a state-sponsored doping scandal designed to win Olympic medals.

The WADA athletes’ group is led by Beckie Scott, who resigned her position on WADA’s compliance review committee after it recommended RUSADA’s reinstatement last week.

Italy’s focus for 2026 bid now on Milan, Cortina d’Ampezzo

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ROME (AP) — Italy’s three-pronged bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics has been reduced to a two-city candidacy featuring Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.

Following Turin’s exclusion, the Italian Olympic Committee is sending a delegation featuring Milan and Cortina representatives to meet with IOC leaders on Wednesday.

The move comes after government undersecretary and sports delegate Giancarlo Giorgetti told the Senate on Tuesday that the three-city proposal “is dead.”

Turin’s exclusion follows infighting between Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala and Turin counterpart Chiara Appendino, who had been arguing over the bid’s leadership and naming rights.

Peliminary bids are due to be presented at IOC meetings in Buenos Aires next month.

“The candidacy needs to be saved, so we’re open to moving forward together,” Veneto region president Luca Zaia and Lombardy region president Attilio Fontana said in a joint statement.

“If Turin is withdrawing, which upsets us, at this point two realities remain, and they are called Veneto and Lombardy. So we are moving forward with the Lombardy-Veneto Olympics.”

Under the revised plan, hockey and speedskating — which had been slotted for venues built for the 2006 Turin Games — would be held in Milan. Alpine skiing would be held in 1956 host Cortina, while biathlon would be slated for nearby Anterselva — a regular stop on the biathlon World Cup circuit.

Three other bids remain in contention for 2026: Stockholm, Sweden; Calgary, Canada; and Erzurum, Turkey.

The Japanese city of Sapporo dropped its bid on Monday following a recent earthquake.

International Olympic Committee members will pick the host in Milan in October 2019. While IOC rules have long prevented bids from the host country of an IOC session, new rules have created more leeway.

Italy is anxious to bring a bid through the entire process after two Rome candidacies were withdrawn.

Two years ago, Italy was forced to end Rome’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics because of staunch opposition from the city’s mayor. And in 2012, then-premier Mario Monti scrapped the city’s bid for the 2020 Olympics because of financial concerns.