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Mary Keitany wins 4th New York City Marathon ahead of Shalane Flanagan

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NEW YORK — With about 24 steps left in her New York City Marathon title defense, Shalane Flanagan mouthed “I love you” and waved her right hand to the Central Park crowd. Then she waved her left and crossed the finish line in third place.

The first person to greet the hunched-over Flanagan was Mary Keitany, holding a towel and carrying a Kenyan flag in her right arm.

Flanagan ran the five-borough race 31 seconds faster than last year, when she became the first U.S. female runner to win in 40 years and kept Keitany from a fourth straight title.

On this day, in optimal weather, Keitany not only regained the New York crown, but she also put together arguably the most impressive final half of a marathon in history. The 36-year-old mother of two clocked 2:22:48 overall and won by 3 minutes, 13 seconds over countrywoman Vivian Cheruiyot. Flanagan was another 20 seconds back.

Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa bagged his first New York title, after two Boston Marathon victories, by outlasting pre-race favorites Shura Kitata (by 1.99 seconds) and defending champion Geoffrey Kamworor (by 26 seconds). Desisa clocked 2:05:59, the second-fastest time in New York’s 48-year history. In many other years, that would be the performance of the day.

MORE: New York City Marathon Results | 2018 U.S. Marathon Rankings

Not this time.

Not when Keitany, in running the second-fastest female time in New York history, covered the second half in 66:58. That’s almost nine minutes faster than her first half.

It’s also 29 seconds faster than Paula Radcliffe‘s closing 13.1 miles at the 2003 London Marathon, when she set the world record of 2:15:25, a 26.2-mile mark nobody has been within 90 seconds of since. That time came with the aid of male pacers. New York has no pacers and has the slowest times of the six World Marathon Majors.

The three American women who finished in the top six on Sunday (first time that’s happened in 40 years), were asked to react to Keitany’s split.

“Holy crap,” fourth-place Molly Huddle said.

“The only word for her is incredible,” said Des Linden, Sunday’s sixth-place finisher who in April became the first U.S. female runner to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years.

“I don’t have the physical capability to have an answer for that,” said Flanagan, a 37-year-old, four-time Olympian who is unsure if she will run another marathon.

Last year, Flanagan pulled away from Keitany in the 24th mile and beat her by 61 seconds.

Keitany started the 2017 race as an overwhelming favorite, having won New York the previous three years and, in her previous marathon that spring, clocked the fastest time in a women’s-only race in history in London. Keitany said after her runner-up last year that she incurred a problem the prior afternoon but declined to specify. Keitany’s agent told LetsRun.com that she started her period less than 24 hours before the race.

Keitany said Sunday that she had an infection before this race but did not say when.

“Nothing was special today,” she said in a soft voice. “I was just ready for the race.”

Keitany started in Staten Island on Sunday morning with the most doubt she’s faced since starting her marathon career in 2010.

She lost back-to-back marathons for the first time last fall and spring. In the last two years, Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenyans Gladys Cherono and Cheruiyot became the third-, fourth- and fifth-fastest performers all-time behind Radcliffe and Keitany. Had Keitany’s descent begun?

It had not. Keitany’s incredible second half Sunday included 17th, 18th and 19th miles faster than five minutes. Her 19th mile was 4:55. The top men ran the 19th mile in 4:50.

“I didn’t want to rush at the beginning so that to suffer at the end,” she said. “I wanted to be comfortable throughout the race.”

Flanagan also showed that she is still among the world’s best marathoners. She said after finishing seventh in a miserable Boston Marathon in April that she had contested her hometown marathon for the last time as an elite. She could leave competitive marathoning altogether with this third-place finish.

“I just thought [in the final miles] if this truly is going to be my last race, a podium spot really would be special,” Flanagan said.

She could try to become the first U.S. distance runner to compete in five Olympics in 2020. At 39, she would be the third-oldest female U.S. Olympic runner after marathoners Colleen de Reuck (2004) and Francie Larrieu-Smith (1992), according to the OlyMADMen.

“My heart is leaning towards serving others,” said Flanagan, who as a training group teammate has helped Amy Cragg to a world bronze medal and Shelby Houlihan to the American record in the 5000m in the last 15 months. “It’s become swinging more in that direction than it is in my own running.”

Flanagan’s future in New York could also be impacted by the calendar. Elites may forego the latest fall major marathon next year in preparation for the Olympic Trials on Leap Day 2020. If they make the Olympic team, they could miss the 2020 New York City Marathon as well, given it’s three months after the Tokyo Games.

If Flanagan races trials, she may enter as an underdog for the three-woman Olympic team. Think of the potential field: Linden, Huddle, Cragg and Jordan Hasay, the second-fastest U.S. women’s marathoner of all time who withdrew before last month’s Chicago Marathon with a heel injury.

Meanwhile, Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp, who is out through the spring marathon season after foot surgery, is the only U.S. man to break 2:11 in the last three years. The top American on Sunday was Jared Ward, who finished sixth, as he did in Rio.

Ward’s time was 2:12:24, making him the second-fastest American for the year but outside the world’s top 250. Bernard Lagat, a 43-year-old, five-time Olympian on the track, was 18th in 2:17:20, qualifying for the Olympic Trials in his marathon debut. It’s not unfathomable that Lagat could make the Olympic team, though he’s only committing at the moment to running New York again at some point.

Paralympian Daniel Romanchuk became the first American to win the men’s wheelchair race, beating three-time winner Marcel Hug of Switzerland by one second in 1:36:21. Romanchuk, 20, also became the youngest male winner in New York history.

Swiss Manuela Schar repeated in the women’s wheelchair division, pulling away from 17-time Paralympic medalist and five-time New York winner Tatyana McFadden by 21 seconds in 1:50:27.

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MORE: Galen Rupp out several months, to miss spring marathon

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff set Australian Open duel

Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Plenty was going badly for Coco Gauff in the second round of the Australian Open.

The double-faults kept coming Wednesday, nine in all. The deficits, too: First, she dropped the opening set against 74th-ranked Sorana Cirstea.

Then, after forcing a third, Gauff fell behind by a break, ceding 14 of 16 points with a series of mistakes. Later, after getting even at 3-all, Gauff was a mere two points from a loss.

None of that mattered. As she keeps showing, over and over, Gauff is not a typical 15-year-old. Not a typical tennis player, either.

And by getting past Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in a little more than two hours thanks to a more aggressive approach in the late going, she now has set up yet another Grand Slam showdown against Naomi Osaka.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

“I kind of felt the momentum changing,” Gauff said about turning things around against Cirstea. “I knew I had to keep pressing.”

Less than five months after their memorable meeting at the U.S. Open — Osaka won that one in straight sets, then consoled a crying Gauff on court and encouraged her to address the spectators — the two will face each other again. Like that time, Osaka is the major’s reigning champion and Gauff is making her debut at the tournament.

“I think I’ll be less nervous this time,” said Gauff, who eliminated seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams in the first round Monday. “I think I’m more confident this time around.”

As for what sticks with her about the post-match comforting Osaka offered in New York, Gauff said: “If I had a child or something, that’s something I would want my child to see. It just shows what being a competitor really is. You might hate the person on the court, but off the court you love them — not really, like, ‘hate,’ but you want to win. Sometimes when we’re on the court, we say things we don’t mean because we have that mentality. When it’s all said and done, we still look at each other with respect.”

Other winners included Serena Williams — 6-2, 6-3 against Tamara Zidansek in a match that finished with the Rod Laver Arena retractable roof closed because of rain — No. 1 Ash Barty, 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki and two-time major champion Petra Kvitova, the runner-up to Osaka in Australia a year ago.

Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic required all of 95 minutes to breeze past Japanese wild-card entry Tatsuma Ito 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, while Roger Federer swept Filip Krajinovic 6-1, 6-4, 6-1.

Gauff was not at her very best on a windy afternoon against Cirstea but managed to figure her way out of trouble repeatedly. Gauff demonstrated plenty of grit, yes, and also enthusiasm, pumping herself up by shaking a fist and yelling, “Come on!” after most of her successful points down the stretch.

All the while, Gauff was supported by a Melbourne Arena crowd that chanted, “Let’s go, Coco! Let’s go!”

Her father, Corey, was animated in the stands, too, except when he was squeezing his eyes shut at critical moments.

There were several of those for his precocious daughter, who was ranked only 313th last year when she became the youngest player in history to qualify for Wimbledon, then wound up beating Williams there en route to the fourth round.

It is a measure of her came-so-soon stardom that Gauff was playing at Melbourne Park’s third-largest stadium Wednesday, even though this was a matchup between a pair of players ranked outside the top 60 and with one career Grand Slam quarterfinal between them, more than a decade ago (Cirstea made it that far at the 2009 French Open).

Indeed, every Grand Slam singles match — “every” being a relative term, of course, because this was No. 9 — of the 67th-ranked Gauff’s nascent career has been placed on a show court.

This was the first main draw match at a major for Gauff in which she held a better ranking than her opponent.

Didn’t seem that way at the outset: Gauff dropped the first set. After forcing things to a third, she trailed 3-0. After making it 3-3, Gauff needed to get through one more gut-check: Twice, she was two points from departing.

But the American teenager broke in the next-to-last game, then held to win.

How did Gauff get through this test?

“Just my will to win,” she said. “My parents, they always told me I can come back, no matter what the score is.”

Osaka worked through some frustrations Wednesday by grabbing her racket with both hands and chucking it to the ground, tossing away a tennis ball and kicking the racket along the court, to boot.

Then she plopped herself down on her sideline seat and draped a towel over her head. Soon, she was gathering herself and defeating Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4.

“I mean, my racket just magically flew out of my hand. I couldn’t control it,” Osaka said with a mischievous smile. “I think that’s how I dealt with my frustration. It was a bit childish. I just want to play one match without throwing my racket or kicking it. That’s all I want.”

Perhaps because her news conference took place while Gauff and Cirstea were still playing, Osaka deflected a question seeking some sort of lookahead to the third round, saying simply she would go watch the end of that match.

MORE: Another top U.S. tennis player cools on Olympics

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John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

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John Isner, the highest-ranked U.S. male singles tennis player, is considering skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

“I haven’t put a ton of thought into it, but as of right now, I think I’m leaning towards not playing,” the 19th-ranked player said at the Australian Open on Tuesday. “It’s about scheduling. I know the Olympics, it’s a fantastic honor. There’s no doubt about that. … Right now, at this stage in my career, it’s not a huge priority for me. So that’s probably the main reason I won’t be going. I certainly love playing in the summer in America, and I’m going to focus on that.”

The Tokyo Games take place the same week as a lower-level ATP Tour event in Atlanta that Isner, a former University of Georgia star, has won five times.

Other notable male players already said they will pass on Tokyo, including Sam Querrey, the top American in Olympic qualifying standings.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, a two-time French Open finalist, is prioritizing an ATP event in Kitzbühel the week of the Olympics. The U.S. doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan are not planning to play the Olympics in their final season before retirement, their manager said in November.

“The Olympics is very tough on the schedule … especially with Davis Cup,” Isner said in 2016, according to USA Today. “I think the fact that they have no [ATP ranking] points [at the Olympics], to be honest, was a pretty big factor as well. Obviously the Olympics is not about the money, but no points I think hindered me a bit.”

Isner, who turns 35 on April 26, is likely giving up his last chance to play Olympic singles. In his only Olympic participation, he reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Games, plus lost an opening-round doubles match there with Andy Roddick.

The top four U.S. men qualify for Tokyo, assuming they are among the top 60 overall qualifiers (maximum four per country) after this spring’s French Open.

Taylor FritzReilly Opelka, Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul are the U.S. men currently in Olympic qualifying position if excluding Querrey and Isner.

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