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Comeback Coco: Gauff escapes at Wimbledon, extends unlikely run

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WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — It was easy to forget that Coco Gauff is still just 15 as she stood on the grass of Centre Court, pounding her chest and shouting, “Let’s go! Come on!” to celebrate a 32-stroke point that forced a third set in her match Friday evening at Wimbledon.

Up in the stands, mom rose to pump a fist and yell, “Yes!” Thousands of spectators jumped out of their seats, too, roaring.

By then, Gauff already twice had been a point from losing in the third round to Polona Hercog of Slovenia.

Most players, no matter the age, would not be able to find a path past that kind of a deficit on this imposing a stage, would not be able to handle that sort of stress and figure out a way. Gauff is, quite clearly, not most players.

That much has been established. How far can she go, both this fortnight and in the future? The tennis world is watching, waiting to learn the answers.

That Gauff, ranked 313th and facing another unseeded player, was scheduled to appear at Wimbledon’s main stadium says plenty about what a sensation the Floridian already is.

That she won this one, and how she did so — erasing a pair of match points and coming back to beat Hercog 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-5 — offer some insight into what Gauff might become.

“Obviously, this moment is an incredible moment,” Gauff said. “I’m still excited I get to keep living it.”

As it is, she was the youngest player to qualify for Wimbledon in the professional era, winning three matches last week against higher-ranked women in the preliminary rounds.

Then, by upsetting five-time champion Venus Williams, who is 39, in the first round of the main event, Gauff became the youngest woman to win a match at the All England Club since 1991, when Jennifer Capriati reached the semifinals at 15.

That was followed by a win against 2017 Wimbledon semifinalist Magdalena Rybarikova, who is 30, before getting past Hercog, 28. When a reporter wanted to know how Gauff might spend the prize money she’s already earned of about 175,000 pounds ($220,000), she replied: “I mean, I can’t buy a car, because I can’t drive.”

That made her giggle, as did some of the other things she said at her news conference through a permanent smile, including her unprompted opening line about Jayden Smith’s new album, her plea for tickets to a Beyonce concert and poking fun at her mother, Candi, for the way she waved her arms overhead when Friday’s victory was over.

“Please tell me she’s a meme,” Gauff said. “I’m so excited to go on Instagram.”

Next up: A fourth-round matchup against 2018 French Open champion and former No. 1 Simona Halep, who eliminated two-time major champ Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 6-1.

Other women’s contests Monday will be No. 3 seed Karolina Pliskova against Karolina Muchova, No. 8 Elina Svitolina against No. 24 Petra Martic, and Dayana Yastremska against Zhang Shuai, who defeated former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-2.

The top half of the men’s draw, meanwhile, saw more in its series of upsets, leaving defending champion Novak Djokovic with what seems like little resistance in his road to the final.

The No. 1 seed got a brief test Friday before quickly righting himself and getting past Hubert Hurkacz 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4. No one else on that side of the bracket is ranked higher than 17th; that’s the spot held by Milos Raonic, who is also the only other player who ever has been to a Grand Slam final.

Those exiting Friday included last year’s runner-up, No. 4 Kevin Anderson, who was knocked off by No. 26 Guido Pella 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (4). Pella beat 2017 runner-up Marin Cilic last year at Wimbledon and now will face 2016 runner-up Raonic, who beat Reilly Opelka of the U.S. 7-6 (1), 6-2, 6-1.

No. 10 Karen Khachanov, No. 11 Daniil Medvedev and No. 19 Felix Auger-Aliassime all lost.

“It’s impossible to say who is going to figure things out more than the others to do what it takes to win Slams,” Anderson said.

That could be said of Gauff, of course, but she sure is looking like someone who can go far in the coming years.

She has a big serve, dialing it up to 118 mph on Friday — only Hercog and Serena Williams have hit one faster this week — and good groundstrokes off both wings, along with some touch and guile. And what she possesses, above all, is some real calm amid a storm.

As Hercog perfectly put it: “She’s probably older in her head than the numbers show.”

Hercog, who is ranked 60th, and is now 0-4 in third-round matches at majors, used a seven-game run to grab the opening set, the first dropped by Gauff in qualifying or the main draw, and then go up 5-2 in the second.

With Gauff serving at 30-40, Hercog was a point from victory. But the teen conjured up a backhand slice winner that dropped right on the chalk — a shot she only recently added to her repertoire.

After Gauff’s aggressive style paid off there, it was Hercog who really went into a shell, playing so cautiously and making mistake after mistake. A big one came when Hercog served for the match at 5-3 and held her second match point: She double-faulted.

Eventually they headed to a tiebreaker, Gauff’s first at a tour-level event.

Yet another reminder how new all of this is for her. Her play then offered yet another reminder how capable she is of handling it all.

“We’ve been working on her poise all year,” Gauff’s father, Corey, said earlier in the week. “After that comes together, then you really can improve your game, because when you’re poised, you’re not that emotional. You can troubleshoot.”

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

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Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

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Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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