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Serena Williams into Wimbledon fourth round; Sloane Stephens out

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WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Serena Williams walked into her news conference at Wimbledon holding her phone, a cold bottle of water and a statistics sheet that reinforced what was clear from watching her third-round singles victory Saturday:

She is as close to being back to her best as she’s been in a while.

Williams, hampered for much of this season by injuries or illness, took a step forward against 18th-seeded Julia Goerges, a powerful hitter in her own right who lost to the American in last year’s semifinals at the All England Club. Sure enough, Williams hit serves at up to 120 mph, put in a tournament-best 71 percent of her first serves, never faced so much as one break point and won 6-3, 6-4.

“It’s been an arduous year for me,” said Williams, who had competed only 12 times in 2019 until this week, mostly because of a bothersome left knee that finally is pain-free. “So every match, I’m hoping to improve tons.”

Maybe it was a good thing she played twice Saturday, then.

About 4½ hours after getting past Goerges at No. 1 Court, Williams headed out to Centre Court for her much-ballyhooed debut as Andy Murray’s teammate in mixed doubles. Other than one slip near the net when she lost her footing in the first set — she was fine and laughed it off — Williams looked good during the 6-4, 6-1 win against Andreas Mies and Alexa Guarachi, including smacking one serve at 122 mph, equaling the fastest hit in singles by any woman (her, naturally) during the tournament.

“Andy and I both love the competition. I know we both want to do well,” Williams said. “We’re not here just for show.”

She rarely is.

But if Williams is going to win an eighth singles championship at Wimbledon, and a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title overall, she will want more performances like the one she gave against Goerges.

Forceful, yes, but nothing was forced.

“I play pretty good when I’m calm, but also super-intense, just finding the balance in between there,” the 37-year-old Williams said. “So it’s a hard balance to find, because sometimes when I’m too calm, I don’t have enough energy. Still trying to find that balance.”

Two more key stats on the paper she brought to her media session: She produced more winners than unforced errors, 19-15, while Goerges finished with 32 forced errors, a reflection of just how difficult Williams can make it for opponents to handle shots she sends their way.

Goerges credited Williams with causing havoc with her returns, as well.

After averaging 10 aces in the first two rounds, Goerges was limited to half that many.

Of more significance, perhaps, was that Williams’ stinging replies to serves immediately put her in control of points.

“It’s fair to say that she builds up enormous pressure with her returns,” Goerges said. “That means I need to go to the limit in my service games.”

After the traditional middle Sunday off, action resumes Monday with all fourth-round men’s and women’s singles matches.

Williams, who is seeded 11th, will face No. 30 Carla Suarez Navarro, while the other matchups on the top half of the women’s field established Saturday are No. 1 Ash Barty, who has a 15-match winning streak, against unseeded Alison Riske of the U.S.; No. 21 Elise Mertens against Barbora Strycova; and two-time champion Petra Kvitova against No. 19 Johanna Konta of Britain.

On the bottom half, it will be the 15-year-old American sensation Coco Gauff vs. No. 7 Simona Halep; No. 3 Karolina Pliskova vs. Karolina Muchova; No. 8 Elina Svitolina vs. No. 24 Petra Martic; and Dayana Yastremska vs. Shuai Zhang.

In the men’s draw, eight-time champion Roger Federer and two-time winner Rafael Nadal both won in straight sets Saturday to move closer to a semifinal showdown. Federer’s record 17th visit to the fourth round at Wimbledon will come against No. 17 Matteo Berrettini, an Italian never before this far at the grass-court tournament.

“For me, I’m very happy how it’s going so far,” said Federer, a 7-5, 6-2, 7-6 (4) winner over No. 27 Lucas Pouille. “I hope it’s going to take a special performance from somebody to stop me, not just a mediocre performance.”

Nadal, who defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, meets unseeded Joao Sousa next.

No. 8 Kei Nishikori meets Mikhail Kukushkin, and Sam Querrey plays Tennys Sandgren in the first Week 2 matchup at Wimbledon between two American men since Pete Sampras beat Jan-Michael Gambill in the 2000 quarterfinals.

Kukushkin’s four-set victory over Jan-Lennard Struff at Court 12 was interrupted when a 60-year-old female spectator had to be resuscitated after collapsing.

Sandgren beat No. 12 Fabio Fognini 6-3, 7-6 (12), 6-3 at tiny Court 14, with its 318 seating capacity. Fognini unleashed a tirade in Italian at one moment, saying he wanted a bomb to explode at the All England Club. He later said his comments came in the heat of the moment because he was upset about not playing well and the condition of the court’s grass.

“If I offended anyone, I apologize,” said the volatile Fognini, who was fined $27,500 at Wimbledon in 2014 for unsportsmanlike conduct and is in a Grand Slam probationary period after getting kicked out of the 2017 U.S. Open. “That definitely wasn’t my intention.”

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

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Dominik Paris, world champion skier, suffers season-ending injury

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Italian Dominik Paris, the reigning world champion in the super-G, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a training crash Tuesday ahead of this weekend’s speed races in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Paris crashed in super-G training not far from the hallowed World Cup venue, slipping into a curve and damaging his right knee. He also suffered a fibula microfracture, according to the Italian federation.

“My season ends here,” he said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “Unfortunately while I was sliding, the inside ski caught too much and the ligament broke. There is not much to add. In the next few days we will evaluate, together with the medical staff, how to proceed.”

Paris won his third Hahnenkamm downhill title last year and was one of the favorites for Saturday’s downhill, the most prestigious annual race in the sport. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage for “Snow Pass” subscribers at 5:30 a.m. ET.

Paris, 30, won a pair of downhills in Bormio in December among five total podiums this season.

In his absence, Swiss Beat Feuz and German Thomas Dressen lead the podium contenders.

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It’s Nathan Chen’s time at nationals for a feat 32 years in the making

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Nathan Chen can join Brian Boitano in U.S. figure skating history this week, a decade after holding Boitano in the palm of his hands with a program set to music from “Kung Fu Panda.”

Chen seeks a fourth straight national title in Greensboro, N.C. He would be the seventh man to do so since World War II. Five of the previous six won Olympic titles — Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins, David Jenkins, Scott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano from 1985-88.

Boitano remembered the first time he met Chen. He and Kristi Yamaguchi were compelled to leave their seats to find the teeny, tiny wunderkind who performed that program to the 2008 DreamWorks film.

“He was taking off his skates, and he probably came up to our waist,” Boitano said. “We knew when we saw him back then that he was going to be something special. He was really quiet. He’s still very quiet.”

In an interview last week, Chen focused on the present — coming back from a two-week cold or flu bug — rather than the perspective.

“I don’t like to typically think about that,” Chen said when asked about his streak. “It’s just different [from year to year]. It’s not really necessarily easier or harder.”

It is also different from previous eras. The last five men to win four in a row did it all in one Olympic cycle, then stepped away from competition after the Winter Games. That was back when turning professional meant the end of an Olympic career.

“It was kind of the norm back then,” Hamilton said. “After that it was kind of back and forth a lot [until Chen]. The business of skating changed so skaters could stay in a lot more, a lot longer. With all the money they brought in, they were able to prevent skaters from turning professional. So that brought in a different approach to nationals.”

NATIONALS PREVIEWS: Nathan Chen | Alysa Liu | Vincent Zhou | Pairs | TV Schedule

Both Hamilton and six-time (non-consecutive) U.S. champion Todd Eldredge could think of just one name to compare Chen’s dominance in the history of U.S. men’s skating: Button, who won the first seven national titles after World War II, plus two Olympic golds.

Button earned national and world titles as a Harvard student. Chen is on a two-season win streak while majoring in statistics and data science at Yale. Button was the first skater to land a double Axel and a triple jump of any kind. Chen was the first to land six quads in one free skate.

Eldredge coaches skaters at the same rink where Chen trains when Chen visits his Southern California-based coach Rafael Arutunian. He is awed by watching Chen working out. Though Eldredge owns more national titles, he never felt the massive favorite status that accompanies Chen.

Eldredge competed in the post-Hamilton/Boitano era, when national champions began competing over multiple Olympic cycles. Eldredge ebbed and flowed from his first national title in 1990, when compulsory figures were still around, to 2002, when he defeated Timothy Goebel, then known as the Quad King.

“Physically, the demands of the sport take their toll on your body,” Eldredge said. “It’s hard to maintain that same level for that length of period of time.

“[In] 12 years [since Chen’s first national title], when he’s 29 years old, is he going to be able to continue to sustain that?”

All of the recent top U.S. men competed in multiple Olympic cycles. The last multiple national champion was Jeremy Abbott, who earned two titles each in two different Olympic cycles. Abbott finished his career in a third Olympic cycle, placing fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships. Abbott didn’t remember that Chen made his senior nationals debut that year, finishing eighth at age 15.

“For me, winning the third and the fourth [titles] were harder because I started thinking about winning,” Abbott said. “After the second one, I was heading into a new quad and I was two-time U.S. champion. Then my focus was, oh, I’m expected to win. So that was a harder mental game rather than just focusing on making an Olympic team. The expectation now that I’ve done this twice in a row, I’m expected to win again and again and again.”

Abbott and Chen came up in the era of the points-based judging system instituted in 2004.

“Now with the way the scoring system is very different [from the old 6.0], cumulative points, if you have a bad day as a national champion, that’s it. You can’t get the points,” Eldredge said. “[In previous eras], if a certain skater was, I’ll say politically supposed to be the champion, you got a higher score, and rightfully so in most cases.”

Chen has the benefit of going into competitions knowing the kind of advantage he has in base value points from his jumping arsenal. He won last year’s national title by 58 points. This international season, he is 80 points clear of the next-highest-ranked U.S. man, Jason Brown.

“I don’t think that the try-to-push technique is necessarily my goal here,” at nationals, Chen said. “Hopefully just to maintain my body, maintain my health and try to prepare myself for the second half of the season.”

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MORE: Canadian ice dancers overcome wardrobe malfunction at nationals

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.