Getty

Serena Williams to face Simona Halep in Wimbledon final

Leave a comment

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) Serena Williams made it look easy in the Wimbledon semifinals. What she really cares about, of course, is what comes next.

That’s why she puts in all the work. Why she keeps at it with everything she’s already won, everything she’s already accomplished.

Williams is once again on the verge of an eighth Wimbledon championship and 24th Grand Slam title, moving into the final at the All England Club with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over an overmatched Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Thursday.

On Saturday, Williams will take on No. 7-seeded Simona Halep of Romania, a 6-1, 6-3 winner over No. 8 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine under a cloudy sky at Centre Court.

It’ll be the 11th final at the All England Club for Williams and the first for Halep, whose only major trophy came at the French Open last year.

“I look forward to it,” Williams said.

Why wouldn’t she? She owns a 9-1 career record against Halep, including a victory in the Australian Open’s fourth round in January.

Still, the 37-year-old American also knows that she’s been this close to No. 24 before: In 2018, her first season back on tour after the birth of her daughter, Olympia, Williams reached the finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open but lost each time.

That has left her Grand Slam total at 23, a record for the professional era and one fewer than Margaret Court accumulated while playing part of her career against amateur competition.

“I have a great job and I love what I do,” Williams said, “and I’m still pretty good at what I do, I guess.”

Sure, Serena. Just pretty good.

It’s been an up-and-down year because of illness and injury, limiting Williams to 12 matches until last week. After a third-round loss at Roland Garros on June 1, she stayed in France for medical treatment and finally felt pain-free while preparing for Wimbledon in England.

“It’s definitely a lot better,” Williams said. “Every match, I know that I’m improving.”

After a three-set struggle against Alison Riske in the quarterfinals Tuesday, Williams was at her dominant best against Strycova, who appeared limited by some sort of issue with her right leg. As it is, the 33-year-old Strycova was the oldest first-time Grand Slam semifinalist in the professional era.

Williams played cleanly, accumulating nearly twice as many winners as unforced errors, 28-10. She was at her usual court-covering best, which helped limit Strycova to 10 winners. And Williams played calmly.

The semifinal’s turning point came quickly. Ahead 2-1 in the first set while Strycova served at 30-all, Williams sailed a backhand return way long and let out a cry of “Aaah!”

Maybe that got her going, because she simply took over.

Williams took the next point with a swinging forehand volley winner on the 16th stroke, then one after that when Strycova’s mediocre drop shot landed in the net. Having offered up a break point, Strycova crouched at the baseline and rested her racket on her head.

A cross-court forehand passing shot delivered the break for Williams, and Strycova bent over again, one of the initial signs that she was dealing with something physical.

The runaway was on: Williams seized seven points in a row and 16 of 20 to close out that set.

Strycova would repeatedly flex or shake her legs between points or try to stretch in her sideline chair by pulling her right foot onto her left knee and rocking her leg. Nothing was going to help her slow down Williams on this afternoon, and the match was over after 59 minutes.

Halep seemed headed for a long day when her semifinal against Svitolina began with a pair of games encompassing 32 points across 20 minutes.

Halep excels at this type of play, more frequently seen on clay courts than grass, and soon enough was on her way to her fifth Grand Slam final.

Like Strycova, Svitolina never had been to the final four at any Slam. With her boyfriend, former top-10 player Gael Monfils, in the stands, Svitolina made things competitive enough at the outset.

Five of the first 11 points lasted at least 10 strokes; two went 23.

Svitolina even earned three break chances in that opening game, but Halep eventually held there on the 16th point. Another game of the same length followed, and there again were three break points, except the difference was that Halep converted her last when Svitolina pushed a backhand wide.

While Svitolina would break back at love, that was pretty much the end of her challenge to Halep, who scrambled to cover the court so well, took balls early and created angles that earned her points.

“She played unbelievable today,” Svitolina said. “She was moving really good, striking the ball perfectly.”

That style of play serves the Romanian so well at Roland Garros, where she was the runner-up twice in addition to last year’s title. Halep also reached an Australian Open final.

The former No. 1 never had that kind of success at Wimbledon until now.

Her play was intense Thursday. So was her body language, including when Halep looked up at her coach, yelled and extended an arm in the first set’s final game.

By then, she was in control. Now comes a tougher task: beating Williams.

“I respect a lot what she has done and what she’s doing,” Halep said. “But now I feel stronger, mentally, facing her. We will see what is going to happen. It’s just a big challenge for me.”

Kelly Slater has an Olympic decision to make

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Surfing icon Kelly Slater is in great position to qualify for his sport’s Olympic debut in 2020, but he’s undecided about making a required event appearance this summer to stay eligible.

The top two U.S. male surfers in this season’s World Surf League final standings are in line to qualify for the Olympics.

Slater, a 47-year-old, 11-time world champion, is ranked third among Americans through six of 11 events, but the No. 2, two-time world champion John John Florence, is likely out for the rest of the season after an ACL tear.

If Slater keeps up his current pace of results, he will pass Florence’s point total by the end of the season in December.

“It appears as though I have to make a decision [on the Olympics] sooner than that,” Slater said after being eliminated from South Africa’s J-Bay Open in ninth place on Wednesday. “I’ve really got to figure out all the factors around that and make a decision in the next few weeks.”

Slater’s concern is the ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki, Japan, in September, an event that top Olympic hopefuls on the WSL tour are required to attend, barring illness or injury.

“I think I have to surf that event, and if I don’t, it may disqualify me,” he said (the International Surfing Association, the sport’s governing body, later confirmed it would disqualify him). “But I’m not sure if I want to go to Japan and compete right now.”

The ISA Games take place in the week between the next two WSL events, the latter hosted by Slater’s Surf Ranch wave pool in California.

“I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the Olympics right now, anyways,” said Slater, who last year said he was “50-50” on the Olympics when noting his differing thoughts on the qualification process and venue. “The point is, I’m not really focusing on it at this point. I’m trying to get myself back in the flow of the tour.”

Slater missed 13 tour stops between the 2017 and 2018 seasons after breaking a foot and having multiple surgeries.

He finished fifth, third, ninth, ninth and ninth in his five most recent events to get into Olympic qualifying position. He expected more after placing third in the two contests he entered healthy last season. Slater said he competed at J-Bay after straining his back “really bad” on Sunday, keeping him from surfing the three days before the contest.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, at 48, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, via the OlyMADMen.

“Right now in my head the focus is more on this tour than it is on the Olympics, but we’ll see,” he said. “I was starting this year with a lot of pressure on myself to try and make the Olympic team and think, maybe I’ll retire there next year and that will be the end for me. It put so much pressure on the start of the year for me that I didn’t feel like I could freely compete. It was putting too many things in my head. I needed to let that take a backseat and not worry about it. I’m just not really thinking about it a lot.”

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

China on brink of sweeping every gold medal at diving worlds

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Shi Tingmao joined Guo Jingjing as the only women to win three straight world titles in an individual diving event, giving China 11 gold medals in 11 events with two finals left in Gwangju, South Korea.

Shi, who swept the individual and synchronized springboard titles in Rio, claimed the 3m world title on Friday by 18.25 points with 391 total. Countrywoman Wang Han took silver, 5.8 points ahead of Australian Maddison Keeney.

Americans Sarah Bacon and Brooke Schultz missed the 12-woman final, placing 14th and 29th.

China, which has dominated the sport for two decades, is looking to sweep the golds at an Olympics or worlds for the second time after winning all 10 events in 2011. This year’s feat could be more impressive, should China win the last two events Saturday — a mixed-gender springboard and the men’s platform.

That’s because three mixed-gender events were added to the world program (but not the Olympic program) since 2011. And this year, China has not only won every gold but also taken every silver in the three individual Olympic program events thus far.

China is in strong position to go one-two in the men’s platform. Yang Jian and Yang Hao were nearly 70 points clear of the field in Friday’s semifinals.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Diving Worlds TV Schedule