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Serena Williams to face Simona Halep in Wimbledon final

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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.”

Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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Can T.J. Oshie, other established Olympic hockey stars hold on for 2022?

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T.J. Oshie will be 35 years old during the next Winter Olympics. Jonathan Quick will be 36. Now that the NHL is one key step closer to returning to the Winter Games, the question surfaces: which 2014 Olympians will have a difficult time returning to rosters in 2022?

Oshie was the last of the 14 forwards chosen for the U.S. Olympic team for Sochi, beating out Bobby Ryan and Brandon Saad, in part for his shootout prowess.

In group play against Russia, Oshie was memorably tapped by U.S. head coach Dan Bylsma six times in a shootout, including all five in the sudden-death rounds. Oshie beat Sergei Bobrovsky four times, including the game winner.

“After I went out for my third attempt, I figured I was going to keep going,” Oshie said, according to USA Hockey. “Each time I would look up to see what [Bylsma] had to say, and he would just give me a nod every time. I kind of started laughing toward shot five and six because it was getting kind of ridiculous.”

Oshie became known as “T.J. Sochi” on social media. President Barack Obama congratulated him on Twitter. The U.S. eventually lost to Canada in the semifinals and Finland in the bronze-medal game.

When the NHL chose not to send its players to the PyeongChang Winter Games, it may have spelled the end of Oshie’s Olympic career.

Consider that the oldest forward on the 2014 U.S. Olympic team was 29, six years younger than Oshie will be come 2022. A recent Olympic roster prediction from The Hockey Writers put Oshie in the “Just Missed Out” list.

NBC Sports NHL analyst Pierre McGuire has Oshie among the finalists for the last forward spots in his early U.S. roster prediction.

“I wouldn’t discount T.J. Oshie because shootout is still part of it,” McGuire said. “He still has his shootout moves, even though he’s not getting any younger.”

Quick, the unused third goalie in 2010, played 305 out of 365 minutes in net for the U.S. in Sochi. He was coming off a Stanley Cup in 2012 and en route to another one in 2014.

Since, he was sidelined by a knee injury that required surgery. He remains the Los Angeles Kings’ No. 1 goalie, which almost automatically puts an American in the Olympic roster discussion these days.

“Somebody like Jonathan definitely merits consideration just because of his achievement level over time, but I think he’d be the first person to tell you injuries have definitely affected him,” McGuire said of Quick, looking to become the second-oldest U.S. goalie to play in the Olympics after Tom Barrasso in 2002. “It’s not going to be easy for him.”

The U.S. could bypass Quick for three Olympic rookies in 2022. Connor Hellebuyck, John Gibson and Ben Bishop have superior save percentages and goals-against averages and more games played than Quick since the start of the 2018-19 season.

A wild card is Spencer Knight, the 19-year-old No. 1 from the world junior championships who last year became the highest-drafted goalie since 2010 (No. 13 to the Florida Panthers). Knight would break defenseman Bryan Berard‘s record as the youngest U.S. Olympic hockey player in the NHL era.

The Canadian roster has traditionally been deeper than the U.S. The talent is overwhelming at center, led by Sidney CrosbyConnor McDavidPatrice Bergeron and Nathan MacKinnon. The Canadians must get creative if the likes of veterans Jonathan Toews and John Tavares will join them in Beijing.

Toews, then 21, was the best forward at the 2010 Vancouver Games and Canada’s only one on the all-tournament team. While Toews’ last NHL All-Star selection was in 2017, his last two seasons have been his best in terms of points per game since 2011.

“The one thing that Canada is very good at, they do it extremely well, they select players that fit roles,” McGuire said, noting Mike Richards shifting to the wing during the 2010 Olympics. “When you look at the overwhelming depth that Canada has, that’s going to be the thing that’s going that’s going to be very interesting to watch to see how it plays out at center.”

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