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Venus Williams has earliest U.S. Open exit in six years

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NEW YORK — Venus Williams in 2019 Grand Slams: three match wins, four match losses. She hasn’t reached the second week of a major since her resurgent 2017, and, at age 39, has fallen outside the top 50 for the first year since 2013.

Williams lost to fifth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine 6-4, 6-4 in the U.S. Open second round on Wednesday, two days after dropping just one game in round one. It’s her earliest exit from the tournament since 2013.

Also Wednesday, Roger Federer dropped the opening set of his first two matches at a Slam for the first time. He rallied again, beating Bosnian Damir Džumhur 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the third round. Later, Novak Djokovic swept into round three, while Serena Williams rallied past 17-year-old American Caty McNally 5-7, 6-3, 6-1.

Play on courts without roofs — all but Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong Stadiums — was cancelled due to rain.

U.S. OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

Venus Williams, a seven-time major singles champion, played strong at times this season, reaching the quarterfinals at Indian Wells in March and in Cincinnati two weeks ago. She beat top-10 players Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens.

She gritted her teeth and challenged Svitolina in the second set, after coffee was delivered to her chair following the opening frame. That included saving five match points in her final service game that lasted 17 minutes.

“I did a lot of things right today,” said Williams, who was up 3-0 in the second set. “A lot of great things to build on.”

A slide wasn’t surprising after that incredible 2017, when she made two Grand Slam finals and re-entered the top five for the first time since she was diagnosed with energy-sapping Sjögren’s syndrome in 2011.

This year, Williams was stopped in the Australian Open third round by No. 1 Simona Halep. Swept by Svitolina in a tough French Open first round draw (so it goes when you’re not ranked high enough for a seed). Booted by 15-year-old Coco Gauff on the opening day of Wimbledon, where she won five titles between 2000 and 2008.

Williams customarily bats away questions about her future, but has said she will play in 2020.

“As Billie Jean King says, I love this game,” Williams said in a rare public moment of exclamation on court after Monday’s opening rout. “I love, love, love my job. I get to work outside. My whole job is to stay fit and get a six-pack. You don’t get better than that. I love what I do. I’ll be doing it as long as I can, and when I can’t, I’ll be watching with y’all.”

A potential sixth Olympics is a goal. It would take an incredible turnaround to qualify for the four-woman U.S. team in singles. More on the intense U.S. battle for Olympic spots here.

“It’s something that is the peak of your life, of your career,” Williams said of the Olympics in 2016.

Williams, the most decorated Olympic tennis player with five medals, could be chosen via discretionary pick for Olympic doubles. She has the credentials: Olympic golds with her sister in 2000, 2008 and 2012 and a mixed doubles silver in 2016.

If she goes to Tokyo, Williams will do it at age 40, older than any previous, modern-era Olympic tennis medalist.

“I’m trying to stick around for that,” she reportedly said in 2017 of the Games.

MORE: Serena Williams gives terse response when asked about 2018 chair umpire

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Emily Sisson a U.S. Olympic marathon trials favorite, thanks to Ireland

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Emily Sisson didn’t think she would become a professional runner until her last year of college. Now, at 28, she goes into the U.S. Olympic marathon trials as a contender for one of three Tokyo spots, if not the overall favorite.

“I’ve only done one marathon, so I definitely don’t feel like I’m an experienced marathoner,” Sisson said by phone last week from her Arizona base. “That’s the one question mark I’ve had all build-up.”

Predicting a marathon can be a crapshoot, but a Podiumrunner.com experts panel pegged Sisson to win. She is younger than any female U.S. Olympic marathoner since Anne Marie Lauck in 1996 (though fellow contender Jordan Hasay is a month younger).

Confidence stems from last April 28. Sisson clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in U.S. women’s history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow. She finished sixth — behind five East Africans. She crossed 3:25 ahead of sometimes training partner and mentor Molly Huddle, also a headliner at trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (12 p.m. ET, NBC).

“We wanted to run faster,” Sisson said that day in London. “There’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Sisson later mentioned a pre-race scare on the “Keeping Track” podcast. She tripped over a carpet jogging back from a bathroom, banged both knees 15 minutes before the start and got checked out physically by a chiropractor and mentally by her husband, who has a master’s degree in mental health counseling.

Sisson then covered the final half of that marathon alone, a foreign feeling for the longtime track runner. At one point, she thought about having never before run more than 23 miles.

Her mind could have also wandered to sports memories that led her to the world’s strongest marathon: Attending a 1999 Women’s World Cup match and seeing her hero, Mia Hamm. As a soccer-playing teenager, being asked by a friend to join a track relay team. Or being told during a record-breaking high school career that she was reminiscent of 2004 Olympic marathoner Jen Rhines.

Sisson, whose dad ran and mom did gymnastics at the University of Wisconsin, transferred after one year in Madison to Providence. She had a best NCAA Championships finish of fourth going into her last year. Before that final season, Sisson was prepared to leave competitive running once her NCAA eligibility exhausted in pursuit of an MBA.

“I had been going through a bit of a funk with running,” she said. “I was getting a little tired.”

Things changed the summer before her senior year. She vacationed with then-boyfriend/now-husband Shane Quinn, a fellow Providence runner, in Quinn’s native Ireland. At one point, they altered training, ditching tempo runs for local road races. Sisson never before competed on the roads. She doesn’t remember the distances being exact. She does remember winning.

“That was a new, fun thing that kept the sport kind of fresh for me,” she said. “You finish, and you go into a local pub and have sandwiches.”

Providence coach Ray Treacy put Sisson in more road races that fall. The opportunity was right. She had no cross-country eligibility left while she readied for the winter and spring track seasons. She went on to win the 2015 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor 5000m, a springboard to the pros (while still going after the MBA).

Sisson was set back by injury in 2016 and placed 10th in the Olympic trials 10,000m. She kept training under Treacy, and perhaps just as important, with Huddle, the American record holder at 10,000m. Huddle, seven years older than Sisson, made her marathon debut after the Rio Olympics.

“Emily really looks up to her and is inspired by her,” Treacy said. “Molly has helped her out in numerous ways in training. … Making sure she’s not going overboard with the training, not running too fast. She kind of keeps her under control.”

Sisson made the last two world championships teams in the 10,000m, but Treacy thought marathon since 2015. They signed her up for the 2019 London Marathon, in part because Huddle was going to race it as her third career 26.2-miler. And in part to get Sisson ready for the Olympic trials in 10 months’ time.

The build-up was better than ideal. Sisson ran the second-fastest half marathon in U.S. history (on a record-eligible course) in January. She became the third-fastest U.S. woman all-time at 10,000m in March.

Come April, Treacy was impressed again just by watching Sisson after she crossed the London finish line in what would be the second-fastest marathon for a U.S. woman in 2019.

“It didn’t look like it took anything out of her,” Treacy said. “She recovered really fast. Within minutes, she was feeling pretty good. That was a good sign.”

Sisson returned home to Quinn and their golden retriever, Desmond, who has 1,400 Instagram followers. She skipped a fall marathon to compete in the 10,000m at track worlds in Doha, placing a respectable 10th.

The recent marathon build-up for trials went just as well, if not better, than the training for London.

“I’m definitely putting a bit of pressure on myself with this one,” Sisson said. “But at the same time, I don’t get caught up in so much what other people say. I don’t really read the articles about who’s the favorite or what chance you have of making the team.”

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MORE: Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic trials

Brigid Kosgei beaten as another world record smashed in Nike shoes

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Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh broke the half marathon world record by 20 seconds, beating new marathon world-record holder Brigid Kosgei in the United Arab Emirates on Friday.

Nike-sponsored runners lowered the men’s and women’s marathon and half marathon records since September 2018, each appearing to race in versions of the apparel giant’s scrutinized Vaporfly shoes.

Yeshaneh, a 28-year-old who finished 14th in the 2016 Olympic 5000m, clocked 1:04:31 for 13.1 miles to better Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei‘s world record from 2017.

Kosgei, a 26-year-old Kenyan, also came in under the old world record but 18 seconds behind Yeshaneh.

Kosgei took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old women’s marathon world record on Oct. 13, clocking 2:14:04 to win the Chicago Marathon.

Nike Vaporfly shoes, including the prototypes worn by Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge when he ran a sub-two-hour marathon, were deemed legal by World Athletics’ new shoe regulations last month, according to Nike.

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MORE: Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic trials