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Serena Williams reaches U.S. Open final, again one win from record

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NEW YORK — For the fourth time, Serena Williams is one match win from a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title.

Williams overpowered No. 5 Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-1 in the U.S. Open semifinals on Thursday night.

She’s into a final (Saturday) for the fourth time in her seven Grand Slams since returning from life-threatening childbirth.

The foe is Canadian 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu, who hasn’t lost a completed match in six months but withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon with a shoulder injury. She swept Swiss Belinda Bencic 7-6 (3), 7-5 later Thursday.

“To be in yet another final, it seems honestly crazy,” Williams said. “But I don’t really expect too much less.”

Williams lost the previous three finals: 2018 Wimbledon to Angelique Kerber, 2018 U.S. Open to Naomi Osaka and 2019 Wimbledon to Simona Halep. This time feels different as she continues to chase Margaret Court‘s record.

“In this tournament, I guess, I have definitely turned a different zone,” Williams, who spans a record 20 years between her first and most recent Slam finals, said after her fourth-round sweep Sunday. “I’m not sure if I can articulate what zone that is.”

Since those comments, Williams had what her coach called her best performance as a mom, a 6-1, 6-0 rout of Chinese Wang Qiang in the quarterfinals.

Then she took out Svitolina, the highest seed of the quarterfinalists who hadn’t dropped a set in her first five matches. The Ukrainian squandered a chance for a hot start, going 0 for 6 on break points in the first set.

“It definitely wasn’t my best tennis,” said Williams, who had 34 winners to 20 unforced errors.

Williams is favored against Andreescu, looking to become the fourth mom to win a major singles title.

In their only head-to-head, Andreescu led Williams 3-1 in the final of their last event before the U.S. Open, when Williams retired with back spasms, part of a string of injuries since having daughter Olympia two years ago.

Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, pointed to her recently improved fitness and health as a key to finally winning her first title as a mom come Saturday.

“I know she’s played a lot in her life, but still, there is a special emotion in a final, especially when you’re supposed to win, and when you are called Serena you are supposed to win all the time,” he said Sunday. “It’s not the same as for another player playing a final, an unexpected player in the final..

“The pressure is very important, even more when you play to beat the record of all times.”

The U.S. Open continues Friday with the men’s semifinals — Rafael Nadal, seeking a 19th Slam title to move within one of Roger Federer, takes on Italian 24th seed Matteo Berrettini. The other semi pits No. 5 Daniil Medvedev of Russia against former world No. 3 but now 78th-ranked Grigor Dimitrov.

U.S. OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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U.S. women’s soccer team begins Olympic qualifying, which should rest on one match

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The U.S. women’s soccer team has never been in danger in Olympic qualifying, but that doesn’t change this fact: It must win on Feb. 7 to reach the Tokyo Games.

The CONCACAF tournament begins Tuesday in Houston, where the world champion Americans face world No. 72 Haiti. The last two group games are against No. 68 Panama on Friday and No. 37 Costa Rica on Feb. 3. The top two nations from the group advance to Feb. 7 semifinals.

The U.S. roster, with 18 of its 20 players coming from the 2019 World Cup team, is here.

Since CONCACAF qualifies two nations to the Olympics, the semifinals are the deciding games.

Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up from the other group in a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match. The other group (world ranking):

Canada (8)
Mexico (37)
Jamaica (53)
St. Kitts and Nevis (127)

Chaos could result in the unlikely event that either the U.S. or Canada finishes second in its group, and the two North American powers play a semifinal.

The U.S. is undefeated in Olympic qualifying history, since the tournament format began in 2004 — 15-0 with a goal differential of 88-1. The lone goal allowed came in a group-stage match in 2008, when the U.S. was already assured a spot in the semifinals.

Still, the U.S. knows the feeling of one poor outing in an important match. In 2010, it lost to Mexico in a winner-to-the-World Cup match. The U.S. was forced to win a last-chance, home-and-home playoff against a UEFA team — Italy — for the last spot in the World Cup.

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