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Serena Williams wins first tennis tournament title as a mom

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Serena Williams won her first WTA tournament title in nearly three years — and since having daughter Olympia — capturing an Australian Open tune-up event in Auckland, New Zealand.

Williams, a 38-year-old, 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, swept countrywoman Jessica Pegula 6-3, 6-4 in the ASB Classic final on Sunday. Williams had lost her previous five finals, all since Olympia’s birth on Sept. 1, 2017, after never losing more than two consecutive finals in her career.

“It feels good. It’s been a long time,” Williams said as her daughter was courtside Sunday. “I think you can see the relief on my face.”

Williams, with her 73rd career title, became the third-oldest woman to win a WTA tournament behind Billie Jean King (39) and Kimiko Date-Krumm (38). And the first to win singles titles in four different decades.

Williams donated her $43,000 winner’s check and a dress for every match she played to the fundraising appeal for victims of Australian wildfires, joining many other tennis stars, such as Ash Barty, Nick Kygrios, Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova, who have pledged money to the already months-long fire emergency there.

“I’ve been playing in Australia for over 20 years, and it’s been really hard for me to watch all the news and everything that has been happening in Australia with all the fires and over a billion animals and people have lost their homes,” Williams said.

She goes into the Australian Open that starts Jan. 20 having reached the final in four of her seven Grand Slam starts post-pregnancy. She lost all four of those finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She remains one Grand Slam singles title shy of Margaret Court‘s record.

Williams owns seven Australian Open titles, including her last title of any kind in January 2017. She beat sister Venus Williams in the final while eight weeks pregnant but before she announced that she was having a baby.

Williams began this year ranked No. 10 in the world and leading U.S. Olympic qualifying standings. The top four U.S. women in the WTA singles rankings after the French Open are in line to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Beach volleyball player’s dog becomes social media sensation

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Norwegian beach volleyball player Mathias Berntsen‘s dog, Kiara, captivated social media this weekend.

A video of Kiara peppering with Berntsen and a pair across the net on a grass field spread from Berntsen’s Instagram across platforms. Kiara now has 12,000 Instagram followers, more than twice the total of Berntsen.

Berntsen, 24, is one half of Norway’s second-best beach volleyball team.

He and partner Hendrik Mol are ranked 45th in the world and well outside the Tokyo Olympic picture (24 teams go to the Games), but could get in the mix depending on how qualification is amended once sports resume.

Berntsen and his cousin Mol are part of a group called the Beach Volley Vikings. Mol’s younger brother, Anders, and family friend Christian Sorum are the world’s top-ranked team (profiled here).

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FIFA rules on Olympic men’s soccer tournament age eligibility

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For the first time since 1988, some 24-year-olds will be eligible for the Olympic men’s soccer tournament without using an over-age exception.

FIFA announced Friday that it will use the same age eligibility criteria for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 that it intended to use in 2020 — that players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997 are eligible, plus three over-age exceptions. FIFA chose not to move the birthdate deadline back a year after the Olympics were postponed by one year.

Olympic men’s soccer tournaments have been U-23 events — save those exceptions — since the 1992 Barcelona Games. In 1984 and 1988, restrictions kept European and South American players with World Cup experience ineligible. Before that, professionals weren’t allowed at all.

Fourteen of the 16 men’s soccer teams already qualified for the Games using players from under-23 national teams. The last two spots are to be filled by CONCACAF nations, potentially the U.S. qualifying a men’s team for the first time since 2008.

The U.S.’ biggest star, Christian Pulisic, and French superstar Kylian Mbappe were both born in 1998 and thus would have been under the age limit even if FIFA moved the deadline to Jan. 1, 1998.

Perhaps the most high-profile player affected by FIFA’s decision is Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City star was born April 3, 1997, and thus would have become an over-age exception if FIFA pushed the birthdate rule back a year.

Instead, Brazil could name him to the Olympic team and still keep all of its over-age exceptions.

However, players need permission from their professional club teams to play in the Olympics, often limiting the availability of stars.

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