Coco Gauff tops Venus Williams at Australian Open; Serena sweeps

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Everyone had the same question when the Australian Open draw was revealed: What were the odds that Coco Gauff and Venus Williams would face each other again in the first round at a Grand Slam tournament?

“I was a bit shocked,” Gauff said, “I’m sure everyone was a bit shocked.”

Gauff, 15, played Williams, 39, to begin her first appearance in the main draw at Melbourne Park, just like they matched up to start things off at Wimbledon about six months ago.

And, just like at the All England Club, the youngest woman in the field got the better of the oldest woman in the field, with Gauff beating Williams 7-6 (5), 6-3 on Monday.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

“I definitely was more confident this time. I think I was used to playing on big courts, so the crowd — I guess the size of the crowd didn’t startle me as much as last time,” Gauff said. “Definitely a bit more positive coming into this match.”

It was the most anticipated contest of Day 1 at the first major tennis tournament of the decade, and it did not disappoint. The first set, in particular, was intriguing, with Gauff repeatedly pulling ahead, only to have Williams — who already had won four of her seven Grand Slam singles trophies by the time her foe was born — rebuff her.

It wasn’t until her fourth set point that Gauff finally pulled it out. She quickly grabbed a 3-0 lead in the second and never let that edge go.

Gauff already has demonstrated all sorts of terrific qualities on a tennis court, from her big, gutsy serves to an ability to track down opponents’ shots. Now you can add stick-to-it-iveness to the list.

The match was held in Margaret Court Arena, one of three stadiums with a retractable roof, and that was a good thing.

The air quality was fine, but a heavy storm that arrived in the afternoon suspended nine matches on outside courts in progress and postponed more than 20 others entirely, creating a jam-packed schedule for Tuesday. The start will be a half-hour earlier than usual, and three courts have seven-match programs.

Among the players who got a chance to play — and win — were Roger Federer, 2019 semifinalist Stefanos Tsitsipas, defending champion Naomi Osaka, 23-time major champion Serena Williams, No. 1 Ash Barty and 2018 Australian Open winner Caroline Wozniacki, who is retiring after this tournament.

Barty got off to a rough start, dropping her opening set, before asserting herself and coming back for a 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Lesia Tsurenko.

Serena, who is 38, did what her older sister couldn’t: defeat a teen.

Other than a brief second-set blip, Serena had very little trouble getting past 18-year-old Anastasia Potapova of Russia 6-0, 6-3 to begin her latest bid for a 24th Grand Slam singles championship.

Serena took the last three games of the match, then declared with a laugh: “I started out well today. Ended well.”

Her most recent major trophy came in Australia in 2017; that also had been her last title of any sort until this month, when she won a hard-court tuneup in Auckland, New Zealand.

Gauff beamed Monday while discussing a dance routine she did with Serena that went viral on social media.

There were laughs about her love of TikTok and her self-deprecating discussion of a propensity for procrastination when it comes to schoolwork.

She is, after all, still just a 15-year-old.

One with lofty goals, though.

“I mean, my mission is to be the greatest. That’s my goal, to win as many Grand Slams as possible,” said Gauff, whose best friend and doubles partner, 18-year-old American qualifier Caty McNally, upset 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur of Australia 6-1, 6-4 at night.

“But for today,” Gauff added, “my mission was to win.”

She and Venus Williams combined for far more unforced errors, 71, than winners, 42.

One key was that Williams ended up with 41 of those miscues, 11 more than Gauff.

Another was that Williams, long one of the most feared servers on tour, was outdone in that category by her opponent on this day. Not only did Gauff face only two break points, saving one, but she often came up with the goods at the most crucial moments, pounding an ace at 115 mph, say, or hitting a risky second serve at a high velocity to the perfect spot to draw a no-good return.

All the while, Gauff was not shy about celebrating the biggest of points with a loud “Come on!” and a series of fist pumps.

Otherwise, she had her game face on, betraying little emotion, including when she walked out onto the court with earbuds in place after getting a pre-match peck on the cheek from her father, Corey, who also serves as Gauff’s coach.

Gauff is ranked 67th, and Williams, a former No. 1, is 55th. Williams was playing in a Grand Slam tournament’s main draw for the 85th time, a record for the professional era, but this also was her first match of 2020, because of a hip injury that sidelined her at the start of January.

This is Gauff’s third major, but she sure is precocious.

“She clearly wants it and works very hard and is extremely mature for her age,” Williams said. “The sky’s the limit for her.”

Ranked 313th, Gauff became the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history, then made it all the way to the fourth round, generating a ton of buzz, before losing to eventual champion Simona Halep. She backed that up with a run to the third round at the U.S. Open, then won her first WTA singles title later in the year.

The forehand that might have been the biggest question mark with her game after her breakthrough, seemed improved, yes, but still was a weakness Williams could test.

Another question entering this season had to be how Gauff would handle being someone everyone gears up for, someone everyone knows about, and someone who might need to deal with the pressure to perform and live up to the ever-growing and enormous expectations.

So far, so good.

“I guess I came to the realization that I need to play my game, not worry about what people think of me,” Gauff said.

“I still have a lot more to, I guess, become like one of those ‘big names,’” she continued, making air quotes with her fingers. “I feel like I still have a lot to improve.”

MORE: Top U.S. male tennis player to skip Tokyo Olympics

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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record with slopestyle gold

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“I think I was just not ready to deliver at that day,” Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen, said on NBC. “I was really so confident, I think I sort of overthought everything and tried to get ahead of myself. But I think it’s all right.”

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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