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American Sofia Kenin beats No. 1 Ash Barty, into Australian Open final

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Sofia Kenin never flinched.

Not when she was twice a point from dropping the opening set of her first Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open. Not when she was twice a point from dropping the second set, either.

And the American is into her first major final at age 21 — beating the woman ranked No. 1, Ash Barty, to get there. Now Kenin will need to beat a former No. 1, Garbiñe Muguruza, to grab the trophy.

Kenin saved a total of four set points to stop home hope Barty’s bid to give Australia a long-awaited singles champion at Melbourne Park, pulling out a 7-6 (6), 7-5 victory on a stiflingly hot Thursday.

“I was telling myself: ‘I believe in myself. If I lose the set, I’m still going to come out and believe,’” said the 14th-seeded Kenin, who never had been past the fourth round at a major. “Yeah, I really did a great job with it. I didn’t give up.”

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

Muguruza fended off four set points in the opener of her semifinal and wound up defeating No. 4 Simona Halep 7-6 (8), 7-5 in a matchup of players who have won Wimbledon and the French Open but not the Australian Open.

It was a streaky contest: Muguruza led 5-3 in the first set before Halep took 15 of 17 points to earn a pair of set points. Muguruza then took seven consecutive points. And so on, until Halep put a shot in the net to relinquish that set, then smashed her racket and sat on the sideline, shaking her head.

“I wasn’t thinking I was down,” Muguruza said. “You keep going.”

Barty — who won the French Open last June, beating Kenin along the way — was hardly at her best Thursday, especially at the most crucial moments. Maybe she was burdened by the task of trying to become the first Australian woman since 1980 to get to the final of the country’s Grand Slam.

“Unfortunately, couldn’t quite scrap enough to get over the line,” said Barty, who held her niece on her lap at the post-match news conference. “Just didn’t play the biggest points well enough to win.”

Instead, Kenin is the first American other than a Williams sister to reach the Australian Open final since Lindsay Davenport in 1995. And Kenin is the first American woman to beat the No. 1 player at any major since Serena Williams topped Venus Williams at Wimbledon in 2002.

“She has the ability to adapt,” Barty said. “She’s extremely confident at the moment, as well.”

Those inside the sport know. But Kenin has been overshadowed by some of the many other American women making waves in recent years.

“I mean, yeah, I know people haven’t really paid attention much to me in the past. I had to establish myself, and I have,” Kenin said. “Of course, now I’m getting the attention, which I like it. Not going to lie.”

Kenin, who was born in Russia and moved to Florida as a baby, burst onto the scene in 2019 by winning three singles titles, upsetting Serena Williams in the third round at Roland Garros, and soaring from No. 52 to No. 12 in the rankings.

She didn’t face a seeded player in this tournament until Thursday, but did eliminate 15-year-old sensation Coco Gauff in the fourth round.

Barty and Kenin stepped out in Rod Laver Arena in the early afternoon under a cloudless sky and a vibrant sun. The temperature topped 100 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) in the first set, 20 to 25 (10 to 15) degrees hotter than it’s been for much of a chillier-than-usual 1½ weeks so far at Melbourne Park.

Barty braced herself by wearing an ice towel around her neck at changeovers.

In addition to making it uncomfortable for players and fans alike, the conditions caused balls to zip through the air and fly off rackets, rendering it that much harder to control shots. Add that to some jitters, and neither woman was at her best in the opening set.

Barty’s one-handed slice backhand was not as reliable as it normally is. Kenin’s movement and groundstrokes seemed to lack their usual verve.

It took Kenin 43 minutes to register just one forehand winner, while 11 of her initial 14 points resulted from unforced errors by Barty.

After one lost point, Kenin hit herself in the thigh. On the next, she flubbed a high volley and dropped her racket to the ground. Up in the stands, Kenin’s father, Alexander, who is also her coach, put his hands on his head.

Hours later, he could smile as he looked back at the big win and ahead to what’s next.

“The basic plan that we developed, we stuck to it, and it looked like it worked,” Dad said.

Asked what he thought it will be like to see his daughter participate in her first Grand Slam final, he replied: “Never been there, so I don’t know. Let’s see.”

Barty had two chances to claim the first set but couldn’t. Same thing happened in the second.

Kenin now will climb into the top 10 of the rankings. One more win, and she’ll achieve something even more significant: The right to call herself a Grand Slam champion.

“She deserves that respect,” Barty said, “and she deserves the recognition.”

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

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Conseslus Kipruto tests positive for coronavirus, canceling world-record bid

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Conseslus Kipruto, the Olympic and world 3000m steeplechase champion, tested positive for the coronavirus without symptoms, which will keep him from a world-record chase on Friday, according to his social media.

The Kenyan was to race in the first in-person Diamond League meet of the year in Monaco on Friday.

“Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities,” was posted. “Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League.

“I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well.”

Kipruto, 25, is the 14th-fastest steepler in history with a personal best of 8:00.12. The world record is 7:53.63, set by Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004.

Last year, Kipruto won the world title by .01, extending a streak of a Kenyan or Kenyan-born man winning every Olympic or world title in the event since the 1988 Seoul Games. He was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot until opening his season extremely late on Aug. 24.

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Our World is going through a challenging period and we all have to take our responsibilities. Unfortunately my covid-19 test, as part of the Monaco-protocol, came back positive and therefore I can’t be part of the Monaco Diamond League on August 14th. I don’t have any symptoms and I was actually in great shape. I was planning to go for the WR: it has stayed too long outside Kenya. As the World & Olympic Champion I feel strongly its something I should go for as well. Wish to thank Monaco for all the work they have done and I wish them and my colleagues a wonderful competition. Athletics is back and I will be back as well. Anyone willing to organise a steeple once I can be cleared? @diamondleaguemonaco #nike #quarantine #WR #Kenya

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