Serena Williams
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Serena Williams into U.S. Open semifinals after outlasting fellow mom

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NEW YORK (AP) — They were just two particular points from Serena Williams’ latest three-set comeback at the U.S. Open, yet they were pivotal and consisted of the sorts of lengthy exchanges filled with athleticism and brilliance that in any other, non-pandemic year would be marked by thousands of folks rising to their feet for delirious roars and raucous applause.

She needed both of these points to reverse a deficit that reached the scale of a set and a break after 45 minutes of her quarterfinal against Tsvetana Pironkova on a cloudy Wednesday in empty Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Williams needed both of these points during a five-game, match-altering run — along with 20 aces, her most in a match in eight years — to end up on the right side of a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 score after more than two hours to get to the semifinals at Flushing Meadows for an 11th consecutive appearance.

US OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, right?” Williams said.

Two more victories would allow her to claim a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title.

“In the beginning, I was a little fatigued, for whatever reason,” Williams said. “Obviously, I can’t do that if I want to keep winning, so I need to figure that out.”

How big an upset would this have been if Pironkova had held on? Not only is she not seeded at Flushing Meadows, she doesn’t even appear in the WTA rankings at all — this was her first tournament of any sort in more than three years, because she left the tour to become a mother.

“It’s unbelievable,” Williams said about Pironkova’s impressive return to competition. “Wow. I couldn’t even do that.”

When the players stepped out onto the court, the stadium announcer — announcing for whom, exactly, was something of a mystery — referred to Pironkova, a 32-year-old from Bulgaria, as “Alexander’s mom” and then to Williams as “Olympia’s mom” during the pre-match introductions.

“It just shows me how tough moms are,” Williams said afterward.

“You play a match and you go home and you’re still changing diapers,” said Williams, whose daughter turned 3 on Sept. 1 and is a little older than Pironkova’s son. “It’s like a double life. It’s really surreal.”

The American, who turns 39 in less than three weeks, has won six U.S. Open championships; she was the runner-up the past two years.

Williams last lost before the semifinals in New York in 2007, when Justine Henin eliminated her in the quarterfinals.

On Thursday, Williams will face Victoria Azarenka, who returned to the U.S. Open semifinals for the first time since 2013 by overwhelming Elise Mertens 6-1, 6-0 on Wednesday night. Williams leads her head-to-head series against Azarenka 18-4, including beating her in the 2012 and 2013 finals in New York.

It was in a 2012 match against Azarenka at Wimbledon that Williams last topped 20 aces, producing 24.

The other women’s semifinal Thursday will be 2018 champion Naomi Osaka vs. No. 28 seed Jennifer Brady.

In the men’s quarterfinals Wednesday, 2019 runner-up Daniil Medvedev beat No. 10 Andrey Rublev 7-6 (6), 6-3, 7-6 (5) to return to the final four, with No. 2 Dominic Thiem against No. 21 Alex de Minaur scheduled to meet at night. Medvedev hasn’t dropped a set in the tournament.

Williams also needed a comeback and the maximum number of sets to get through the fourth round before defeating 15th-seeded Maria Sakkari 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3.

In Wednesday’s turnaround, the first key moment involved 24 strokes, the next-to-last a cross-court forehand by Williams from wide of the doubles alley, and the last an on-the-run squash forehand by Pironkova that landed in the net. That gave Williams a break and a 5-3 edge in the second set.

Williams raised her left fist as her husband yelled from his front-row corner seat; Pironkova put a hand on her knee, smiled ruefully and squatted behind the baseline.

The other came in a four-deuce opening game of the final set, and began with the right-handed Williams taking a page out of old friend Maria Sharapova’s playbook by hitting a left-handed return of serve. Another 15 strokes followed, with Williams smacking a forehand passing shot that Pironkova volleyed into the net tape.

“That was intense,” Williams said. “I was just trying to do everything I can — whether righty or lefty.”

Pironkova dropped onto her back, chest heaving; she left so much sweat on the court that a ball person was beckoned to wipe it away with a towel. That afforded Williams a third break point, which was converted for a 1-0 lead when Pironkova sent a forehand long.

“She definitely played like the champion she is,” Pironkova said.

Williams then only added to the lead, her strokes finding targets better the longer the match went on. Her serve was especially good, as it usually is.

In contrast, Pironkova began to have more trouble on the longer points that she dominated early; she won the first half-dozen that lasted 10 strokes or more before Williams found more success.

A couple of times, Pironkova drew Williams forward with a drop shot, then took the point with a perfectly arced lob.

“I tried everything,” Pironkova said.

But after compiling only five unforced errors in the first set, Pironkova had 21 over the last two.

Williams, in contrast, made 11 in the first set, just 13 the rest of the way.

“Definitely, the first set, I think I was in control of the match. I was doing all kinds of shots, and everything went … my way,” Pironkova said. “But, you know, I was expecting (that) it’s not going to last forever.”

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Coco Gauff eliminated from French Open

Coco Gauff
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PARIS (AP) — American teenager Coco Gauff’s French Open debut ended in the second round after she double-faulted 19 times in a 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 loss to 159th-ranked qualifier Martina Trevisan.

Gauff double-faulted twice in the last game of the 2-hour, 11-minute match.

The 16-year-old Gauff has reached at least the third round at the other three major tournaments.

For Trevisan, a 26-year-old from Italy, this was her first victory in a Grand Slam match played to its conclusion.

She lost in the first round at the Australian Open this year in her first appearance at a major, then advanced Sunday at Roland Garros when her opponent, Camila Giorgi, stopped playing in the second set because of an injury.

Against Gauff, Trevisan kept yelling, “Yes!” and “Let’s go!” in Italian between points, then let out a high-pitched scream when the match ended.

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Earlier, Defending champion Rafael Nadal reached the third round by beating American player Mackenzie McDonald 6-1, 6-0, 6-3.

The No. 2-seeded Spaniard is looking to win his record-extending 13th French Open title and equal Roger Federer’s men’s record of 20 major titles overall.

Nadal improved his record at Roland Garros to 95-2 when he sealed victory on his first match point. He next faces 74th-ranked Stefano Travaglia of Italy.

Sebastian Korda has now beaten two tour veterans in his first French Open.

After eliminating Andreas Seppi in his opening main draw match, the 20-year-old American qualifier took out 21st-seeded John Isner in the second round with a 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 win.

A former junior world No. 1 and winner of the boys title at the 2018 Australian Open — and the son of 1992 French Open finalist Petr Korda — Korda broke Isner’s normally dominant serve five times.

The No. 213-ranked Korda will next face either Mikhail Kukushkin or qualifier Pedro Martinez on Friday.

Also, No. 27-seeded American Taylor Fritz reached the third round by serving 16 aces in a straight-set victory over Radu Albot.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Final postponed

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The Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international figure skating competition, will not take place as scheduled in December in Beijing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The International Skating Union announced Wednesday that the Final was postponed.

There were “a number of logistical points raised by potentially participating teams that meant that hosting the competitions on the scheduled dates (close to the end of year holidays and national championships) would have impacted on the number of participants, given the potential need to quarantine on returning to their home country,” according to the ISU.

The ISU is “evaluating the continuation” of the upcoming season and possible rescheduling of the competition in China, which doubles as a 2022 Beijing Olympic test event.

The Grand Prix Final, held every December after the six-event Grand Prix Series, is the biggest indicator of Olympic and world championships medal prospects.

The Grand Prix Series is still scheduled to start with Skate America in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

Fields have not been announced, but skaters are restricted to compete at the event in their home nation or in or near their training location.

The ISU also announced that the remaining World Cup short track speed skating stops in 2020 were postponed or canceled — Seoul and Beijing, both in December.

Previously, the first short track World Cups in November were canceled. All four of the long-track speed skating World Cups scheduled this fall were also canceled.

The next scheduled World Cup short- or long-track events are in February.

MORE: Alysa Liu grows on the ice and adds inches, too

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