Serena Williams ousted in U.S. Open semifinal by Victoria Azarenka

Serena Williams
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Serena Williams‘ latest bid for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title was derailed by fellow mom Victoria Azarenka.

Azarenka prevailed 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, overcoming her rival from an era ago after Williams took a medical timeout early in the third set with a left Achilles injury. Williams played her most dominant tennis of the summer in the first set before Azarenka flipped the script in the second and kept pushing through the finish.

“I started really strong. Then she just kept fighting,” Williams said. “She just changed and started playing better and better. Maybe I took a little too much off the gas pedal at some point.”

Williams suffered the injury while serving and down 1-0 in the third set. She limped, went to her chair and had her always heavily wrapped foot and ankle worked on and rewrapped.

“It just overstretched. It was pretty intense,” she said. “It didn’t affect my play ultimately at all, just for that one point.”

Azarenka, who had already fought back from love-40 to 40-all in the game, won three of the next four points to break Williams.

From there, the Belarusian held serve four straight times to reach her first Grand Slam final in seven years and since having son Leo in December 2016. She improved to 1-10 against Williams in majors and reversed the 2012 U.S. Open final, when she served for the match in the third set and lost.

“My ego was way too big,” eight years ago, Azarenka said. “Now it’s a little smaller, and the results [are] coming.”

US OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

Azarenka, the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion, plays 2018 U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka in Saturday’s final. Earlier Thursday night, Osaka took out surging American Jennifer Brady 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-3 in a battle between the two most impressive players of the tournament.

Azarenka, who was due to play Osaka in an event final two weeks ago before Osaka withdrew with a left hamstring injury, looks to become the fourth mom to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open Era.

Williams hoped to join that club since returning from September 2017 childbirth and match Margaret Court‘s record for major singles titles. She lost finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2018 and 2019. She turns 39 in two weeks.

Every Slam is crucial. Every deep run and close miss leads followers to wonder how it affects Williams’ resolve.

“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that actually,” she said.

Her next chance will be the French Open that starts in two weeks. Williams, in not outright committing to the event on Monday, said that she had questions about health safety at the tournament that plans to allow up to 11,500 spectators per day.

Just after midnight on Friday, she provided an update.

“I’m definitely going to be going to Paris,” Williams said.

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara

Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)

There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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