At Australian Open, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal hear history’s call

Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal
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Serena Williams gets her 11th chance to tie Margaret Court‘s record. Rafael Nadal takes his first crack at breaking the one he now shares with Roger Federer.

But neither is favored at the Australian Open, which starts Monday (Sunday night in the U.S.).

Williams returns to the site of her 23rd and most recent major title, way back in 2017, when she was pregnant with daughter Olympia.

Since then, she has yearned to match the Australian Court for the most major singles titles, reaching four finals and leaving each one with the runner-up trophy. At 39, Williams’ chances to win No. 24 are decreasing with every passing Grand Slam tennis tournament.

“It’s definitely on my shoulders and on my mind,” she said of the record that Court holds, though most of Court’s wins came before the Open Era and, of those in Australia, before the world’s top women all played. “I think it’s good to be on my mind. I think it’s a different burden, I should say, on my shoulders because I’m used to it now. It’s more relaxing.”

PointsBet Sportsbook has three players with greater odds to lift the trophy in Melbourne in two weeks, led by defending champion Naomi Osaka.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

Williams, seeded 10th, opens against German Laura Siegemund. She would not play a past major champion before the quarterfinals but is on the more accomplished half of the draw, along with Osaka, Simona Halep and Spaniard Garbiñe Muguruza.

Some routine early matches would be beneficial. Williams said she probably would not have played the Australian Open if it was held on its usual dates, three weeks earlier, citing an Achilles injury that forced her to withdraw from the French Open on Sept. 30.

She’s also nursing a right shoulder.

“It’s definitely something that I’m going to have to deal with for the fortnight,” she said. “I’m going to have to probably pick up some different therapy exercises after each match, etcetera.”

Nadal, too, must manage his body. The 34-year-old, who matched Federer’s male record 20 major titles with his 13th French Open in October, said on Sunday that a back injury hampered him the last 15 days.

“I tried little bit today to serve again,” he said, noting he is practicing while a muscle is still tight. “Is difficult to play with freedom of movements today.

“Of course, it worries me a little bit.”

Nadal, whose lone Australian Open title came in 2009, is seeded second. He would not play top-ranked Novak Djokovic until a possible final and benefits from No. 3 Dominic Thiem landing in Djokovic’s half. Federer, 39, will miss a third consecutive major tournament following two knee surgeries.

Djokovic, eyeing an 18th major title, owns a record eight Australian Open crowns.

“I’ve been feeling more comfortable on the court each year that I’ve been coming back,” the Serbian said. “It feels right. It feels like the place where I should be and where I have historically always been able to perform my best tennis.”

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IOC gives more time to pick 2030 Olympic host, studies rotating Winter Games

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The 2030 Winter Olympic host, expected to be Salt Lake City or Sapporo, Japan, is no longer targeted to be decided before next fall, the IOC said in announcing wider discussions into the future of the Winter Games, including the possibility of rotating the Games within a pool of hosts.

The IOC Future Host Commission was granted more time to study factors, including climate change, that could impact which cities and regions host future Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The 2030 Winter Games host is not expected to be decided before or at an IOC session next September or October.

Hosts have traditionally been chosen by IOC members vote seven years before the Games, though recent reforms allow flexibility on the process and timeline. For example, the 2024 and 2028 Games were awarded to Paris and Los Angeles in a historic double award in 2017. The 2032 Summer Games were awarded to Brisbane last year without a traditional bid race.

Italy hosts the 2026 Winter Games in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.

There are three interested parties for the 2030 Winter Olympics, the IOC said Tuesday without naming them. Previously, Salt Lake City, Sapporo and Vancouver were confirmed as bids. Then in October, the British Columbia government said it would not support a Vancouver bid, a major setback, though organizers did not say that decision ended the bid. All three cities are attractive as past Winter Games hosts with existing venues.

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials have said Salt Lake City is a likelier candidate for 2034 than 2030, but could step in for 2030 if asked.

The future host commission outlined proposals for future Winter Olympics, which included rotating hosts within a pool of cities or regions and a requirement that hosts have an average minimum temperature below freezing (32 degrees) for snow competition venues at the time of the Games over a 10-year period.

The IOC Executive Board gave the commission more time to study the proposals and other factors impacting winter sports.

The IOC board also discussed and will continue to explore a potential double awarding of the 2030 and 2034 Winter Olympic hosts.

Also Tuesday, the IOC board said that Afghanistan participation in the 2024 Olympics will depend on making progress in safe access to sports for women and young girls in the country.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch urged the IOC to suspend Afghanistan until women and girls can play sport in the country.

In a press release, the IOC board expressed “serious concern and strongly condemned the latest restrictions imposed by the Afghan authorities on women and young girls in Afghanistan, which prevent them from practicing sport in the country.” It urged Afghanistan authorities to “take immediate action at the highest level to reverse such restrictions and ensure safe access to sport for women and young girls.”

The IOC board also announced that North Korea’s National Olympic Committee will be reinstated when its suspension is up at the end of the year.

In September 2021, the IOC banned the North Korean NOC through the end of 2022, including banning a North Korean delegation from participating in the Beijing Winter Games, after it chose not to participate in the Tokyo Games.

North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, was the only one of 206 National Olympic Committees to withdraw from Tokyo. The country made its choice in late March 2021, citing a desire “to protect our athletes from the global health crisis caused by the malicious virus infection.”

The IOC said in September 2021 that it “provided reassurances for the holding of safe Games and offered constructive proposals to find an appropriate and tailor-made solution until the very last minute (including the provision of vaccines), which were systematically rejected by the PRK NOC.”

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Olympic champion Justine Dufour-Lapointe leaves moguls for another skiing discipline

Justine Dufour-Lapointe
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Justine Dufour-Lapointe, the 2014 Olympic moguls champion, is leaving the event to compete in freeriding, a non-Olympic skiing discipline.

“After three Olympic cycles and 12 years on the World Cup circuit, I felt that I needed to find a new source of motivation and had to push my limits even more so I can reach my full potential as a skier,” the 28-year-old Montreal native said in a social media video, according to a translation from French. “Today, I am starting a new chapter in my career. … I want to perfect myself in another discipline. I want to connect with the mountain differently. Above all, I want to get out of my comfort zone in a way I’ve never done before.”

Dufour-Lapointe said she will compete on the Freeride World Tour, a series of judged competitions described as:

There‘s a start gate at the summit and a finish gate at the bottom. That’s it. Best run down wins. It truly is that simple. Think skiers and snowboarders choosing impossible-looking lines through cornices and cliff-faces and nasty couloirs. Think progressive: big jumps, mach-speed turns and full-on attack. Think entertaining.

Dufour-Lapointe has retired from moguls skiing, according to a Freeride World Tour press release, though she did not explicitly say that in social media posts Tuesday.

At the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Dufour-Lapointe denied American Hannah Kearney‘s bid to become the first freestyle skier to repeat as Olympic champion. Older sister Chloé took silver in a Canadian one-two.

Dufour-Lapointe also won the world title in 2015, then Olympic silver in 2018 behind Frenchwoman Perrine Laffont.

Chloé announced her retirement in September. A third Dufour-Lapointe Olympic moguls skier, Maxime, retired in 2018.

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