Serena Williams’ Australian Open debut inspired by Florence Griffith Joyner

Flojo, Serena Williams
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Serena Williams channeled Olympic champion Florence Griffith Joyner for her Australian Open first-round match on Monday.

Williams, in a pink, red and black one-legged catsuit that drew memories of the 1988 gold medalist, fittingly sprinted past 49th-ranked German Laura Siegemund 6-1, 6-1 in 56 minutes in Melbourne.

“I was inspired by Flo-Jo, who was a wonderful track athlete, amazing athlete when I was growing up,” the 39-year-old Williams said. “Well, watching her fashion, just always changing, her outfits were always amazing. This year we thought of what can we do to keep elevating the Serena Williams on the court. The Nike team actually thought of this design of inspiration from Flo-Jo. I was like, Oh, my God, this is so brilliant.

“She had such amazing style and iconic-ness.”

Griffith Joyner, in a 1988 NBC Olympics profile, called her outfit “the one-legger.”

“The one-legger was by accident,” she said. “It was a two-legger, originally. I was in the mirror, and I cut off one leg, and I liked how it looked. So I took a pair of my briefs, and I put it over the top of the one leg. And I said, well that looks good, I’ll try that.”

Williams, seeded 10th, improved to 76-1 in the first round of majors. She next plays 99th-ranked Serbian Nina Stojanović.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

Williams said before the tournament that she probably would not have played 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 injury.

“Wasn’t sure how my serve would be after a little bit of that shoulder, but it’s feeling good, I’m feeling good,” she said. “This was a good start, definitely vintage ‘Rena.”

Williams is playing her 11th Grand Slam since returning from childbirth, again seeking her first major title as a mom and to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 major singles titles. She was runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2018 and 2019.

Earlier Monday, sister Venus became the first woman in her 40s to win a Grand Slam main draw singles match since Kimiko Date in 2013.

Venus, who last year failed to win a Grand Slam match for the first time in her 24-year career, beat Belgian Kristen Flipkens 7-5, 6-2. She gets Italian veteran Sara Errani in round two.

“She’s such an inspiration because she never gets frustrated about her situation, health-wise,” Serena said of Venus, who was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, an energy-sapping autoimmune disease, in 2011. “She’s always looking on the bright side.”

Naomi Osaka, the 2019 Australian Open winner and favorite, routed 39th-ranked Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 6-2 in 68 minutes. Osaka, on a 15-match win streak, next gets Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia, formerly world No. 4 now ranked 43rd.

In her first match in 15 months, 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Canada outlasted Romanian Mihaela Buzărnescu 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

The highest women’s seed to fall Monday was No. 23 Angelique Kerber of Germany, the 2016 Australian Open champion. Croatian-born American Bernarda Pera knocked her out 6-0, 6-4.

Canadian qualifier Rebecca Marino earned her first Grand Slam match win since 2011. Marino, 30, retired in 2013, dealing with burnout, depression and cyberbullying, and came back in 2018.

On the men’s side, No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Dominic Thiem rolled in straight sets.

In Monday’s highlight match, No. 11 Denis Shapovalov of Canada edged promising 19-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, finishing at 12:49 a.m. local time.

On Tuesday, Rafael NadalAsh Barty, Sofia Kenin and Coco Gauff play their first-round matches.

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Katie Ledecky out-touches new rival at swimming’s U.S. Open, extends streak

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It was a rare sight: Katie Ledecky being matched stroke for stroke in a distance race in an American pool. She was up for the challenge.

Ledecky out-touched emerging 16-year-old Canadian Summer McIntosh by eight hundredths of a second in the 400m freestyle at the U.S. Open in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday night.

Ledecky and McIntosh were tied at the 300-meter mark. Ledecky ended up clocking 3:59.71 to McIntosh’s 3:59.79 to extend a decade-long win streak in freestyle races of 400 meters or longer in U.S. pools.

“I know we’ll have a lot more races ahead of us,” Ledecky said on Peacock. “We bring the best out of each other.”

The U.S. Open continues Friday with live finals coverage on Peacock at 6 p.m. ET.

U.S. OPEN SWIMMING: Full Results

At the Tokyo Olympics, McIntosh placed fourth in the 400m free at age 14.

She accelerated this year, taking silver behind Ledecky at the world championships and silver behind Tokyo gold medalist Ariarne Titmus of Australia at the Commonwealth Games.

Then in October, McIntosh outdueled Ledecky in a 400m free — also by eight hundredths — in a short-course, 25-meter pool at a FINA World Cup meet in Toronto. Long-course meets like the Olympics and the U.S. Open are held in 50-meter pools.

McIntosh also won world titles in the 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley, becoming the youngest individual world champion since 2011.

A potential showdown among Ledecky, Titmus and McIntosh at the 2024 Paris Games is already being compared to the “Race of the Century,” the 2004 Olympic men’s 200m free where Australian Ian Thorpe edged Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband and Michael Phelps.

In other events Thursday, Regan Smith, an Olympic and world medalist in the backstroke and butterfly, won a 200m individual medley in a personal best 2:10.40, a time that would have placed fifth at June’s world championships. She beat 16-year-old Leah Hayes, who took bronze in the event at worlds.

Olympic 400m IM champ Chase Kalisz won the men’s 200m IM in 1:56.52, his best time ever outside of major summer meets. Frenchman Léon Marchand won the world title in 1:55.22 in June, when Kalisz was fourth.

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Eliud Kipchoge, two races shy of his target, to make Boston Marathon debut

Eliud Kipchoge Berlin Marathon
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World record holder Eliud Kipchoge will race the Boston Marathon for the first time on April 17.

Kipchoge, who at September’s Berlin Marathon lowered his world record by 30 seconds to 2:01:09, has won four of the six annual major marathons — Berlin, Tokyo, London and Chicago.

The 38-year-old Kenyan has never raced Boston, the world’s oldest annual marathon dating to 1897, nor New York City but has repeated in recent years a desire to enter both of them.

Typically, he has run the London Marathon in the spring and the Berlin Marathon in the fall.

Kipchoge’s last race in the U.S. was the 2014 Chicago Marathon, his second of 10 consecutive marathon victories from 2014 through 2019.

He can become the first reigning men’s marathon world record holder to finish the Boston Marathon since South Korean Suh Yun-Bok set a world record of 2:25:39 in Boston in 1947, according to the Boston Athletic Association.

In 2024 in Paris, Kipchoge is expected to race the Olympic marathon and bid to become the first person to win three gold medals in that event.

The Boston Marathon field also includes arguably the second- and third-best men in the world right now — Kipchoge’s Kenyan training partners Evans Chebet and Benson Kipruto. Chebet won Boston and New York City this year. Kipruto won Boston last year and Chicago this year.

American Des Linden, who won Boston in 2018, headlines the women’s field.

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