Serena Williams rolls at Australian Open, her best start in 5 years

Serena Williams
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Serena Williams is into the Australian Open third round having lost just five games, her most efficient first two rounds of a Grand Slam in five years.

Williams, wearing a Florence Griffith Joyner-inspired outfit and eyeing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, dispatched 99th-ranked Serbian Nina Stojanović 6-3, 6-0 on Wednesday.

She next gets Anastasia Potapova, a 19-year-old Russian whom she beat 6-0, 6-3 in the first round of last year’s Australian Open.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

Williams, the 10th seed, conceded her fewest games in the first two rounds of a major since the 2016 French Open, when she also dropped a handful.

She put to rest any concern about an Achilles problem that forced her to withdraw before her second-round match at the 2020 French Open on Sept. 30.

Williams said before the Australian Open that, had the tournament been held on its usual dates three weeks earlier, she probably would not have played due to the injury.

Instead, the 39-year-old’s pursuit of Margaret Court‘s Slams record is the primary storyline, even if she isn’t the favorite.

“I think I’ve had a ton of pressure,” Williams said on ESPN after her first-round win, alluding to her 10 previous post-childbirth majors, where her best finishes have been four runners-up. “Now I don’t feel it anymore. It’s just like a huge relief. … I think I was just looking at it all the wrong way in the past.

“Honestly, going through 2020 was such a tough year for everyone worldwide. I feel like you can only look at things differently and positively because life is so precious and so short. I get to do this, and I’m so happy that I’m still out here with the opportunity to play tennis.”

Earlier, 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu was knocked out of her first tournament in 15 months after a long injury layoff. Crafty 35-year-old Hsieh Su-wei swept the powerful Canadian 6-3, 6-2, advancing to possibly play 40-year-old Venus Williams.

Venus plays later Wednesday, as do Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep, Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem.

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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here with redactions.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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