Serena Williams’ path to Australian Open title may be as hard as 1, 2, 3

Serena Williams Australian Open
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Serena Williams‘ road to a potential 24th Grand Slam singles title could be her toughest of them all — her last three matches at the Australian Open, if she advances, could be against the top three seeds.

Williams took out No. 2 seed Simona Halep 6-3, 6-3 in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. In the semifinals, she gets No. 3 Naomi Osaka on Thursday.

On the other half of the draw, just one of the four remaining players has Grand Slam final experience or is ranked in the top 20. That’s No. 1 Ash Barty, an Australian who hasn’t dropped a set all tournament.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

Only twice in the Open Era has a woman beaten seed Nos. 1, 2 and 3 en route to a major title — Brit Virginia Wade at the 1968 U.S. Open and Steff Graf, when she defeated Lindsay DavenportMonica Seles and Martina Hingis to claim her 22nd and final Grand Slam singles title at the 1999 French Open.

Williams, who broke Graf’s record for Open Era major singles titles and wants to tie Margaret Court‘s all-time record, has three times beaten three of the top four seeds en route to a major title — 1999 U.S. Open, 2005 Australian Open and 2012 Wimbledon.

But never Nos. 1, 2 and 3, in part because so often she has been one of those top three seeds.

Not this month in Melbourne, where Williams is seeded 10th.

Last year, Williams failed to reach a Grand Slam final for the first time in a year since 2006. It didn’t help that Wimbledon was canceled, and that she withdrew during the last major, the French Open, with an Achilles injury.

But, while wearing a Florence Griffith Joyner-inspired outfit for each match, she put injury concerns to rest in sweeping her first three opponents and outlasting powerful No. 7 seed Aryna Sabalenka in three sets in the fourth round.

Against Halep, Williams just about reversed their last meeting, when Halep played the best match of her life in a 6-2, 6-2 victory in the 2019 Wimbledon final. Both Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, and Halep’s coach, Darren Cahill, said before the match that her movement has been her best since returning from childbirth in 2018.

“We’ve been struggling those last years because she had a lot of injuries, so she was not able to practice the way we wanted,” Mouratoglou said. “It’s a bit of a vicious circle because when you can’t practice well, you don’t get fit. When you’re not fit, you get more injured. We had to get out of this vicious circle.”

Williams made four finals in 10 major starts since having daughter Olympia.

She lost all four, including to Osaka in the 2018 U.S. Open final, where Williams was given three code violations resulting in a game penalty. Osaka’s trophy ceremony was briefly overshadowed by boos and whistles from the crowd directed at chair umpire Carlos Ramos‘ violation calls. Williams consoled Osaka and later said she apologized to her in writing.

“I think we both have had closure,” Williams said after beating Halep. “It doesn’t matter who I’m playing really in the semifinal. It’s a semifinal of a Grand Slam. No one gets there by chance, so I have got to be ready.”

Osaka is on a 19-match win streak. Her last defeat was more than a year ago. But Williams won their only meeting since the U.S. Open — in straight sets in 2019.

“I feel really intimidated when I see her on the other side of the court,” Osaka said.

Then there’s potentially Barty, who lost her only two meetings with Williams, but both came well before the Australian rocketed up the rankings in 2019 with a French Open title.

“It’s been a lot of players that really could win the title since the beginning of the draw,” Williams said. “I think there’s so many players that can come out and have won Grand Slams and can keep winning. It’s good. It’s good to see. It’s good to see that I’m in that mix, too.”

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France vs. Mali Group B
4 a.m. Australia vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada vs. Japan Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final

Annemiek van Vleuten, with broken elbow, becomes oldest to win world road race title

Annemiek van Vleuten
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WOLLONGONG, Australia — Annemiek van Vleuten surprised herself and the rest of cycling by recording the finest win of her career on Saturday at the world road championships.

Overcoming an elbow fracture sustained three days earlier, the Dutch great won her second world road race title with an attack in the last 600 meters that caught the other eight leaders napping.

The 39-year-old rider and her Dutch teammates were in disbelief at the finish after she put the exclamation mark on a 164.3-kilometer event. She became the oldest man or woman to win a world championships road race, according to Gracenote.

The 2019 World champion and reigning Olympic and world time trial winner claimed cycling’s triple crown this year when she landed the Italian, French and Spanish tours.

But for Van Vleuten, who will retire at the end of next season, what she did on Saturday was extra special.

“Maybe this is my best victory . . . I am still speechless, I still can’t believe it,” she said. “It took me some time to realize I’d really pulled it off because I’m waiting for the moment that they tell me there was someone in front or it was a joke. I had the feeling it cannot be true.”

She crashed in Wednesday’s mixed team relay at the worlds and sustained the fracture, describing the pain during Saturday’s race as “hell.”

The win also continues the domination of the Dutch women, who have finished on the road race podium at all but three of the last 20 worlds.

Earlier Saturday, Britain’s Zoe Backstedt celebrated her 18th birthday by turning the junior road event into a one-woman race.

In wet and cold conditions, Backstedt cycled away from the peloton with a solo attack at 10 kms and stayed clear for the remaining 57 kms to win by more than two minutes. Eglantine Rayer of France was second ahead of Dutch rider Nienke Vinke.

Backstedt retained her junior road race title and also is a world champion on the track and in cyclocross.

The championships end Sunday with the men’s road race.

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