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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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”