Serena Williams

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Serena Williams upset at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Down to what sure felt like her last chance, Serena Williams came through with a cross-court forehand winner to close a 24-stroke point, then raised her arms, held that celebratory pose and looked over toward her guest box.

Finally, on her sixth try, after 1½ hours of action, she had managed to convert a break point against 27th-seeded Wang Qiang in the Australian Open’s third round.

Right then, it appeared that the comeback was on, the bid for a 24th Grand Slam singles title could continue. It turned out that Williams only was delaying a surprising defeat.

So tough at the toughest moments for so many years, Williams just could not quite do enough to put aside some shaky serving and all manner of other miscues, instead making her earliest exit at Melbourne Park in 14 years, a 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5 loss to Wang on Friday.

“I was optimistic that I would be able to win. I thought, ‘OK, now finish this off.’ I honestly didn’t think I was going to lose that match,” Williams said about her mindset after forcing a third set.

She began by crediting Wang but eventually shifted to criticizing herself for not playing well enough to win.

“I didn’t return like Serena. Honestly, if we were just honest with ourselves, I lost that match,” Williams said. “I can’t play like that. I literally can’t do that again. It’s unprofessional. It’s not cool.”

Williams was broken in the final game after more than 2 1/2 hours, fittingly ending things with a backhand into the net. That was her 27th unforced error on the backhand side, part of a total of 56 miscues. Wang made only 20.

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“I’m better than that,” Williams said.

As Williams trudged through the long walkway that leads to the locker room, Wang was interviewed in Rod Laver Arena, telling the crowd: “I think my team always believed I can do it.”

Since grabbing major championship No. 23 at the 2017 Australian Open, while she was pregnant, Williams hasn’t added to her total.

She appeared in four major finals over the past two seasons, losing each one.

And she bowed out much, much sooner this time, animated as can be, often displaying what she later called “the signature ‘Serena frustration’ look.”

Williams owns seven trophies from the Australian Open and hadn’t lost as early as the third round since all the way back in 2006.

Here is just one measure of how unexpected this result was: The only other time these two women faced each other came at the U.S. Open last September — the only Slam quarterfinal appearance of Wang’s career — and Williams needed all of 44 minutes to dominate her way to a 6-1, 6-0 victory. The total points were 50 to 15.

“After last time,” Wang said, “I did really hard work on the court, off the court.”

Wang quickly surpassed those game and point totals Friday, thanks in large part to nearly flawless play in the first set.

She saved all four break points she faced in that set, accumulated 10 winners and made just five unforced errors. Wang picked up the lone break she needed at love with an easy forehand putaway winner that made it 5-4.

Soon enough, Williams was sailing a backhand return long to cede the set. Wang quickly went up in the second, too, and already was ahead by a break at 4-2 when she was a point away from earning another.

But Williams steadied herself there to hold. Then, when Wang served for the victory at 5-4 in the second, Williams seemed to shift the entire complexion of the match.

She was 0 for 5 on break points until then but the sixth time was the charm. On the point of the match, with both players slugging away from the baseline, it was Williams who did what it took to take it.

She was superior in the tiebreaker, too, and on they went to a third set.

“During the second set, (I was) a little bit confused. … I have to be calm, you know?” Wang said. “A little bit confused inside, but my mind always told me I had to focus on the court, focus on the point and trust myself.”

Asked whether she would party Friday night, Wang offered a simple answer: “No.”

So what were her plans?

“Rest,” she said, “and just prepare for the next match.”

That will come against 78th-ranked Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, who ended the career of Caroline Wozniacki by eliminating the 2018 Australian Open champion and former No. 1 by a 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 score.

The 29-year-old Wozniacki had announced that she would retire after this tournament and after what became her final match, she sat on her courtside chair and cried.

At least the Dane was able to quickly joke about the circumstances, saying: “It was only fitting that my last match ended with a forehand error.”

She and Williams are close friends and their matches ended around the same time. They ran into each other in the locker and “were both kind of bummed,” said Williams, who teared up herself while discussing Wozniacki.

Other winners early Friday included No. 1 Ash Barty, two-time major champion Petra Kvitova and No. 22 Maria Sakkari, who knocked out American Madison Keys.

This was the first Grand Slam tournament in 11 years with each of the top 10 seeded women reaching the third round. Who would have suspected Williams would be the first to lose?

Williams was only seeded No. 8, on account of how infrequently she has competed since being away from the tour while having a baby daughter in September 2017.

But she is still about as good as it gets in women’s tennis, as evidenced by her so-close-yet-so-far Grand Slam showings of late: The 38-year-old American was the runner-up at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in both 2018 and 2019.

She started 2020 well enough, winning a hard-court tuneup title in Auckland, New Zealand, this month for her first trophy of any sort in three years — and first as a mom.

But Williams wasn’t able to carry that success to the Grand Slam level, where it matters the most to her.

“I’m way too old to play like this at this stage of my career,” Williams said. “Definitely going to be training tomorrow, that’s first and foremost — to make sure I don’t do this again.”

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Serena Williams wins first tennis tournament title as a mom

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Serena Williams won her first WTA tournament title in nearly three years — and since having daughter Olympia — capturing an Australian Open tune-up event in Auckland, New Zealand.

Williams, a 38-year-old, 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, swept countrywoman Jessica Pegula 6-3, 6-4 in the ASB Classic final on Sunday. Williams had lost her previous five finals, all since Olympia’s birth on Sept. 1, 2017, after never losing more than two consecutive finals in her career.

“It feels good. It’s been a long time,” Williams said as her daughter was courtside Sunday. “I think you can see the relief on my face.”

Williams, with her 73rd career title, became the third-oldest woman to win a WTA tournament behind Billie Jean King (39) and Kimiko Date-Krumm (38). And the first to win singles titles in four different decades.

Williams donated her $43,000 winner’s check and a dress for every match she played to the fundraising appeal for victims of Australian wildfires, joining many other tennis stars, such as Ash Barty, Nick Kygrios, Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova, who have pledged money to the already months-long fire emergency there.

“I’ve been playing in Australia for over 20 years, and it’s been really hard for me to watch all the news and everything that has been happening in Australia with all the fires and over a billion animals and people have lost their homes,” Williams said.

She goes into the Australian Open that starts Jan. 20 having reached the final in four of her seven Grand Slam starts post-pregnancy. She lost all four of those finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She remains one Grand Slam singles title shy of Margaret Court‘s record.

Williams owns seven Australian Open titles, including her last title of any kind in January 2017. She beat sister Venus Williams in the final while eight weeks pregnant but before she announced that she was having a baby.

Williams began this year ranked No. 10 in the world and leading U.S. Olympic qualifying standings. The top four U.S. women in the WTA singles rankings after the French Open are in line to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Bianca Andreescu beats Serena Williams in U.S. Open final; record denied again

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NEW YORK — For Serena Williams, history must wait again. For Bianca Andreescu, it might just be starting.

The Canadian 19-year-old went toe-to-toe with the legend for a 6-3, 7-5 win in the U.S. Open final.

Andreescu, ranked 208th a year ago, became the first player born in the 2000s to win a Slam and the first teen champ since Maria Sharapova at the 2006 U.S. Open.

“It’s been a really long journey,” said Andreescu, the daughter of Romanian immigrants who was born after Williams won the first of her 23 Slams in 1999. “Maybe not so long. I’m only 19.”

Williams, one shy of Margaret Court‘s record 24 Slams, was swept in a major final for the fourth straight time since returning from life-threatening September 2017 childbirth.

“I love Bianca. I think she’s a great girl. But I think this was the worst match I’ve played all tournament,” said Williams, who said she could not find her first serve (getting just 44 percent in), quite arguably the greatest weapon in the sport’s history. “It’s inexcusable for me to play at that level.

“I believe I could have just been more Serena today. I honestly don’t think Serena showed up. I have to kind of figure out how to get her to show up in Grand Slam finals.”

Williams played some of her better tennis in the first set after being broken in the opening game. She unraveled in the second before battling back from 1-5 down.

The Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd, more than 20,000, became so loud that Andreescu covered her ears. She steadied at 5-all, holding serve and then breaking Williams for the sixth time for the title.

“I know you guys wanted Serena to win, so I’m sorry,” Andreescu said in a proudly Canadian sentiment. “I could barely hear myself think.”

For Williams, at 37, every chance is more crucial than the last to tie Court. Williams, whose coach deemed her fitter than at any point post-pregnancy, is still seeking her first title of any kind as a mom.

“I’m, like, so close, so close, so close, yet so far away,” said Williams, who won her first Slam here in 1999 and debuted in doubles in 1998, after taking physics and algebra II exams. “I’m not necessarily chasing a record. I’m just trying to win Grand Slams.”

Andreescu was seeded 15th here, but she was among the handful of favorites coming in. She had not lost a completed match in six months. The stat was a bit deceiving, since Andreescu missed the French Open and Wimbledon following a rotator cuff tear.

But she won her last tune-up event in Toronto, when she was up 3-1 on Williams in the final before the American retired with back spasms. She is 8-0 against top-10 players in 2019.

Zoom out, and Andreescu’s run is more surprising. She played just three prior Grand Slam main draws and never made it past the second round. She came here last year ranked 208th and lost in the first round of qualifying.

Then Andreescu spent the fall playing lower-level events in Florence (South Carolina, not Italy), Lawrence and Norman to get her 2018 year-end ranking up to 178.

“I was going through a lot of injuries, but I persevered,” she said. “I told myself to never give up.”

Andreescu broke out to start 2019, going through qualifying to reach the final of an Australian Open tune-up. In March, she won Indian Wells, often labeled the sport’s fifth major. She hasn’t lost a completed match in four tournaments since.

She won the biggest of them all on Saturday, becoming the first Canadian man or woman to lift a Slam singles trophy. She had pictured playing a final against her idol Williams since her junior days.

“I’ve been dreaming of this moment for the longest time,” Andreescu said. “I’ve been visualizing it almost every single day.”

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