At the French Open, an unlikely women’s final is set

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PARIS (AP) — The ball landing at Barbora Krejcikova’s feet on match point appeared to come down behind the baseline.

The linesman thought so and called the shot long. A TV replay confirmed as much, and the unseeded Krejcikova was so sure she raised her arms in triumph to celebrate a berth in her first Grand Slam final at the French Open.

Chair umpire Pierre Bacchi disagreed. He reversed the call, sparking a fresh round of debate about video replay and briefly delaying Krejcikova’s victory.

Tennis was spared an unjust result five points later, when she hit a backhand winner to close out the biggest victory of her career. The Czech saved a match point midway through the final set and outlasted No. 17-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece, 7-5, 4-6, 9-7.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

“I always wanted to play matches like this,” Krejcikova said.

She must like roller coasters, too. Her opponent Saturday will be 29-year-old Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who also advanced to her first major final by beating unseeded Tamara Zidansek, 7-5, 6-3.

It was only the second time in the professional era that there were four first-time Grand Slam women semifinalists at a major tournament, and the first time since the 1978 Australian Open.

The men’s semifinals Friday include a showdown between 13-time champion Rafael Nadal and 2016 winner Novak Djokovic. It’s their 58th meeting, and a rematch of last year’s Roland Garros final. The other semifinal will match No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas against No. 6 Alexander Zverev, and one of them will have a shot Sunday at his first Grand Slam title.

Krejcikova, a two-time major doubles champion ranked 33rd, is playing singles in the main draw of a major tournament for just the fifth time. The No. 31-seeded Pavlyuchenkova, by contrast, has played in more majors before reaching a final — 52 — than any other woman.

A top-20 player as a teen, Pavlyuchenkova had been 0-6 in major quarterfinals before finally surmounting that hurdle on Tuesday, and was steadier than the big-swinging Zidansek in their semifinal.

“I wanted this so much that right now I don’t feel anything,” Pavlyuchenkova told the crowd in French.

Krejcikova’s run to the final is equally improbable.

“It sounds incredible,” she said. “I cannot believe it. It’s actually happening.”

It seemed especially unlikely nine games into the third set, when Sakkari held a match point. She confessed she then became less aggressive.

“I got stressed, starting thinking that I’m a point away from being in the final,” she said. “I guess it’s a rookie mistake.”

Krejcikova erased the match point with a swinging volley for a nervy winner, and 40 minutes later they were still playing.

Then came the real drama. With Krejcikova holding a match point in the final game, Sakkari hit a forehand near the baseline. Bacchi climbed off his chair, took a look, called the shot good and ordered the point replayed.

“He came and he’s like, ‘It’s in,’ and I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no. Why?’” she said with a chuckle. “But what can I do? I cannot change his decision. It’s fine; let’s go. Let’s try to just win the next one.”

A TV replay indicated the ball was clearly long, but video review isn’t used at Roland Garros, where the balls usually leave clear marks in the clay.

Krejcikova kept her cool and was celebrating for good moments later after converting her fifth match point.

There wasn’t as much drama in the day’s first match, but the quality of play was as enjoyable as the warm, cloudless weather. The 85th-ranked Zidansek, who this week became the first Slovenian woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal, was the better player for much of the first set, moving well and hitting the more aggressive groundstrokes.

But Pavlyuchenkova won the most important points, and Zidansek dumped consecutive shaky serves into the net to lose the set.

Pavlyuchenkova’s groundstrokes carried more sting in the second set as she raced to a 4-1 lead. Her first sign of nerves came as she double-faulted twice, including on break point, to make it 4-3, but she broke back and easily served out the victory.

“Tennis is such a mental sport,” she said. “That’s what is really hard about tennis.”

Zidansek could only agree.

“A new situation for me, semifinals of a Grand Slam,” she said. “So, yeah, I was nervous. But who isn’t at this point? I was just trying to compose my nerves as well as I could.”

Pavlyuchenkova, who has won 12 tour titles, will climb back into the Top 20 next week for first time since January 2018.

“She’s in the final,” Krejcikova said. “She must be playing well.”

The same could be said for Krejcikova, who has won 11 consecutive matches, including her first WTA singles title last month at Strasbourg. She is the eighth unseeded women’s finalist at the French Open in the professional era, and the fourth in the past five years.

A protege of the late Grand Slam champion Jana Novotna, Krejcikova seeks to become the first Czech woman to win Roland Garros since Hana Mandlikova in 1981.

She’s also bidding to become the first woman to win both in doubles and singles at Roland Garros since Mary Pierce in 2000. She and Katerina Siniakova have advanced to the semifinals Friday.

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Laurie Hernandez, Morgan Hurd will not compete at Olympic Gymnastics Trials

Laurie Hernandez
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Olympic champion Laurie Hernandez and world champion Morgan Hurd will not compete at the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials in two weeks.

USA Gymnastics on Wednesday updated its national championships recap from early Monday morning to reflect that “no additional names will be added” to the Olympic Trials field of 18 following a concluded petition process.

The original 18 were named after nationals on Sunday night — the top 17 in the all-around standings plus Riley McCusker, who finished second on uneven bars.

Hernandez, who earned team gold and balance beam silver in Rio, withdrew from nationals after performing on one event after hyperextending her left knee in balance beam warm-ups on Friday. She returned to competition this year after a four-and-a-half-year break following Rio.

“Definitely heartbroken that this week didn’t quite go the way I’d planned,” was posted on Hernandez’s social media on Sunday.

Hurd, the 2017 World all-around champion in Simone Biles‘ year off, competed in two of the four events on both days of nationals. She finished 23rd on floor and 26th on beam after undergoing her fifth and sixth career right elbow surgeries in March.

“The future is an unwritten place. cannot express my gratitude enough to everyone for the constant love and support,” Hurd posted on social media on Monday. “i wouldn’t be where i am or accomplish what i have without it. congrats to all the girls who made olympic trials, can’t wait to watch you kill it!”

Chellsie Memmel, the 2005 World all-around champion and 2008 Olympic silver medalist who competed this year for the first time in nine years, is also not in the Olympic Trials field.

A committee reviewed petitions to be included at Trials from Hurd, McCusker and Memmel and approved McCusker’s based on criteria outlined in procedures.

  • Simone Biles, Spring, Texas/World Champions Centre
  • Skye Blakely, Frisco, Texas/WOGA Gymnastics
  • Jade Carey, Phoenix, Ariz./Arizona Sunrays
  • Jordan Chiles, Spring, Texas/World Champions Centre
  • Kayla DiCello, Boyds, Md./Hill’s Gymnastics
  • Amari Drayton, Spring, Texas/World Champions Centre
  • Kara Eaker, Grain Valley, Mo./Great American Gymnastics Express
  • Addison Fatta, Wrightsville, Pa./Prestige Gymnastics
  • Shilese Jones, Westerville, Ohio/Future Gymnastics Academy
  • Emily Lee, Los Gatos, Calif./West Valley Gymnastics School
  • Sunisa Lee, St. Paul, Minn./Midwest Gymnastics Center
  • Emma Malabuyo, Flower Mound, Texas/Texas Dreams
  • Grace McCallum, Isanti, Minn./Twin City Twisters
  • Riley McCusker, Brielle, N.J./Arizona Sunrays
  • Zoe Miller, Spring, Texas, World Champions Centre
  • Ava Siegfeldt, Williamsburg, Va./World Class Gymnastics
  • MyKayla Skinner, Gilbert, Ariz./Desert Lights Gymnastics
  • Leanne Wong, Overland Park, Kan./Great American Gymnastics Express

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LeBron James answers Olympics question by promoting ‘Space Jam’

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LeBron James promoted his upcoming movie when asked if he will play at the Tokyo Olympics after his Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated from the NBA Playoffs.

“I think I’m going to play for the Tune Squad this summer instead of the Olympics,” James, referencing “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” said with a straight face before later smiling in his answer late Thursday night after a season-ending defeat to the Phoenix Suns. “I think that’s what my focus [is] on, trying to beat the Monstars, or the Goon Squad we call them now. So, didn’t have much success versus the Suns, so now I am gearing my attention to the Goon Squad here in July, mid-July.”

To be clear, the movie is due out in theaters in July, so filming has long since finished.

James, who at 36 is older than any previous U.S. Olympic men’s basketball player, said getting his injured ankle back to 100 percent is “the most important thing” for him this summer.

“I’ve got like three months to recalibrate,” he said in a perhaps more telling comment about his Tokyo prospects. The Olympics open in the middle of that time frame.

“I’m going to let the ankle rest for about a month,” James said later, “and then gear up with Lola, Taz, Granny, Bugs and the rest of the crew.”

James played at the Olympics in 2004, 2008 and 2012 before skipping the 2016 Rio Games to rest after leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA title.

He has been asked about the Tokyo Olympics several times since then but never committed, though having the respected Gregg Popovich as the new U.S. head coach made it appealing.

No NBA superstar has publicly committed to or taken his name out of consideration for the U.S. Olympic team.

Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers has come the closest to saying he would accept a roster spot if offered. Leonard previously played for Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs, but the Clippers are still alive in the playoffs and will likely advance to the conference semifinals.

The farther a team goes, the less likely it is the player makes himself available for the Olympics given the proximity to the July 23 Opening Ceremony.

In February, FIBA said that it and the IOC were reviewing a USA Basketball petition to change the rules for when Olympic men’s basketball rosters must be submitted.

ESPN reported that USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said U.S. officials asked to allow roster changes closer to and even during the Olympics.

The NBA season started later and runs later this year. A potential NBA Finals Game 7 would be the day before the Opening Ceremony.

The current deadline for nations to submit Olympic teams is July 5, though there is a late athlete replacement policy that extends closer to the start of competition. This usually comes into play for injuries.

“These are not normal times. Rosters by a certain date doesn’t make any sense,” Colangelo said, according to ESPN.com. “What we’re seeking is flexibility to substitute players very late and to get the best players on the court. It doesn’t just apply to us but for all the countries.”

Complicating matters further, USA Basketball plans to hold a player training camp in early July in Las Vegas during the playoffs.

“It’s conceivable, there will be a few players who are competing in the Finals and want to participate, and we want them to participate,” Colangelo said, according to USA Today last week. “We’ll take inventory after each round. It’s possible that we don’t end up with 12 in Las Vegas, and we bring a couple of guys at the last minute.”

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