Serena Williams beats Venus at US Open to extend Slam bid

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NEW YORK (AP) If Serena Williams would feel sympathy for any opponent standing in the way of her pursuit of tennis’ first true Grand Slam in 27 years, it might very well be her sister Venus.

Still, no way was Serena going to let anyone, or anything, stop her on this night, even if she found herself in a mid-match lull while facing her older sibling in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.

Moving two matches from history, top-seeded Serena got all she could handle from 23rd-seeded Venus before moving into the semifinals at Flushing Meadows with a 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 victory Tuesday in the 27th installment of the unique Williams vs. Williams rivalry.

When it ended, they met at the net for a hug, with a smiling Venus wrapping both arms around Serena.

“She’s the toughest player I’ve ever played in my life and the best person I know,” Serena said in an on-court interview. “It’s going against your best friend and at the same time going against the greatest competitor, for me, in women’s tennis.”

Serena is 16-11 in their matches, including 9-5 in majors and 3-2 at the U.S. Open. Of greater significance, Serena can still become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to collect all four Grand Slam titles in a calendar year.

And if she can win what would be her fourth U.S. Open in a row, and seventh overall, she would equal Graf with 22 major championships, the most in the professional era and second-most ever behind Margaret Court’s 24.

Well-known folks such as Donald Trump – who was booed when shown on video screens – Oprah Winfrey and Kim Kardashian dotted the teeming stands in Arthur Ashe Stadium, and the action under the lights often was of high quality.

The sisters combined for 57 winners (Serena had more, 35) and only 37 unforced errors (Venus had fewer, 15).

Both pounded serves fast, very fast, each topping 120 mph. Both returned well, oh so well, each managing to put into play at least one serve at more than 115 mph by the other.

Venus often attempted to end baseline exchanges quickly. Serena showed tremendous touch by using drop shots, one paired with a backhand passing winner, another with a perfectly curled lob.

Serena grabbed the last four games of the first set. But she showed some jitters early in the second, double-faulting to trail 3-1, part of a five-game run for Venus to even the match.

They had played 63 intense minutes, so aware of each other’s tactics and tendencies, and now it was going to all come down to one set.

At 35, the oldest woman to enter the tournament, Venus had her own reasons for wanting to win, of course. She hasn’t reached the semifinals at any Grand Slam tournament since the 2010 U.S. Open, and might have considered this her last, best chance to collect an eighth major singles championship of her own.

True to her word, their mother, Oracene Price, did not attend the match. And neither of her daughters betrayed much in the way of emotion.

When Serena, who is 15 months younger, earned a key break to lead 2-0 in the third thanks to a down-the-line backhand winner that landed in a corner, she gritted her teeth, held clenched fists near her head and leaned forward, holding the pose. She did not shake those fists or scream or jump, the way she usually does against other women.

And when she got to match point as a shot by Venus sailed long, Serena dropped to a knee behind the baseline, her back to her sister.

Serena then smacked a 107 mph ace, her 12th, to end it.

On Thursday, she will play unseeded Roberta Vinci of Italy, who moved into the first Grand Slam semifinal of her career at age 32 by outlasting Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

The 43rd-ranked Vinci is playing in the 44th major tournament of her singles career, the second-most appearances by a woman before reaching her initial semifinal. She is better known for having won a career Grand Slam in doubles with former partner Sara Errani.

Vinci is 0-4 against Serena and joked about wearing a helmet for protection from some of the 33-year-old American’s booming shots.

“She’s the favorite. Maybe she’ll feel the pressure. Who knows? It all depends on her. If she serves well, it’s tough to return,” Vinci said. “But I have nothing to lose.”

The quarterfinals on the other half of the draw are Wednesday: No. 2 Simona Halep of Romania vs. No. 20 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, and No. 5 Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic vs. No. 26 Flavia Pennetta of Italy.

Get past Vinci, and Serena would go against one of those four women in the final. Her head-to-head record against each is lopsided: 6-1 against Halep, 17-3 against Azarenka, 5-1 against Kvitova, 7-0 against Pennetta. Worth noting, though: Kvitova is responsible for one of Serena’s only two losses in 55 matches this season, on red clay at Madrid in May.

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Tennis star Bouchard testifies about slip, fall at US Open

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NEW YORK (AP) Tennis star Eugenie Bouchard has taken the witness stand at a New York City trial to accuse the United States Tennis Association of negligence that led to her slipping on a locker room floor and hurting her head.

Bouchard testified Wednesday a wet floor caused her to slip and fall inside a locker room at the 2015 U.S. Open.

Her lawsuit contends the USTA should have done more to warn her the area had just been cleaned. The defense says she shouldn’t have entered without being accompanied by tournament personnel.

The lawsuit says the fall left Bouchard with a concussion and “serious head injury.”

Bouchard says she was forced to withdraw from the U.S. Open and tournaments in China and Japan. She’s seeking unspecified damages.

The 23-year-old Canadian player is ranked 116th in the world.

Serena Williams champions issues on, off court

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Moments after Serena Williams won her seventh Wimbledon title, she proudly raised her fist in a black power salute.

It caused a bit of frenzy at the All-England Club in 2016, but Williams’ action shouldn’t have surprised anyone: She’d already been one of the most vocal supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. She was one of the first major athletes to decry the failure to indict a white officer in the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – while also condemning violence against police.

“What caused me to speak out? Just life,” Williams said. “That’s just who I am. I always believe in the greater good and doing what’s right.”

Williams isn’t alone in her activism. Female athletes – especially black women – have long been out there pushing for social change. Wilma Rudolph’s victory parade celebrating her three gold medals from the 1960 Olympics in Rome was the first integrated event in Clarksville, Tennessee.

But despite their efforts on the field and off, women athletes have to struggle to get the same attention as men despite having as much to say, said Harry Edwards, a scholar of race and sports who has worked as a consultant for several U.S. pro teams.

“We have this twisted, almost-demented obsession with women’s second-class status with their physical inferiority,” he said. “It prevents us from appreciating the great athletes that they are … but it also means that it shuts down a potential forum that these great athletes would have where they’re valued for their athletic prowess in the same way that Muhammad Ali was, that Bill Russell was, that Tommy Smith and John Carlos were, that Arthur Ashe was, that Curt Flood was, so that when they speak, people listen.”

While Williams has long been an advocate of Black Lives Matter, it was only after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the 2016 season that the country really began to pay attention to black athlete activism. Kaepernick added his voice to a growing national movement, enveloping the entire league and starting an ongoing conversation that ventured outside football arenas.

Similarly, few people acknowledge that after the 2016 deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and the killing of Dallas police officers, dozens of WNBA players wore shirts with the men’s names and kneeled for the national anthem.

It was a black woman, Knox College basketball player Ariyana Smith, who started the wave of athletic protest about the deaths of black men at the hands of police.

On Nov. 29, 2014, Smith made the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture during the national anthem before a game at Fontbonne University in Clayton, Missouri, before walking toward the American flag and laying prone on the floor for 4 1/2 minutes to symbolize the 4 + hours Brown lay in the streets of nearby Ferguson.

“We as black women are often invisible, so we don’t get that credit,” said Akilah Francique, a former athlete who cofounded the Sista to Sista program to foster a sense of connectedness among black female collegiate athletes.

Williams has been a presence on and off the tennis court, not shying away from opponents en route to winning 23 Grand Slam titles or social and political issues.

She spoke up in 2015, encouraging Black Lives Matter activists not to get discouraged: “To those of you involved in equality movements like Black Lives Matter, I say this: Keep it up. Don’t let those trolls stop you. We’ve been through so much for so many centuries, and we shall overcome this too,” she wrote in Wired magazine.

Since then, Williams has become the symbol for other causes affecting people of color, including medical issues. In February, she told Vogue that she dealt with a medical scare after the birth of her daughter. She had to insist on getting extra medical tests, overruling her nurse, before her doctors discovered several small blood clots in her lungs.

Women around the country related to her story, talking about similar difficulties in getting proper medical attention.

Female-led activism can also look different than men’s, Francique said, because of the unique positions and pressures women face in sports and in life. She pointed to the criticism black women athletes have to overcome about their body shapes, training regimens, skin color, clothing and even hair when they compete in sports – criticism that Williams has endured.

“For many of them just by merely being there and having a presence is activism,” Francique said.

Williams’ older sister, Venus, who has advocated for equal pay for professional tennis while winning seven Grand Slam titles, believes it is important to have a voice on these issues.

“I think more than anything, we see ourselves as Americans, and that’s what we want to be able to see ourselves as, regardless of color,” said Venus Williams. “I think that’s what everyone is fighting for, that one day we don’t have to see that anymore.”