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1 more for No. 22: Serena Williams powers to Wimbledon final

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LONDON — Serena Williams is once again one victory from her record-equaling 22nd Grand Slam title after powering her way into the Wimbledon final.

In control from start to finish, Williams needed all of 48 minutes to overwhelm Elena Vesnina 6-2, 6-0 on Thursday in a semifinal that felt more like a training session.

Except Williams probably gets more of a workout when she practices.

“It’s never easy out there,” the No. 1-seeded Williams said in an interview with the BBC after leaving Centre Court.

Sure looked easy.

Williams’ serve was in fine form, reaching 123 mph and producing 11 aces against the 50th-ranked Vesnina, who was participating in her first major semifinal and trying to become the first unseeded woman to reach the title match at the All England Club in the Open era.

Williams won 28 of 31 points that she served, including the last 17. She compiled a 28-9 edge in total winners.

Since winning her sixth Wimbledon trophy a year ago to raise her career count to 21 majors, Williams has come quite close to tying Steffi Graf with 22, the most in the Open era, which began in 1968 (Margaret Court holds the all-time mark of 24). But Williams was surprisingly beaten by Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals last September, by Angelique Kerber in the Australian Open final this January, and by Garbine Muguruza in the French Open final last month.

Now Williams has given herself yet another chance to catch Graf.

“Obviously, I’m 0 for 2, so determined to get at least one this year,” Williams said.

She never gave Vesnina a chance to pull off the sort of semifinal stunner that Vinci did last year in New York, stopping Williams from completing the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Graf did it in 1988.

Jumping out to a big lead right away and never relenting, the 34-year-old Williams had Vesnina looking defeated after all of 12 points. That’s when, after sprinting for a forehand that landed in the net, the Russian leaned over, sighed and slumped her shoulders.

There would be plenty more of that sort of body language from Vesnina, a two-time Wimbledon runner-up in doubles who was to face Serena and her older sister Venus in the quarterfinals of that event later in the day.

In the second singles semifinal Thursday, the eighth-seeded Venus was to face Kerber, a German who is seeded No. 4.

This is the 11th Grand Slam tournament at which both Williams siblings reached the semifinals; one or the other wound up with the title on each of the previous 10 occasions. That includes four past meetings in the Wimbledon final.

The 36-year-old Venus is the oldest Grand Slam semifinalist since Martina Navratilova made the 1994 Wimbledon final at age 37.

If Venus could beat Kerber, Serena said, “It would be great. Then we would be guaranteed to have a Williams on the trophy. That’s the ultimate goal for, I think, both of us.”

Maria Sharapova wins her 1st title since doping ban

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TIANJIN, China (AP) Maria Sharapova won her first WTA title since returning from a doping ban after defeating Aryna Sabalenka to win the Tianjin Open on Sunday.

The Russian, a tournament wild card, overcame Belarusian teenager Sabalenka 7-5, 7-6 (8) despite trailing heavily in both sets.

Sharapova last won a title at the Italian Open in May 2015.

The former top-ranked player and owner of five major titles, including the 2006 U.S. Open, tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January 2016. That led to a 15-month doping ban, which expired in April.

“Such a special, special tournament, and victory for me, one that I’ll remember forever,” Sharapova said. “Sometimes you never know when it will all come together but it happened to me this week in Tianjin.”

Sharapova displayed resilience as she came from behind in both sets to overcome her 19-year-old opponent.

Sabalenka led 4-1 in the opener and 5-1 in the second before relenting to Sharapova’s greater big-match experience. It was Sharapova’s 36th WTA singles title.

The 30-year-old Sharapova played in her first Grand Slam tournament following the ban at the U.S. Open in August, where she reached the fourth round. Sunday’s result will lift Sharapova up to No. 57 in the world rankings.

Federer beats Nadal to win Shanghai Masters title

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SHANGHAI (AP) Roger Federer extended his winning streak over Rafael Nadal this year to four matches after beating the top-ranked Spaniard 6-4, 6-3 to win the Shanghai Masters on Sunday.

The Swiss 19-time grand slam winner, who still trails Nadal 23-15 in their overall head-to-head record, didn’t face a break point and started and ended the match with service breaks.

“I don’t know what my expectations were going in,” Federer said. “I thought I might struggle early on because it was a late finish last night.

“I had no nerves before the match, surprisingly. I think I was pretty clear about how I wanted to play the match. I started off very well and relaxed from then on.”

Despite his dominance in 2017, Federer doesn’t rate his chances of catching Nadal in their head-to-head record.

“It’s not going to happen. We don’t have enough years left on the tour. We ranked too good so we play each other only in finals at the moment… You can’t win them all against Rafa, to be honest. He’s too good of a player,” Federer said.

Federer took advantage of three of seven break point opportunities in the match to snap Nadal’s 16-game winning streak, which included his China Open victory last week.

Federer, who has won the last five encounters between the pair dating back to the 2015 Basel final, also beat Nadal in the Australian Open final, a round of 16 match at Indian Wells and the Miami final this year.

“Have been a very difficult match for me,” Nadal said. “He played very fast and he played well.

“Of course was not the best match for me of the week. When somebody plays better than you, sport is not very difficult. That’s the real thing, no? When you play against somebody that is better than you in most of the things that really matters in this sport, in this kind of surface, then it’s tougher.”

The Shanghai Masters is Federer’s 94th career title, moving him into a tie with Ivan Lendl in second place on the Open era list.

Nadal arrived on court with a bandage under his right knee, the same leg he twice smacked with his racket after losing his serve for the first time this week in the semifinal.

Federer said he was surprised to see the wrap and didn’t feel Nadal was struggling with his movement.

In his post-match press conference, Nadal elected not to discuss the knee injury, saying, “I don’t want to talk about that now, sorry, but after losing final is not the moment.”

When asked if he would play upcoming tournaments in Basel, Switzerland and Paris, Nadal refused to confirm his participation.

Federer took advantage of a third break point in the first game of the match with a winning backhand passing shot. He broke Nadal’s serve again on a second break point in the fifth game of the second set when Nadal sailed a backhand crosscourt wide. In the final game, Nadal netted a forehand at 15-40 to end the 72-minute match.