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Serena Williams defeated in U.S. Open semis by Karolina Pliskova

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  — Serena Williams was upset in the U.S. Open semifinals for the second year in a row, beaten 6-2, 7-6 (5) by 10th-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic on Thursday night.

Williams, who clutched at her left leg between points in the second set, double-faulted to end it.

Afterward, her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, said Williams injured her left knee in the quarterfinals.

The loss prevents Williams from earning her seventh championship at Flushing Meadows and 23rd major title overall, which would both have been Open-era records.

It also means Williams’ 3½-year reign at No. 1 in the WTA rankings will end. She will be overtaken on Monday by current No. 2 Angelique Kerber, who was to face Caroline Wozniacki in Thursday’s second semifinal.

A year ago, Williams’ bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam ended when she lost in the U.S. Open semifinals to unseeded Roberta Vinci of Italy in the semifinals.

This was the 33rd major semifinal of Williams’ career, and the first for Pliskova, who beat the 34-year-old American’s older sister Venus in the fourth round. Pliskova is only the fourth woman to beat both Williams siblings during the same Grand Slam tournament.

And to think: The 24-year-old Pliskova had never been past the third round in 17 previous appearances at majors.

But on Thursday, she certainly looked the part of an up-and-comer with the strokes and demeanor to go far.

The temperature was in the low 80s, and the air was muggy and still, and Williams kept using the pleats of her black-and-pink skirt to wipe her sweaty palms between points.

Watching Williams miss shot after shot — 31 unforced errors in all — one couldn’t help but wonder why.

One thought: Maybe it was a recurrence of the soreness in her right shoulder that became bothersome in the days right after she won singles and doubles titles at Wimbledon two months ago. Or perhaps it was the toll of the grueling three-set quarterfinal against Simona Halep that concluded less than 22 hours before the semifinal started. But by the latter stages, Williams kept reaching for her left leg.

“She was not moving at all today,” Mouratoglou said. “There was no match.”

Still, Pliskova surely had a lot to do with Williams’ woes. Pliskova’s power is of the sort that Williams so rarely is forced to confront — much like the difficulties the American’s own game presents others.

Pliskova serves well, leading the tour in aces this season, and her angled offerings gave Williams fits. She also returns well, often sending stinging responses right at Williams’ feet, leaving her no time to react properly. And when they engaged in lengthy baseline exchanges, Pliskova’s deep, flat groundstrokes were able to produce the rare sight of Williams back on her heels.

All of 7 minutes in, Pliskova showed she was not shaken by any of it — the stage, the setting, the stakes or the foe — and was going to make this a struggle for Williams. Getting all sorts of pace on returns, including on a 104 mph serve at break point, when Williams sent a backhand long to trail 2-1.

Williams yelled out, “Ai-yai-yai!” and slapped her left thigh.

Pliskova broke again, this time at love, to lead 5-2 thanks to a double-fault and a trio of miscues by Williams. That was part of a stretch in which Pliskova grabbed 10 of the first set’s last 11 points.

Not much later, things were looking decidedly dicey for Williams when she sailed a backhand long to get broken and trail 3-2 in the second. Pliskova, who betrayed little emotion otherwise on this evening, leaned over and pumped her fists.

They had played for 46 minutes, and it was clear who was better. Pliskova sat in her changeover seat, leaned back and exhaled. And then, for the very first time, she showed some nerves, coming out and playing her shakiest game of the match to get broken at love.

Into the tiebreaker they went, and Pliskova jumped ahead 3-0. Then came Williams, never one to back down, going ahead 5-4, just two points from forcing a third set. But she wouldn’t take another point, closing the surprising loss with a sixth double-fault and leaving Flushing Meadows with another disappointment.

Top-seeded Halep survives marathon match

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Top-seeded Simona Halep served for the match four times before prevailing 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 over American Lauren Davis in a marathon match at Rod Laver Arena.

Halep saved three match points in the 22nd game of the third set at 0-40 and Davis saved five break points in the 23rd game in the 3 hour, 45-minute match. The final set took 2 hour, 22 minutes and Halep won on her first match point when Davis hit a forehand wide along the sideline.

Davis twice had medical timeouts in the final set to have blisters on both feet treated.

Halep will play the winner of Saturday’s later match between local hope Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka.

In other women’s third-round matches, sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat Lucie Safarova 7-6 (6), 7-5 and No. 8 Caroline Garcia beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3, 5-7, 6-2. Garcia will play Madison Keys in the fourth round.

 

More AP coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/AustralianOpen

Wozniacki still in frame for return to No. 1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Caroline Wozniacki had just been beaten by Kim Clijsters in the 2012 Australian Open quarterfinals, causing her to lose her No. 1 ranking on the WTA Tour, and she had some fighting words.

“I will get it back eventually, so I’m not worried,” she said. “The media talks to me like I’m finished … the fact is I still have quite a few good years in front of me.”

Fast forward to this year’s Australian Open, where Wozniacki’s win in the third round on Friday leaves her with a chance to regain the No. 1 ranking – six years later.

If so, it would be the longest gap between stints at the top since the WTA’s computer rankings were introduced in 1975. She might take some solace from the fact that the current longest streak between players returning to No. 1 is held by Serena Williams at 5 years, 29 days.

The 27-year-old Wozniacki also faced criticism during her first stay at No. 1 – which included year-end top rankings in 2010 and 2011 – that she’d never won a major, unlike Williams’ current 23. And that hasn’t changed either.

Maybe this year.

On Friday, two days after she came back from a 5-1 deficit and saved two match points in the third set to beat Jana Fett in the second round, she had a 6-4, 6-3 win over Kiki Bertens that wasn’t without late drama, both with closing out the match, and with her criticism of the chair umpire.

Wozniacki had to save four break points while serving for the match but clinched it on her fourth match point.

After coming so close to being knocked out of the tournament, she sounded like a gambler with cash in her pocket.

“Right now, playing with house money,” Wozniacki said in an on-court television interview. “Nothing to lose. I got a second chance. I’m just going to try and take it and see how far I can go.”

Wozniacki wasn’t happy with chair umpire Renaud Lichtenstein. She had complained about a few line calls, and that the court was slippery in several areas.

“I’ve never had this guy before … but I think he did a poor job today,” Wozniacki said. “If the court is wet, I think it’s normal to ask for a towel. I don’t think someone needs to be rude, and I told him so. I think there were some questionable calls, as well.”

Watching from Wozniacki’s support section was former NBA player David Lee. In November, the former New York Knicks forward proposed to her during a holiday on the French Polynesian island of Bora Bora.

“All I’ll say is it was a surprise, it was amazing,” Wozniacki said earlier this week of Lee’s proposal. “Had the best off-season. We had a great time traveling a little bit, exploring some new places. I was really recharged when I finally got back on the court again.”

Perhaps enough to get her back to No. 1.