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Serena wins, sets up All-Williams final at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams is one win away from a record 23rd Grand Slam title after setting up an all-Williams final at the Australian Open. The only person standing in her way is her older sister, Venus.

No. 2-ranked Serena Williams, a six-time Australian Open winner, overwhelmed Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-2, 6-1 in just 50 minutes in the second of women’s semifinals on Thursday after Venus Williams beat fellow American CoCo Vandeweghe 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-3.

“She’s my toughest opponent — nobody has ever beaten me as much as Venus has,” Serena Williams said. “I just feel like no matter what happens, we’ve won.

“She’s been through a lot, I’ve been through a lot. To see her do so well it’s great. I look forward to it. A Williams is going to win this tournament.”

The 36-year-old Venus Williams is back in a Grand Slam final for the first time since Wimbledon in 2009 and her first in Australia since 2003, when she lost the only previous all-Williams final at Melbourne Park.

She tossed her racket after clinching the 2-hour, 26-minute semifinal on her fourth match point and put her hands up to her face, almost in disbelief, before crossing her arms over her heart. She then did a stylish pirouette on the court, smiling broadly, as the crowd gave her a standing ovation.

Venus Williams has overcome an energy-sapping illness and is playing her best tennis since being diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome in 2011.

“Everyone has their moment in the sun,” Venus Williams said. “Maybe mine has gone on a while. I’d like to keep that going. I’ve got nothing else to do so let’s keep it going.”

Serena Williams’ celebration was more subdued after her 50-minute, one-sided win over 34-year-old Lucic-Baroni, who was playing her first semifinal at a major since Wimbledon in 1999. Lucic-Baroni took a selfie with her cell phone on the court before waving and leaving Rod Laver Arena.

Serena didn’t get to watch much of her sister’s match, but she knew the result before she went out to play.

“Obviously I was really proud of Venus — a total inspiration, my big sister,” Serena said. “She’s basically my world and my life. She means everything to me. I was so happy for her. For us both to be in the final is the biggest dream come true for us.”

Venus Williams has won seven major titles, but none since Wimbledon in 2008. Her gap between major finals is the longest for any player in the Open era. She’s also lost six of the eight Grand Slam finals she’s played against her younger sister, and is 11-16 in career meetings.

Venus Williams is the oldest player to reach a women’s major final since Martina Navratilova, then 37 and 258 days, at Wimbledon in 1994.

The 25-year-old Vandeweghe was playing in the last four at a major for the first time and was the only semifinalist younger than 34. She’d advanced with back-to-back wins over top-ranked Angelique Kerber and French Open champion Garbine Muguruza and took charge against Venus Williams in the first-set tiebreaker.

But Venus Williams rallied after dropping a set for the first time in the tournament, breaking Vandeweghe four times over the final two sets and putting pressure back on her fellow American.

Vandeweghe said earlier in the tournament she’d admired the Williams sisters as an up-and-coming player, and once asked for Venus’ autograph. Venus Williams said one of the best things about her longevity in the game was having an influence on other players.

“Growing up, all I wanted was to have an opportunity to play these tournaments. But then you get here and then you have an opportunity to inspire other people,” she said. “It’s more than a cherry on top. It’s more than I dreamed of.”

Earlier, Bob and Mike Bryan earned a shot at a seventh Australian Open doubles title after a rain-interrupted 7-6 (7-1) 6-3 semifinal win Friday over Pablo Carreno Busta and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

Surprise 2009 US Open quarterfinalist Melanie Oudin retires

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Melanie Oudin is retiring from professional tennis, eight years after her captivating run to the U.S. Open quarterfinals as a teenager.

The 25-year-old American announced her decision in a series of posts on Twitter on Friday.

“Tennis has given me so much and I will always be grateful,” Oudin wrote. “It wasn’t exactly the entire career I had dreamed of, but in life things don’t always go as planned.”

Oudin has dealt with a series of health problems in recent years. Those included a diagnosis of rhabdomyolysis (rab-doe-my-OL-uh-sis), a muscle-damaging condition which may be caused by intense exertion, in 2013, and a procedure to address occasional episodes of an accelerated heartbeat the following year.

She has not played a professional match since entering lower-level ITF tournaments last season.

“Unfortunately, since the end of 2012, I have been struck with numerous health issues and injuries. I would work so hard to come back after being out, and then something else would happen,” Oudin wrote. “It has definitely taken a toll on me mentally and physically over the last five years or so.”

Oudin has been ranked as high as 31st but is now outside the top 400.

She won one WTA singles title, on grass at Birmingham, England, in 2012, and teamed with Jack Sock to win the U.S. Open mixed doubles championship in 2011. Oudin also was a member of the U.S. Fed Cup team.

At the 2009 U.S. Open, as an unseeded and unknown 17-year-old from Marietta, Georgia, the 70th-ranked Oudin pulled off a series of stunning results, upsetting four higher-ranked women – including Maria Sharapova and Beijing Olympic gold medalist Elena Dementieva – to become the youngest quarterfinalist at Flushing Meadows since Serena Williams in 1999.

The vivacious teen whose shoes were stamped with “BELIEVE” during those magical, memorable two weeks in New York closed her three-tweet message to fans and others Friday with that very same word, in all capital letters for emphasis.

“I will definitely miss competing. … I am very proud of how I always competed with lots of heart throughout my whole career,” she wrote.

“I am sad to leave the sport I know and love,” Oudin said, “but I am very optimistic about what the future holds for me.”

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

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Dimitrov, Keys reach Western & Southern Open’s 3rd round

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MASON, Ohio (AP) Seventh-seeded Gregor Dimitrov defeated Feliciano Lopez 7-6 (5), 6-4 on Wednesday to reach the Western & Southern Open’s round of 16.

Sixteenth-seeded Madison Keys easily reached the women’s round of 16 in Cincinnati for the first time on her fourth try, needing just 50 minutes to zoom past Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-1. Keys, a right-hander who withdrew from last week’s Rogers Cup in Toronto with a left forearm injury, next will meet fourth-seeded Garbine Muguruza, the Wimbledon champion.

“I definitely thought I played really well,” Keys said. “I don’t know if I was the zone, press, but everything was going well. It was falling into place, and I didn’t have to rush anything.”

Keys was happiest about finishing quickly in the humid, 80-some-degree conditions.

“I definitely didn’t want to be out there a long time,” she said. “I wasn’t out there that long, but I was still drenched. I was happy to get back inside into the air conditioning.”

After being forced to a tiebreak in the first set, Dimitrov raised his level of play in the second with 13 winners to Lopez’s four. Dimitrov finished with 28 winners, twice as many as Lopez.

Other seeded women reaching the third round in this U.S. Open warmup were eighth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova, with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Yulia Putintseva, and Anastasija Sevastova, with a 6-2, 7-5 win over Roberta Vinci. Qualifier Camila Giorgi advanced with a 7-6 (1), 5-7, 6-3 win over Daria Gavrilova.

Men reaching the third round on the third full day of play included David Ferrer, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-1 over Janko Tipsarevic, and Yuichi Sugita, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1 over qualifier Joao Sousa.