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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.

Sharapova loses to Rybarikova at Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Maria Sharapova was beaten by Magdalena Rybarikova 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the first round of the Kremlin Cup on Tuesday, ending her bid for a second title in two weeks.

Sharapova, who won the Tianjin Open two days ago, brought her usual power but lacked accuracy with some wild swings on key points.

“I felt fine physically, to be honest, especially after having played five matches in five days (in Tianjin). That was a big surprise,” Sharapova said. “Maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been … Maybe if this tournament hadn’t been in Moscow, I wouldn’t have played it.”

Sharapova was under pressure on serve from the start and saved six break points before finally being broken to 6-5. She responded by breaking Rybarikova, but Sharapova’s double fault at 4-3 in the tiebreaker handed the Slovakian the momentum to close out the set.

Rybarikova, seeded eighth, sealed the match after saving two break points to lead 5-4, then breaking Sharapova in the next game. Rybarikova will play Alize Cornet in the second round.

Six months after she returned from a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova is still trying to move back up the rankings from her current position of 57th. Her first tour appearance in Moscow in a decade drew a large and enthusiastic crowd despite taking place on a Tuesday afternoon.

Also Tuesday, seventh-seeded Julia Goerges beat Russian qualifier Polina Monova 6-0, 6-3 to set up a second-round meeting with Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.

In the men’s Kremlin Cup tournament, sixth-seeded Damir Dzumhur defeated Thomas Fabbiano 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.

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.