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Serena Williams wins record 23rd major with win over sister Venus

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Serena Williams has won her record 23rd Grand Slam singles title with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over her older sister Venus in Saturday’s Australian Open final.

With her record seventh Australian title, the 35-year-old Williams moved ahead of Steffi Graf for the most major titles in the Open era. Margaret Court won 24 majors, but collected 13 of those before the Open era.

The victory at Rod Laver Arena also ensured Serena Williams will regain the top ranking, which she lost in September after 186 straight weeks when Angelique Kerber won the U.S. Open.

It was Serena’s seventh win in nine all-Williams Grand Slam finals, and the first since Wimbledon in 2009. It was 36-year-old, No. 13-seeded Venus Williams’ first trip back to a major final in 7 + years.

Williams has won 15 majors since last losing to Venus in a Grand Slam final, at Wimbledon in 2008.

Venus walked over to Serena’s side of the net and the sisters hugged.

“This was a tough one – I really would like to take this moment to congratulate Venus,” Serena Williams said. “She’s an amazing person. There’s no way I’d be at 23 without her. She’s my inspiration and the only reason I’m standing here today. Thanks for inspiring me to be the best player I can be.

“She deserves a round of applause – she’s made an amazing comeback.”

The match didn’t live up to its classic billing, with nerves and tension causing uncharacteristic mistakes and unforced errors and four consecutive service breaks before Venus finally held for a 3-2 lead. That included a game when Serena had game point but served back-to-back double-faults and three in all to give up the break.

There were six service breaks in all. Both players were relatively subdued, except for Serena’s racket smashing spike on the court in the third game that earned her a code violation.

After making the three double-faults in the fourth game, however, the younger Williams didn’t face another break point in the 1-hour, 22-minute match.

In terms of total years, it was the oldest Grand Slam women’s final in the Open era with the Williams sisters combining for 71 years, 11 months.

Serena Williams now has a 17-11 career record against her sister, including a 10-5 advantage at Grand Slams.

Serena hadn’t wanted to talk about the No. 23 before or during the tournament. She finally can now.

She tied Steffi Graf’s mark of 22 Grand Slam singles titles in the Open era by winning Wimbledon last year. She missed her chance to break Graf’s record with an upset semifinal loss at the U.S. Open – for the second year running – and hasn’t wanted to talk about the number 23 since arriving in Australia.

Until this trip, Venus hadn’t reached another major final since 2008. She didn’t make the second week for a few years as she came to terms with an energy-sapping illness since being diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome in 2011, and made her comeback to the semifinals at Wimbledon last year.

Andy Murray losses to Thiem in Barcelona Open semifinals

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BARCELONA, Spain — World No. 1 Andy Murray lost to Dominic Thiem of Austria 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in the Barcelona Open semifinals on Saturday.

Murray’s defeat came a week after he exited the third round at Monte Carlo. That loss prompted Murray to enter Barcelona to whip up some form for the French Open following a right elbow injury.

Nine-time winner Rafael Nadal played Horacio Zeballaos of Argentina in the other semifinal later Saturday.

Thiem started strong, breaking Murray’s first two service games before adding a third break en route to taking the first set.

The ninth-ranked Thiem had a break point in the second set, but Murray held serve and broke him back to even the match at a set apiece.

Murray was again in trouble at 4-2 down in the decisive set, and folded when he failed to successfully return Thiem’s deep lob on match point.

It was Thiem’s first win in three meetings against Murray.

Sharapova’s return ends in semis at Porsche Grand Prix

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STUTTGART, Germany — Maria Sharapova’s first tournament since her controversial return to tennis is over after losing to Kristina Mladenovic of France in the Porsche Grand Prix semifinals.

Mladenovic beat former top-ranked Sharapova 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 Saturday.

In her fourth match following a 15-month doping ban, the Russian was left to rue missing 13 of her 16 break-point opportunities as Mladenovic rallied to win in 2 hours, 38 minutes.

The 19th-ranked Mladenovic, who ousted two-time defending champion Angelique Kerber on Thursday, next plays the winner of the other semifinal between fourth-seeded Simona Halep and last year’s runner-up Laura Siegemund.

Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova, who tested positive for meldonium at last year’s Australian Open, had been given a wild card to enter the Stuttgart event after losing her ranking because of the ban.