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Serena Williams accepts a new challenge – in Silicon Valley

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SAN FRANCISCO — Tennis star Serena Williams has 39 Grand Slam titles, four Olympic medals, major endorsement deals and her own line of clothing and accessories. Now she is embarking on a new mission: She says wants to help tech companies diversify their workforces and solve one of the industry’s most vexing problems.

Williams, 35, will get her chance as she joins a Silicon Valley boardroom for the first time. Online poll-taking service SurveyMonkey announced Williams’ appointment to its board on Wednesday, along with Intuit CEO Brad Smith.

“I feel like diversity is something I speak to,” Williams said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Change is always happening, change is always building. What is important to me is to be at the forefront of the change and to make it easier for the next person that comes behind me.”

Williams didn’t offer specifics about her goals as a corporate director, implying that her very presence can help push the company – and, by extension, the industry as a whole – in a more diverse direction.

Individual board members don’t usually exert great influence over the companies they oversee, although they are often compensated handsomely in cash and stock for their part-time work. SurveyMonkey, a private company, didn’t say how much Williams will be compensated.

VALLEY DIVERSITY

Silicon Valley’s lack of diversity has become a recurring source of embarrassment in a region that has long sought to position itself as an egalitarian place that doesn’t favor one gender or ethnic race over another.

Yet that philosophy hasn’t been reflected in high-tech workforces, despite the efforts of companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook to fix the problem. Not much progress has been made since diversity became a hot-button topic in Silicon Valley three years ago.

Williams has been hanging around Silicon Valley more frequently now that she is engaged to high-tech entrepreneur, Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder of the online forum Reddit. Like many other African-Americans, she says she’s disappointed that the vast majority of high-paying technology jobs are filled by white and Asian men.

At SurveyMonkey, which employs about 650 workers, only 27 percent of technology jobs are filled by women. Just 14 percent of its total payroll consists of African-Americans, Latinos or people identifying themselves with at least two races, according to numbers the company provided to the AP.

Williams’ appointment is part of the solution, according to SurveyMonkey CEO Zander Lurie. “My focus is to bring in change agents around the table who can open our eyes,” he said.

STEPPING STONE

Racism is something Williams confronted and overcame at an early age when she began playing a predominantly white sport. She grew up to become the top-ranked female tennis player in the world.

Diversifying Silicon Valley isn’t the only item on Williams’ agenda. Like a lot of rich athletes, she is interested in becoming more involved in the business opportunities amid the high-tech boom in Silicon Valley. She says she is already exploring other opportunities in the area, but isn’t ready to provide further details yet.

Her connection to SurveyMonkey came through her friendship with Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer and another member of SurveyMonkey’s board. Sandberg’s late husband, Dave Goldberg, was SurveyMonkey’s CEO before he died in 2015 while the couple was vacationing in Mexico.

“I have been really interested in getting involved in Silicon Valley for years, so I have been kind of in the wading waters,” Williams said. “Now, I am jumping into the deep end of the pool. When I do something, I go all out.”

Dimitrov defeats Goffin to win ATP Finals title

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LONDON — Grigor Dimitrov claimed the biggest title of his career at the season-ending ATP Finals on Sunday, prevailing on his fifth match point to beat David Goffin of Belgium 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

“It’s such an honor to play here,” Dimitrov said. “This week has been one of the best I’ve ever had.”

The sixth-seeded Bulgarian won in 2 hours, 30 minutes, 15 seconds for the longest final since the tournament returned to a three-set format in 2008.

Dimitrov won all five of his matches at the O2 Arena to become the first player to win the elite tournament on debut since 1998, when Alex Corretja of Spain triumphed in Hanover.

Goffin saved three match points on his own serve, but Dimitrov kept his cool, taking the second opportunity on his own delivery to close it out.

By reaching the final, Dimitrov had already secured a career-high No. 3-ranking to end the year. Goffin also moves up to a career-best No. 7.

The final lasted more than 11 minutes longer than Roger Federer took to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2011. It was a nervous start as both players failed to hold serve in the opening three games before Goffin settled down to control the opener as Dimitrov struggled with his timing.

However, Dimitrov fought his way back into the set. He leveled in the eighth game before breaking once more in the 12th to snatch the set in which Goffin hit eight more winners.

Dimitrov’s confidence carried into the second set, where he brought up the first break point in the sixth game, only for Goffin to produce a stunning cross-court backhand winner to save it. The momentum back with him, Goffin broke the following game for a 4-3 lead and calmly closed out the set.

Having come from behind to beat Federer in Saturday’s semifinal, Goffin had every reason to be confident and could have gone ahead. But he wasted four break points in the opening game – they would turn out to be his only chances in the decider.

Dimitrov was more clinical, striking in the sixth game to take control. Goffin tested Dimitrov’s nerve by saving three match points on his own serve, before saving one on Dimitrov’s. However the Belgian’s resistance came to an end as he netted a backhand volley, leaving Dimitrov in tears.

(This story has been corrected to show it was the longest three-set final since the tournament returned to a three-set format in 2008, not longest three-set final ever.)

Goffin ousts Federer in ATP Finals semis

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LONDON — David Goffin ended Roger Federer’s bid for a seventh ATP Finals title by stunning the favorite 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the semifinals on Saturday.

The Belgian claimed the biggest win of his career and qualified for the final on Sunday, when he will face Grigor Dimitrov or Jack Sock. They play later Saturday.

Federer looked to be heading toward his 11th final at the elite season-ending tournament when he cruised through the first set, but Goffin took advantage of a drop in his play to level.

Despite having lost all six of his previous encounters with Federer, Goffin was able to execute better in the deciding set, breaking in the third game and producing a nerveless display of serving to seal victory.