The Latest on US Open: Serena defeats Venus to reach semifinals

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NEW YORK (AP) The Latest on the U.S. Open (all times local):

10 p.m.

Serena Williams has defeated sister Venus in three sets to move within two victories of completing the first Grand Slam since 1988.

The younger Williams won 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 in the U.S. Open quarterfinals Tuesday night in front of a celebrity-filled crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium. It was her 11th three-set victory at a major this year.

Serena improved to 9-5 against her sister in Grand Slam matches.

Serena was nearly perfect in the first set but tightened up in the second. She pulled it back together in the third, breaking Venus’ serve right away. Showing the importance of the moment, Serena started celebrating winners with big fist pumps and loud yells of “Come on!” unlike most matches against her sister.

The 35-year-old Venus kept up her sharp play of the last two rounds, but Serena – as she so often is against everyone – was simply better.

She next faces 43rd-ranked Roberta Vinci, who reached her first Grand Slam semifinal and has never defeated Williams.

9:28 p.m.

Venus Williams has pushed sister Serena to a third set in their U.S. Open quarterfinal.

The younger Williams will need to win her 11th three-set match at a major this year to keep alive her bid for the first Grand Slam since 1988. Venus took the second set 6-1 after Serena won the first 6-2.

Serena was nearly perfect in the first set but started to get tight in the second, with three double-faults. Venus, meanwhile, kept up her strong play of the last two rounds.

Serena is 8-5 against her sister at the majors.

Arthur Ashe Stadium was dotted with celebrities for the hugely anticipated match, including Oprah Winfrey, Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump.

9 p.m.

Serena Williams has won the first set of her U.S. Open quarterfinal against sister Venus as she seeks to complete the first Grand Slam since 1988.

The younger Williams took the set 6-2 in 33 minutes Tuesday night in front of a celebrity-filled crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Unlike some previous meetings when the awkwardness of the moment affected the performances of both, each was sharp at the start Tuesday. Venus kept up her strong play from the last two rounds. But Serena, as she often is against everyone, was just better. She had 15 winners to only two unforced errors and broke Venus’ powerful serve twice.

Serena is 8-5 against her sister at the majors.

7:15 p.m.

Defending champion Marin Cilic stretched his U.S. Open winning streak to 12 matches and returned to the semifinals by holding on to beat 19th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4.

The match took nearly four hours in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday, delaying the start of the women’s quarterfinal between Serena and Venus Williams.

The ninth-seeded Cilic appeared to be heading to a relatively straightforward victory after taking the first two sets. He was 47-0 in his Grand Slam career when up by that margin.

But Tsonga steadied himself to force a fifth set, before Cilic pulled it out.

6:25 p.m.

Defending U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic is heading to a fifth set in his quarterfinal against 19th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France.

Cilic won the first two sets, but Tsonga took the next two, saving three match points in the fourth.

The match is being played in Arthur Ashe Stadium, so Serena and Venus Williams will not get on court for their quarterfinal until after Cilic and Tsonga are done.

2:55 p.m.

Roberta Vinci has reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at age 32.

The 43rd-ranked Italian outlasted Kristina Mladenovic 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 at the U.S. Open on Tuesday. The 22-year-old Mladenovic, who had never been past the third round at a major before this tournament, struggled with cramping on a steamy afternoon. Her fourth-round singles match didn’t end until 1 a.m. Monday, then she played doubles later that day.

Vinci, meanwhile, advanced into the quarterfinal without taking the court Sunday, when 25th-seeded Eugenie Bouchard withdrew after sustaining a concussion when she slipped and fell in the locker room two days earlier.

Mladenovic rallied from down a break in the second to force a third set, but had trainers rubbing ice on her legs during changeovers.

At 3-3 in the final set, the two played a 15-minute game with 10 deuces. Mladenovic had six game points she failed to convert.

After getting broken, the 40th-ranked Frenchwoman asked for a medical timeout. Not eligible under the rules to receive more treatment for cramping, she said it was a different injury. Vinci protested to the chair umpire as Mladenovic had her left thigh wrapped.

It wouldn’t make a difference. Mladenovic repeatedly bent over in discomfort between points, and Vinci won her last two service games to clinch victory after 2 hours, 32 minutes.

Vinci has played on the biggest stages before, winning five major doubles titles with former partner Sara Errani. She had been 0-2 in Grand Slam singles quarterfinals, both at the U.S. Open.

Rybakina, Sabalenka to meet in Australian Open women’s final

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Mike Frey/USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia — What all seemed so different, so daunting, even, about trying to win a Grand Slam title to Elena Rybakina a little more than six months ago is now coming rather naturally.

And if she can win one more match, she will add a championship at the Australian Open to the one she collected at Wimbledon.

Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan, reached her second final in a span of three major tournaments by beating Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (4), 6-3 at Melbourne Park on Thursday, signaling a rapid rise toward the top of tennis.

“Everything was new at Wimbledon,” Rybakina said after hitting nine aces in the semifinals to raise her tournament-leading total to 44. “Now I more or less understand what to expect.”

That could come in handy Saturday, when she will face No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Sabalenka reached her first Grand Slam title match at age 24 by beating unseeded Magda Linette 7-6 (1), 6-2 in Thursday’s second semifinal.

Sabalenka improved to 10-0 in 2023, winning all 20 sets she has contested this season.

More importantly, the victory over Linette gave Sabalenka her first taste of success in a Slam semi after going 0-3 at that stage until now, losing each previous attempt by a 6-4 score in the third set.

Rybakina and Sabalenka employ a somewhat similar brand of tennis, relying on big serves and big hitting at the baseline. Sabalenka is far less cautious, though, and her penchant for high-risk, high-reward play was evident against Linette, who had never before been past the third round in 29 appearances at majors.

Sabalenka finished with a whopping 33-9 edge in winners, but also compiled more unforced errors – including a trio that led to a break at love by Linette in the opening game.

The key to both semifinals turned out to be a first-set tiebreaker. Azarenka lost the mark on her strokes, for the most part, making things smoother for Rybakina, while Sabalenka raced to a 6-0 lead in hers. It wasn’t the case that each and every shot Sabalenka hit landed right on a line, but it must have seemed that way to Linette.

“In the tiebreaker, I really found my rhythm,” Sabalenka said. “Started trusting myself. Started going for my shots.”

Rybakina’s win over Azarenka, the champion at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, added to what already was an impressive run through a string of top opponents. She also beat No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 17 Jelena Ostapenko – both owners of major titles – and 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.

“For sure, they’re very experienced players,” said Rybakina, whose parents and sister have been in town throughout the Australian Open. “I knew that I have to focus on every point.”

She delivered serves at up to 117 mph (189 kph) and stinging groundstrokes that she used to close points seemingly at will on Thursday. Her performance was particularly noteworthy against a returner and defender as established on hard courts as Azarenka, a former No. 1 and a three-time runner-up at the U.S. Open.

“Kind of hard to digest,” Azarenka said. “Obviously, I had quite a few chances that I gave myself.”

Rybakina is just 23, 10 years younger than Azarenka, and the future sure looks bright at the moment.

Rybakina might be seeded just 22nd in Melbourne, and ranked just 25th, but those numbers are rather misleading and not indicative at all of her talent and form. She did not get the usual bump from her title last July at Wimbledon, where zero rankings points were awarded after the All England Club banned players from Russia and Belarus because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Rybakina was born in Moscow; she switched to Kazakhstan in 2018, when that country offered to fund her tennis career.

It was breezy and chilly at Rod Laver Arena from the start of Rybakina vs. Azarenka, with the temperature dipping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).

That had a role in the way the first set was as much of a seesaw as can be, with each player seeming to gain the upper hand – and then ceding it just as quickly. Both found the conditions slowed down the tennis balls.

“Kind of misjudged a lot of balls,” Azarenka said.

Rybakina encountered similar issues and her occasional inconsistency was encapsulated by the very first game. She began, inauspiciously enough, with a double-fault, before holding with the help of three aces.

Azarenka nosed ahead by breaking for a 3-2 lead on a leaping, full-extension volley winner with both women at the net. Rybakina, though, broke right back, and then once more to go up 5-3.

Azarenka saved a set point at 5-3 with a terrific down-the-line forehand passing shot, wound up taking the game with a backhand she accented with a shout of “Let’s go!”

A mistake-filled tiebreaker ended with Azarenka pushing a forehand wide to cap an 11-shot exchange, and the set belonged to Rybakina. She broke at love for a 2-1 lead in the second, and while they competed for another 25 minutes, the outcome was never really much in doubt.

Sure, Rybakina again faltered for a bit while trying to serve out the victory at 5-2. No one expected Azarenka to go quietly. But one last break, aided by a double-fault from Azarenka, allowed Rybakina to take another step toward another trophy.

“Ready,” she said, “to give everything I have left.”

Paul, McDonald on US Davis Cup team; Nainkin interim captain

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Mike Frey/USA TODAY Sports
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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul and the player who eliminated Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park, Mackenzie McDonald, are among the players picked by interim captain David Nainkin for the U.S. Davis Cup team’s matches at Uzbekistan next week.

Nainkin’s appointment was announced Friday, three weeks after Mardy Fish’s tenure as captain ended.

Nainkin has been with the U.S. Tennis Association since 2004. He will be assisted against Uzbekistan by Dean Goldfine, who coached 20-year-old Ben Shelton during his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open.

Paul beat Shelton in that round before losing to Novak Djokovic on Friday night.

The other members of the U.S. roster are Denis Kudla, Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek. Kudla replaces Jenson Brooksby on the team.

The matches will be played on indoor hard courts on Feb. 3-4.