Serena within 1 win of 7th Australian Open title

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Serena Williams is one win away from another Grand Slam milestone after beating Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0, 6-4 in an Australian Open semifinal that was almost a non-contest between the players who’ll be Nos. 1 and 3 in the next women’s rankings.

If Williams wins Saturday’s final against No. 7-seeded Angelique Kerber, she’ll equal Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slam singles title, a record in the Open era, and the second-most in history behind Margaret Court’s 24.

Williams is the overwhelming favorite, and not just based on recent form. She continued her perfect streak in Australian Open semifinals, and she has won all six finals she’s contested at Melbourne Park.

“I definitely block it out,” Williams replied to a question about equaling Graf’s mark. “I was one off last year, too!

“If I don’t win on Saturday, I’ll still be one off.”

Despite all her success, it is a loss that is inspiring Williams in this tournament. She was two matches away from a calendar-year Grand Slam in 2015 when she lost to Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals.

“Physically I’m feeling a lot better, mentally I needed that break after the Open,” she said, but “I didn’t think I would do this well this fast.

“I’m really excited to be in the final – it just kind of blows my mind right now.”

Kerber ended Sydney-born British player Johanna Konta’s surprising run with a 7-5, 6-2 semifinal win to reach her first Grand Slam final. Konta was the first British woman since 1983 to reach a major semifinal.

Kerber has one win in six matches against Williams – in 2012.

Graf was the last German player to win the women’s title in Australia, in 1994, and Kerber is asking for some advice.

“So Steffi, write me please,” she said, laughing with the crowd on Rod Laver Arena.

Williams’ win over fourth-seeded Radwanska provided another yet reminder of her dominance in the women’s game. She has won 39 of her last 40 Grand Slam matches across six major tournaments.

Williams hasn’t played a left-hander so far this tournament and said that, combined with Kerber’s win over two-time champion Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals, were making her wary.

“She took out a really tough opponent in Victoria. You can’t underestimate Kerber,” Williams said. “She’s beaten me before, too, and pretty good. I know that she brings a lot to the game.”

The first set of the semifinals was over in 20 minutes, with Williams hitting 18 winners and Radwanska, in her fifth major semifinal, registering one – in the fourth game.

The second set was closer, with Radwanska holding serve three times and breaking Serena’s powerful serve once. But the 34-year-old Williams lifted again to finish it off, winning the last eight points and closing with three aces and a big forehand winner.

Williams remains unbeaten in nine matches against Radwanska, whom she beat in the 2012 Wimbledon final.

“She goes on court and she just wants to kill it. Going like full power for everything,” Radwanska said. “So I don’t think anyone can really play on that kind of level at all. She started unbelievable, with such a power and speed. I was just standing there kind of watching her playing.”

With the roof on Rod Laver Arena closed because of a thunderstorm closing in, the most obvious noise in the first set was the chirping of trapped birds who’d taken shelter in the stadium.

The chirping intensified as Williams served in the sixth game of the second set, and she looked up angrily after her off-balance forehand from the baseline conceding her only service break of the match.

Williams finished with eight aces – all in the second set – and has lost only 26 games in six rounds in a dominating run that included a 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 5 Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals, a rematch of the 2015 final.

Top-seeded Sakkari reaches semifinals at Parma Ladies Open

Maria Sakkari
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PARMA, Italy — Top-seeded Maria Sakkari rallied past 97th-ranked Maryna Zanevska 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 on Thursday at the Parma Ladies Open to reach her first semifinal since the grass-court season.

Sakkari, who has gone three sets in all three of her matches this week, will face Danka Kovinic for a spot in the final of the clay-court event after Kovinic beat Jasmine Paolini 6-4, 6-4.

In her previous semifinal, Sakkari lost to Belinda Bencic in Berlin in June. The seventh-ranked Greek player was eliminated by Wang Xiyu in the second round of the U.S. Open on Aug. 31.

In the bottom half of the draw, Mayar Sherif of Egypt beat American opponent Lauren Davis 7-6 (2), 6-3 to reach her second career semifinal. Sherif next faces Ana Bogdan, who defeated fellow Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu 6-2, 7-6 (6).

Sakkari through to Parma Open quarterfinals; Stephens loses

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PARMA, Italy — Top-seeded Maria Sakkari rallied past Arantxa Rus 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals of the Parma Ladies Open.

Sakkari, who accepted a late wild card to the red clay court tournament, was playing her first event since losing to Wang Xiyu in the second round of the U.S. Open.

The Greek player will next face Maryna Zanevska of Belgium after she eased past Dalma Galfi 6-1, 6-3.

Fourth-seeded Sloane Stephens of the United States, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, lost to Danka Kovinic 7-5, 2-6, 7-5.

Kovinic will face Jasmine Paolini in the quarterfinals after the Italian defeated compatriot Elisabetta Cocciaretto 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

There will be an American in the final eight, however, as Lauren Davis rallied to beat Sara Sorribes Tormo 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. Sorribes Tormo had eliminated second-seeded Martina Trevisan in straight sets in the opening round.

Davis will play Mayar Sherif after the Egyptian player defeated Simona Waltert 6-3, 7-6 (1).

Also, third-seeded Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania eased past Italian wild card Matilde Paoletti 6-4, 6-4 to set up a quarterfinal against sixth-seeded Ana Bogdan, who beat Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.