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Serena Williams reaches Australian Open semifinals

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams reached her 10th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal, and kept her bid alive for a record 23rd major title, with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Johanna Konta at the Australian Open on Wednesday.

Her opponent in the semifinals, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who beat fifth-seeded Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, had a much longer wait to get back to this stage at a major – nearly 18 years.

It’s the second time in the last two years that three women in their 30s have reached the semifinals at a major: Venus Williams, 36, Serena Williams, 35, and Lucic-Baroni, 34. Serena also reached the semifinals at the 2015 U.S. Open, alongside 30-somethings Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci.

“Thirties is the new 10,” Williams said after her match. “No matter what happens, somebody 34 or older will be in the final.”

The second-seeded Williams was tested by Konta in the second set when the British player broke her to go up 2-1. But Williams broke back at love to level the score at 3-all and saved another break point in her next service game before closing out the match.

Williams finished with 10 aces, but only connected on 45 percent of her first serves overall.

“The main focus is actually my serve,” she said. “I missed a lot today. I got a little frustrated.”

Lucic-Baroni advanced to the last four at a major for the first time since her run to the Wimbledon semifinals in 1999 at the age of 17.

The last time she made it this far, Lucic-Baroni also had to face a woman in the semifinals with 22 majors – Steffi Graf. Graf won that match, but fell short in her bid to win her 23rd major title against Lindsay Davenport.

Lucic-Baroni is surprised she is getting another chance at this stage of her career.

She was once considered a prodigy with as much promise as the Williams sisters. She won the first tournament she entered as a 15 year old in 1997 and several months later captured the 1998 Australian Open doubles title with Martina Hingis.

After her run to the Wimbledon semifinals the following year, however, Lucic-Baroni’s career was sidetracked by personal issues and financial problems. She was largely out of the sport for several years before launching a comeback in the late 2000s.

“I know this means a lot to every player to reach the semifinals, but to me, this is just overwhelming,” she said, in tears, after the match. “This has truly made my life and everything bad that happened, it has made it OK.”

The 79th-ranked Lucic-Baroni is the third-lowest-ranked player to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open after Justine Henin (unranked, 2010), Claudia Porwick (No. 81, 1990) and Williams (No. 81, 2007).

Lucic-Baroni and Pliskova combined for 14 service breaks in an up-and-down match before the Croatian, whose left leg was heavily taped, left the court midway through the third set for treatment on her leg.

When she returned, she won eight straight points to hold and get the final break of the match and then put a rosary around her neck to serve the match out.

Duckhee Lee downplays deafness, wins ATP tournament debut

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Duckhee Lee tossed the ball into the air for his first serve in an ATP tournament match, and blasted it past his opponent with a loud pop.

The 21-year-old South Korean never heard it. He was born deaf.

The tour’s first deaf professional player says he doesn’t want to be defined by the disability that he has overcome well enough to play at the sport’s highest level.

His first appearance in a top-level tournament will last at least until the second round. Lee beat Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 7-6 (4), 6-1 in the first round of the Winston-Salem Open on Monday, earning a matchup with No. 3 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland.

As much as the opening-round victory meant to Lee and his career, it might have meant even more to hearing-impaired athletes in all sports.

“Don’t be discouraged and if you try hard, you can do anything, you can achieve anything you want,” Lee said through an interpreter, adding that he “doesn’t want people to get discouraged and get down about their disability.”

The ability to hear carries a particular importance in tennis. Players often insist on silence during points so they can hear the ball off their opponent’s strings and identify the spin in a split-second.

Lee makes up for it with his eyes, sharpening his focus on his opponent’s swing, how that player makes contact and the speed and spin of the ball as it’s racing toward him.

Complicating things further, he also doesn’t speak English, reads lips instead of using sign language, and relies on hand gestures from umpires making calls.

Because he can’t hear the score announcements, he keeps track of points and games in his head – which can be more difficult in smaller events that don’t have courtside scoreboards. It led to a hiccup early during his main-draw debut when he lined up to serve after a game had been decided.

“I think (the umpire) forgot to give the signal” at times during the match, he said, adding that he “was hoping he would give in and out signals.”

The debut in Winston-Salem marked the next step up the tennis ladder for Lee, who started playing tennis at age 7 – the year after he realized he was deaf, though doctors had diagnosed his condition as a toddler.

“People made fun of (me) because of the disability and said (I) shouldn’t be playing,” Lee said, adding that his motivation was to “enjoy (my) life by overcoming my disability.”

Lee made his debut on the ITF Futures Tour at 14 and won eight titles before he turned 18, then reached three finals of the ATP Challenger Tour, including one in June, falling to Dudi Sela at the Baptist Health Little Rock Open in Arkansas. He brought a No. 212 world ranking to the central North Carolina hardcourts.

He’ll always remember his first ATP-level victory – and not just because of the result. Lee was two points away from sealing the victory when thunderstorms forced a weather delay of nearly 5 hours. He and Laakonsen came back to the court at roughly 10:15 p.m. – and wrapped up their match in 87 seconds.

When he was asked how he spent the delay, Lee got his point across with pantomime, mimicking someone playing table tennis and shooting basketball, because there was both a pingpong table and pop-a-shot machine in the players’ lounge. He smiled as his translator said how “he loves the facility here.”

Amanda Anisimova out of U.S. Open after father’s death

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NEW YORK — American teenager Amanda Anisimova withdrew from the U.S. Open on Tuesday because of the recent death of her father and coach, Konstantin.

A statement from family members, released by Anisimova’s representatives, said: “We are shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of our father. We appreciate the outpouring of love and support during this difficult time and ask that you respect our privacy.”

The U.S. Tennis Association announced that Anisimova had pulled out of the year’s last Grand Slam tournament, where main-draw play begins Monday.

Anisimova, who was born in New Jersey to Russian parents and moved to Florida when she was 3, is currently ranked 24th and would have been seeded for the U.S. Open.

She is an up-and-coming star in women’s tennis who reached the semifinals at the French Open in June at age 17.

Anisimova upset defending champion Simona Halep in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, before losing to eventual champion Ash Barty in three sets.

Her first WTA title came in April at Bogota, Colombia.

As a junior, Anisimova won the 2017 U.S. Open girls’ title, beating Coco Gauff in the final.