MELBOURNE, Australia — Sloane Stephens wiped away tears as she thought about hanging a poster of herself on a wall in the place of her childhood hero.
The 19-year-old American seemed to be in shock, barely able to compute how she'd produced the upset of the Australian Open by beating 15-time major winner Serena Williams in the quarterfinals Wednesday. It was her first trip that far in seven Grand Slam tournaments.
A poster of Williams had adorned the wall on Stephens' bedroom as a child. Now, in her view, they're peers.
"This is so crazy," Stephens said in a post-match TV interview after rallying from a set and a break down against an injured and angry Williams. "Oh my goodness. I think I'll put a poster of myself (up) now."
The 29th-seeded Stephens won 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. She calmed the nerves and started swinging harder and lifting her tempo at 4-3 in the second.
That's when Williams jarred her back trying to pull up before the net as she chased down a drop shot. Williams let out a loud scream and hopped away. Stephens had a look back over the net, seemingly in concern.
Williams started taking time between points, limping, and trying to stay in the shade at the back of the court.
Williams later called for the trainer between games. She had a three-minute medical timeout and came back serving at a pace well below her usual speed.
"Well, at that point you just have to pretend like nothing's wrong," Williams said. "You think of worst case scenarios. You know, I just thought, Ok, just pretend nothing's wrong and just try your best."
Stephen's surprise win did instant wonders for her celebrity.
Before the match, Stephens said she had about 17,000 followers on Twitter. A few hours after reaching her first Grand Slam semifinal, she had more than 40,000.
And she sounded like an excited schoolgirl as she gushed about receiving a congratulatory tweet from American singer John Legend.
"I want John Legend to sing at my wedding!" she said. "I was like, 'Oh my God. He tweeted me. What can I do?'"
She re-tweeted the sentiments from Legend: "Just found out her dad is John Stephens from the Pats. (that's my real name) I had his football card when I was a kid. I was so proud, ha ha."
Stephens' father, former New England Patriots player, died in 2009.
Retired basketball star Shaquille O'Neal sent a message that read: "When u defeat a legend you become a legend." The Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki wrote, "Wow. What a win for Sloane. Some amazing defense. She gets every ball back."
Stephens checked her phone during her post-match news conference and said there were 213 text messages waiting for her.
Like many a teenager, her first concern was about how high her phone bill might be.
"I thought it was free to receive text messages, but someone told me otherwise," she said.
Her mother "is going to be like, 'The money you were going to buy yourself something nice with, you're going to pay your phone bill.'"
She's set for her biggest payday, regardless of the result in Thursday's semifinal against defending champion Victoria Azarenka, who beat two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5, 6-1 in the previous match in Rod Laver Arena.
The semifinal losers earn $525,000, double what the quarterfinal losers receive. For Williams, there's a further $1,500 deduction after she was fined for racket abuse.
Stephens had practiced with Williams for the Fed Cup, but had played her only once, a straight sets loss at the Brisbane International earlier this month.
"Brisbane helped me because I got the first time we played out of the way," she said. "First time is always tough. Definitely I was glad that I got it there ... it helped me raise my level."
She'll need to maintain that level within 24 hours to play the top-ranked Azarenka on Thursday. That will follow the semifinal between No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova and No. 6 Li Na, the 2011 French Open champion.
Stephens' previous best run at a major tournament was at last year's French Open, where she was the first American teenager to reach the fourth round since Williams in 2001.
She was the youngest player in the year-end top 50 despite missing the last six weeks of the season with an abdominal injury.
"I took a lot of time off just kind of being a normal kid, doing whatever," she said.
That means shopping, social networking and other things teens do.
Stephens was under real pressure early, and it showed. She double-faulted to give Williams triple break point in the eighth game, but could save only two. Williams started pumping her fist and yelling, "Come On."
Williams broke her serve again in the opening game of the second set.
"From then on, I got aggressive, started coming to the net more and just got a lot more comfortable," Stephens said.
That paid off when she broke back in the fourth game.
Williams had injured her ankle in her first-round win, and the back injury compounded her problems in what she said later was her worst major tournament in a long time.
The five-time Australian champion shanked a forehand to fall behind 2-1 in the third, then smashed her racket into the court, twice, flinging it toward the courtside chairs.
She picked up her service speed and was called for a foot fault, further annoying her.
Williams got the first break of the set and seemed to be back on track for victory, but Stephens answered immediately.
Serving to stay in the match, Williams hit an attempted passing shot long and looked up to the sky, muttering to herself.
She hit backhands into the net on the next two points, and her winning streak had ended.
Williams walked around the net post to shake Stephens' hand. The quick turnaround between matches makes it difficult for Stephens' family to make it to Australia for her semifinal.
"I'm kind of upset my mom's not here, and my brother," she said. "I know definitely everyone's watching back home and is very proud of me, so (I'll) just do my best and make them happy." -- (AP)
NEW YORK — First lady Michelle Obama played kid-sized doubles against Serena Williams, clocked a 55-mph serve and even did some hula-hooping in her first visit to the U.S. Open.
Obama spoke to a group of local youngsters Friday as part of her campaign against childhood obesity.
"I'm not really good or anything like that. That's the beauty of tennis," she said. "You don't have to be good to enjoy it. I love the game, and my skills are very questionable."
Obama then joined the kids in a tennis video game, table tennis and other activities at an indoor facility at Flushing Meadows designed to get young players excited about the sport.
Obama and a pint-sized partner played doubles against seven-time Grand Slam winner John McEnroe, who gave her some volley pointers. Williams, a 13-time major champ who advanced to the Open semifinals Thursday, rolled in after about 45 minutes and took over as Obama's doubles opponent.
"I've been trying to get to the U.S. Open my entire life," Obama said.
Joined by former and current players Billie Jean King, James Blake and Katrina Adams, Obama recalled that she didn't get into tennis until after law school because there were few courts where she grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Obama praised the U.S. Tennis Association's efforts to build kid-sized courts around the country and recruit more youngsters to the game.
Now she hopes she and her daughters will still be playing when they're in their 90s.
"It's a sport you can do forever," Obama said.
Obama later took in the Andy Murray-John Isner quarterfinal match at Arthur Ashe Stadium. -- (AP)
NEW YORK — Serena Williams says her emotions got the best of her when she berated the chair umpire during her loss to Sam Stosur in the U.S. Open final.
"My emotions did get the best of me this past weekend when I disagreed with the umpire," Williams tweeted Wednesday. "It has been a long road to get back to the US Open this year, and I am thankful to have had such a great two weeks in New York."
Williams' tweet came two days after she was cited for a code violation and fined $2,000 for verbally abusing chair umpire Eva Asderaki.
Facing a break point while serving in the first game of the second set Sunday night, Williams hit a forehand that she celebrated with a yell of "Come on!" Asderaki applied the hindrance rule, noting the scream came while Stosur reached out and got a racket on the ball. Asderaki awarded the point to Stosur.
That set Williams off on a series of insults directed at the official, reminiscent of her tirade on the same court when she berated and brandished her racket at a referee who called a foot fault in the 2009 semifinal against Kim Clijsters.
Stosur stunned Williams 6-2, 6-3 Sunday, winning her first Grand Slam title. She became the first Australian woman to win a major championship since Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980.
Williams won two tournaments heading into the U.S. Open and was considered a favorite despite being sidelined nearly a year with injuries and health issues. She returned in June after dealing with two foot surgeries and blood clots in her lungs. -- (AP)
Gymnastics champion Gabby Douglas and tennis star Serena Williams each won two gold medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Their athletic accomplishments are something to admire and celebrate.
Yet the media have somewhat distracted from their accomplishments with stories on Douglas’ hair and Williams doing a so-called Crip walk dance in celebration.
Both Douglas and Williams are surprised by the so-called controversies.
So are we.
Douglas said Sunday she was a little confused when she logged onto her computer after winning her second gold medal in three days and discovered people were debating her pulled back hair look.
“I don’t know where this is coming from. What’s wrong with my hair” said Douglas, the first U.S. gymnast to win gold in team and all-around competition. “I’m like, ‘I just made history and people are focused on my hair? It can be bald or short; it doesn’t matter about (my) hair.”
The 16-year-old had no idea that she was lighting up social media until she Googled herself hours after winning her gold medal.
Serena Williams was probably also caught by surprise that there would a controversy in social and mainstream media after dancing in celebration after she handily beat Maria Sharapova in a little over an hour for the women’s singles gold medal.
Anyone watching the match could see that Williams’ spontaneous celebration was not an attempt to promote gang culture.
“It’s just a dance we do in California,” said Williams when asked about it during the post-match news conference.
She told the Daily Mail in London: “It was just me. I love to dance. I didn’t know what else to do. I was so happy and next thing I know I started dancing and moving.
I didn’t plan it. It just happened.”
However some in the media saw the dance as an opportunity to attack Williams.
Bill Plaschke, a sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times tweeted, “Isn’t there some kind of dance by multimillionaires who live in exclusive South Florida neighborhoods? Serena C-walking at Wimbledon only shows how long she’s been away from home, separated from violence and death associated with that dance.”
Clinton Yates of Roots DC said Williams “inadvertently set off a firestorm that is misguided and dripping with racist, patronizing overtones.”
In the case of Douglas the ignorant comments made by some African-American women on social media was amplified by mainstream media as if it was a legitimate news stories. The comments of a few because an excuse to create a fake controversy and generalize about the pettiness of African-American women.
Ridiculous comments are regularly made on the Internet and in social media but they are not used as a basis for sociological commentary or psychological insight.
What is most disappointing in the Douglas and Williams’ controversy is not the comments made of a few in social media and on the blogosphere. After all anyone with access to a computer can express vile comments on social media.
But there is something deeply wrong when professional journalists start taking their cue on what to write from the largely anonymous users of social media.
WIMBLEDON, England — For the first time since her debut appearance at the All England Club 15 years ago, five-time Venus Williams failed to get past the first round of Wimbledon.
The seven-time Grand Slam champion was eliminated 6-1, 6-3 by Elena Vesnina of Russia at Wimbledon on Monday, the latest setback in her return to tennis after being diagnosed with an energy-sapping autoimmune disease.
Williams, who has fallen to 58th in the rankings, lost the first five games on Court 2 to the 79th-ranked Russian and, although she picked up her game and fought hard, was never able to turn the match around.
It was the first time Williams lost in the opening round of a Grand Slam since the 2006 Australian Open — the first at Wimbledon since her debut appearance in 1997.
“I feel like I’m a great player,” Williams said. “I am a great player. Unfortunately I have to deal with circumstances that people don’t have to deal with normally in a sport, but I can’t be discouraged by that. I’m up for challenges. I have great tennis in me. I just need the opportunity.”
Playing in her 16th straight Wimbledon, the 32-year-old Williams was unseeded for the first time since 1997. She was coming off a second-round loss at the French Open to Agnieszka Radwanska.
Williams revealed in late August at the U.S. Open that she had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune condition that can cause fatigue and joint pain. She skipped the Australian Open in January, before returning to the tour in March in a bid to earn a berth on the U.S Olympic team for the London Games.
“I’ve been through a lot for years without knowing what I was going through,” she said. “It’s all a culmination at the end of the day. I just try to stay positive and focus on the tennis. I’m tough, let me tell you — tough as nails.”
Williams has been champion or runner-up at the All England Club eight of the past 12 years, with her last title coming in 2008. The three losses in finals all came against younger sister Serena.
“I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself,” she said. “I’m not going to give up on it. ... There’s no way I’m going to just sit down and give up just because I have a hard time the first five or six tournaments back. That’s just not me.”
The Olympic tournament will be played at Wimbledon three weeks after the end of the championships.
“At the Olympics, you’ll see me here,” she said. “I’m planning on it.”
The 25-year-old Vesnina, who reached the fourth round here in 2009, played smart and steady baseline tennis to keep Williams at bay. It took 30 minutes before Williams won a game. But Vesnina broke right back to close out the set with a forehand winner.
The second set was much more contested, but once the Russian broke again for a 4-2 lead, she was in full control. Three games later, Vesnina cracked a big first serve on match point and Williams slapped a forehand return into the net. — (AP)
When it comes to tennis, Selina Ocasio is certainly a name to remember. Ocasio recently led George Washington High to the girls Public League tennis championship. She also had a big season winning 40 consecutive regular season tennis matches this year.
“It was great winning the Public League championship,” Ocasio said. “It meant a lot to our team. It was so rewarding. I worked really hard on my game. Winning 40 straight games was really tough. I wanted to do it for the team. I spent a lot of time practicing on my skills. The hard work really paid off for me as well as my team.”
Tennis is a big sport in the Ocasio family. Selina’s older sister, Kiara Ocasio, is a tennis standout at Division III Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.
“She’s doing very well,” Ocasio said. “Kiara has been playing tennis a long time. She’s had a great career at Hobart and William. She has helped me so much. She’s always there.”
Ocasio started playing tennis at four years old. She grew up playing the game right in her Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood. Ocasio is also a big fan of Venus and Serena Williams.
“I started playing down at Jardel Playground (1500 Cottman Avenue),” Ocasio said. “The recreation center isn’t too far from where I live. I can go down there and play tennis. I also play at the Northeast Racquet Club (Krewstown Road). That’s a good place to work out. I work on my swing. I always hit the ball back. I run around a lot on the court. I never give up on getting to the ball.”
Ocasio’s persistence has made a big difference in her play. Like Kiara, she would like to play tennis at the collegiate level. She has received some interest from West Chester, Washington College and Moravian.
“I’m not sure where I’m going to go to college at this point,” Ocasio said. “I’m still looking at schools.”
Ocasio should be a great player at the next level.
NEW YORK — Serena Williams belted out "I Will Survive" while celebrating her U.S. Open title with some karaoke.
"I thought it was a great story for me to sing that last night," she said Monday. "I really felt the words. I really, really felt those words."
Survival is rallying when two points away from losing the final to top-ranked Victoria Azarenka earlier that evening. Survival, even more fittingly, is coming all the way back from the health problems that kept her from competing for 10 months in 2010-11.
Survival is getting through a U.S. Open with no tirades at officials as in her last two trips to Flushing Meadows. The site of her first major championship 13 years ago started to induce more dread than nostalgia.
"My best memory, then after that it just went downhill," Williams said. "From line calls that were completely outrageous to more line calls that were outrageous. Calls of hindrance that was even more outrageous. It's been a love and then hate, hate, hate, hate relationship.
"It was good to get back yesterday. I don't feel completely comfortable still; you never know what's going to happen. But I do feel much better about the place."
A few weeks before her 31st birthday, Williams earned her 15th Grand Slam title — and she sounds hungrier than ever to rack up more. Karaoke aside, she wasn't talking about relaxing after a draining summer of winning Wimbledon and an Olympic gold medal.
"For whatever reason I still feel motivated, like I should go out tomorrow and go running or something," Williams said.
A typical training day consists of 2 hours on the court, 2 hours in the gym, 3 hours of dancing and an hour of stretching.
"So many people on tour are like, 'Oh, you just show up and you win matches.' I just smile and I let them believe that," Williams told reporters. "The fact of the matter is I probably work harder than anyone else on the WTA Tour or else I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you guys."
All that means "I don't have a life, especially lately." And that's OK.
After Maria Sharapova revealed during the Open that her engagement to basketball player Sasha Vujacic was off, Williams let slip that she, too, recently went through a breakup.
The relationship ended last winter, she said Monday, insisting, "I don't remember his name."
"If I'm in a relationship, I'm fine; I do well. But I feel like when I'm out, I'm angry and I do even better," Williams said with a laugh. "I don't know what's better for me. It's a win-win situation."
Everything seems like a win-win lately. Williams beat Azarenka 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 even though "I felt down the whole match," considering the first set ended so quickly and her opponent controlled much of the second and third.
Big sister Venus yelled from her box to move her feet and get her energy back.
"I think either I got too confident or too relaxed," Serena said. "I stopped moving my feet. My energy was low. It was strange for a final for me to play so lackadaisical. It wasn't me. Then I started making errors."
Williams celebrated until 3 a.m. Monday, then set her alarm for 5:15. She took a cat nap in the green room at "CBS This Morning" while movie director James Cameron was talking.
Williams is now three Grand Slam titles from tying Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert at No. 4 on the all-time list. Told that Navratilova joked on Twitter "you are catching me and Chris, and I don't like it," Williams giddily said she'd retweet it.
Coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who has been working with Williams since her first-round loss at the French Open, has told her she should stop ignoring records.
"Since I plan on playing for a long time, definitely plausible," Williams said of catching those greats. "I have to make sure I stay healthy and stay positive and stay calm.
"And if I never won another Grand Slam, I've had a fabulous career, a historic career." — (AP)
UNITED NATIONS — Tennis superstar Serena Williams has been appointed UNICEF'S newest international Goodwill Ambassador.
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake announced Williams' appointment on Tuesday, saying she is also known as a philanthropist and champion of children.
Williams teamed up with UNICEF in 2006 when she traveled to Ghana for the African country's biggest health campaign. Volunteer health workers immunized children against childhood diseases and distributed free mosquito bed nets to prevent malaria.
With UNICEF, Williams will use her popularity to support the U.N. agency's mission to provide a quality education for vulnerable children.
Past and present UNICEF ambassadors include Audrey Hepburn, David Beckham and Shakira. -- (AP)
In 1957, Althea Gibson became the first African-American woman to win a singles title at Wimbledon. Gibson blazed the trails for a number of African-American tennis greats such as Arthur Ashe and sisters Venus and Serena Williams.
Gibson, a trailblazer in the sport of tennis, will be honored with the 36th stamp in the Black Heritage series from the United States Postal Service. The stamp ceremony for Gibson (1927-2003) is tentatively scheduled for August 23 at the U.S. Open in Flushing, N.Y.
Gibson was born in Silver, South Carolina, on August 25, 1927. As a young child, she was sent to New York City to live with her aunt Sally. Gibson’s parents, Annie and Daniel eventually came north as well, residing in an apartment on West 143rd Street in Harlem.
As a child, Gibson did well in New York’s Police Athletic League (PAL) paddle tennis competitions. Musician Buddy Walker, who worked as a play leader during the summer months at PAL, saw a lot of talent in Gibson. Walker bought a few used tennis rackets and gave them to her. After that, she was formally introduced to the sport at Harlem’s Cosmopolitan Club, a place where many Blacks played tennis.
In 1942, Gibson entered and won her first tournament, the New York State Open Championship. The tournament was sponsored by the American Tennis Association (ATA), the country’s Black tennis circuit. She went on to win the ATA junior championship in 1944 and 1945. In 1946, she was competing at the women’s level. Gibson dominated the ATA in the late-1940s and earned her high school diploma in June 1949.
After graduating from high school, she went to Florida A&M in Tallahasse, Fla., on an athletic scholarship. At FAMU, she played basketball and also kept her tennis skills sharp. The latter came in handy in 1950, when she got her first real opportunity to play big time tennis.
Possibly spurred on by an American Lawn Tennis editorial written by former tennis champ Alice Marble — an ardent Gibson backer and supporter of equal rights — the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) accepted Gibson’s application to play in that summer’s United States Championships (now known as the U.S. Open) in Forest Hills, N.Y. Gibson, the first African American ever to play that tournament, advanced to the second round. In 1951, she once again made history, becoming the first Black player to win Wimbledon.
In 1953, Gibson graduated from Florida A&M and took a job teaching physical education at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo. For the next few years, her USLTA ranking fluctuated. She mulled joining the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in order to support herself and her family. Still, she hadn’t forgotten about tennis.
At that time, coach Sydney Llewellyn began helping Gibson reshape her game. She also received support from friend Rosemary Darben, a player on the ATA circuit. Throughout the 1950s, Gibson stayed with the Darben family at their home in Montclair, N.J.
In 1955, Gibson received a fortuitous invitation from the State Department. She was asked to join a delegation of American tennis stars embarking on a public relations tour of Asia. The trip proved to be invaluable. She bonded with her fellow players and, in the process, gained confidence and on-court savvy.
Gibson built on the experience, stringing together an impressive run of victories in Asia and Europe. In 1956, Gibson captured the French Championships (now known as the French Open) in Paris and became the first African American of either gender to win one of the four major singles tournaments. Gibson also teamed up with Angela Buxton to win the doubles title. The victories were vital for Gibson, who was well aware of the burden she carried.
“No matter how hard I tried to think of myself as just another person, I was constantly being confronted with proof that I wasn’t, that I was a special sort of person — a Negro with a certain amount of international importance. It was pleasant to think about but very hard to live with,” Gibson wrote in “I Always Wanted to Be Somebody,” her autobiography. “It was a strain, always trying to say and do the right thing, so that I wouldn’t give people the wrong idea of what Negroes are like.”
Nevertheless, Gibson still earned a measure of stardom in the midst of the civil right movement. She achieved perhaps the most famous victory of her career on July 6, 1957, prevailing in the Wimbledon final in straight sets. After the victory, Gibson shouted, “At last! At last!” During the trophy ceremony, she was greeted by Queen Elizabeth II. When Gibson returned to New York, the city threw her a ticker-tape parade.
She garnered a lot of publicity. She landed on the cover of Time magazine in August. On Sept. 8, Gibson cruised to victory in the final of the U.S. Championships to win the tournament for the first time.
Gibson, the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1957 and 1958, had become the top-ranked player in the world. In 1958, she successfully defended her titles both at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Championships. She turned professional soon after, ending her amateur career with five major singles titles and six major doubles championships.
Gibson’s days as a competitive athlete were not over. In 1959 and 1960, she toured with the Harlem Globetrotters, playing before their games against fellow tennis star Karol Fageros. The multi-talented Gibson released an album in 1958 on The Ed Sullivan Show — also became the first African American to qualify for the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour. She played in several LPGA tournaments during the 1960s.
MELBOURNE, Australia — Venus Williams withdrew from the Australian Open on Monday, prolonging her absence from the tennis tour because of an autoimmune disease that can cause fatigue and joint pain.
The seven-time Grand Slam title winner announced on Twitter and her website that she wouldn't play in the year's first major tournament, which starts next week. She added, though, that she plans to be back in action next month.
Williams hasn't played competitively since Aug. 29 at the U.S. Open. Two days later, she pulled out of that tournament, revealing that she'd been diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome.
"I regret to announce that I am withdrawing from the 2012 Australian Open. After several months of training and treatment, I am making steady progress to top competitive form. My diet and fitness regimen have allowed me to make great strides in terms of my health and I am very close to being ready to return to WTA competition," Williams said in a posting on her website Monday. "I have every intention to return to the circuit in February."
The 31-year-old American is a former No. 1 who is 100th in this week's WTA rankings. She's dealt with a series of health problems, including a hip injury that forced her to withdraw from last year's Australian Open, and a left knee injury that kept her on the sideline between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2010.
Since reaching the semifinals at the 2010 U.S. Open, Williams has played only 11 matches.
After winning her opener at Flushing Meadows in August — which was Williams' first match in two months — she withdrew shortly before her second-round match there.
At that time, she described the way she'd been feeling this way: "It was just energy-sucking, and I just couldn't play pro tennis."
Her younger sister Serena, whose 13 Grand Slam titles include five at the Australian Open, badly sprained her left ankle at a tournament in Brisbane this month. It's not clear whether Serena will be able to play at the Australian Open. -- (AP)