Mother knows best: Serena opts out of Aussie title defense

This file photo taken on January 28, 2017 shows Serena Williams of the US holding up the winner's trophy following her victory over Venus Williams of the US in the women's singles final at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. (AFP)
Updated 05 January 2018
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Mother knows best: Serena opts out of Aussie title defense

SYDNEY: Serena Williams’ decision whether to defend her Australian Open title four months after giving birth to her first child was never about merely being able to play at Melbourne Park.
The seven-time Australian Open champion confirmed Friday she wouldn’t attempt to defend the title she won here last year, saying she wasn’t convinced she could win it.
Williams played in an exhibition tournament last weekend in Abu Dhabi to test her match condition, and indicated after her loss to French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko that she might not travel to Melbourne.
“After competing in Abu Dhabi I realized that although I am super close, I’m not where I personally want to be,” Williams said in a statement Friday. “My coach and team always said ‘Only go to tournaments when you are prepared to go all the way.’ I can compete — but I don’t want to just compete, I want to do far better than that and to do so, I will need a little more time.
“With that being said, and even though I am disappointed about it, I’ve decided not to compete in the Australian Open this year.”
Williams was pregnant when she won at Melbourne Park last year, her Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam singles title. She gave birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia, in September.
The 36-year-old Williams needs only one more major title to equal the all-time record held by Margaret Court, who won 13 of her 24 Grand Slam titles before the Open era began in 1968.
Three women have won returned after having babies to win Grand Slam singles titles in the Open era, including Court and fellow Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who won the 1977 Australian Open seven months after giving birth to daughter, Kelly, and added her second Wimbledon title in 1980.

Kim Clijsters returned from retirement after having a daughter, Jada Elle, in February 2008, and won the 2009 US Open in her third tournament back.
Williams’ withdrawal came less than 24 hours after fellow former world No. 1 Andy Murray withdrew from the men’s event with a chronic hip injury.
Other star players, including top-ranked Rafael Nadal, six-time champion Novak Djokovic and 2014 winner Stan Wawrinka, also are dealing with injuries.
Williams last year beat older sister Venus in the final. In terms of total years, it was the oldest Grand Slam women’s final in the Open era — Williams sisters combining for 71 years, 11 months.
Venus has returned and is playing in Sydney next week to prepare for the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 15.
Serena will sit one out, but is promising to return in future.
“The memory of last year’s Open is one that I will carry with me, and Olympia and I look forward to coming back again,” she said. “I appreciate the support and understanding of my fans and everyone at the Australian Open.”
Tournament director Craig Tiley said Serena Williams waited as long as she could before letting organizers know she wouldn’t be able to compete.
“I’ve been in constant contact with Serena and her team and know this is why she has pushed it and pushed it until the 11th hour to make her final decision,” he said. Organizers later announced that French Open semifinalist Timea Bacsinszky had also withdrawn after failing to recover in time following surgery on her right hand in September.
With Serena Williams out, the women’s singles title at Melbourne appears to be wide open. No. 1-ranked Simona Halep and No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki are bidding to win their first Grand Slam singles titles.
Also in the mix will be No. 2-ranked Garbine Muguruza, last year’s Wimbledon winner, US Open champion Sloane Stevens and Venus Williams, who will be aiming to win her eighth major singles title at the age of 37.


Godolphin happy with Thunder Snow ahead of Dubai World Cup defense

Updated 25 March 2019
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Godolphin happy with Thunder Snow ahead of Dubai World Cup defense

  • Five-year old bidding to become first horse to win back-to-back Dubai World Cups.
  • $12 million race takes place at Meydan on Saturday.

LONDON: Thunder Snow is preparing well as he bids to become the first horse to win back-to-back Dubai World Cups, according to Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
The five-year-old memorably won the showcase $12 million race at Meydan by five and three-quarter lengths, winning in a track record time last year. He returned to the track on Super Saturday two weeks ago, finishing second in the Group 1 Al-Maktoum Challenge Round Three.
And Godolphin are expecting big things from him in the famous race. Bin Suroor, the most successful handler in the history of the 2000m dirt feature with eight winners to his name, is feeling confident.
“He did his final serious piece of work on Saturday and went very well indeed,” the Godolphin trainer said. “He needed his Super Saturday outing — his first run since November — badly and has come on a lot for it. We expect him to run a big race under conditions we know suit him, but obviously it is a good race.”
Thunder Snow has already made history as the only horse to win both the Group 2 UAE Derby and Group 1 Dubai World Cup, but if he is to win this Saturday then he will be revered for years to come.
One of his big rivals in the race will be Yoshida. Trained by Bill Mott he arrived in Dubai on March 19 in preparation for the cash-rich race. The Japanese-bred son of Heart’s Cry landed in the Emirate off a sixth-place finish in the inaugural Group 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational at Gulfstream Park.
He won the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, as well as the prestigious Woodward at Saratoga last year and Riley Mott, assistant to his father Bob, said Yoshida is looking good ahead of the big race.
“He’s settled in really well,” he said. “He traveled great and we’re very happy with him. The facilities here are top class. This is my seventh time over here and we’re treated very well.”
Yoshida went out just after 7:00 a.m. in Monday to stretch his legs over the famous dirt track.
“He just had a routine gallop this morning and we let him stand in the gate. Nothing too serious,” Mott said.
Jose Ortiz, who has piloted Yoshida though his last two starts and was aboard for the Grade 1 score at Churchill Downs, will make his first appearance in Dubai. Mott said he expects Ortiz, who guided Yoshida to a closing fourth-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, will have plenty of options in the 2000m race.
“It sounds like there’s a lot of pace from the local horses, but we have a horse that’s pretty versatile in the way he runs,” Mott said. “He’s able to adapt to the pace scenario. It’s just a matter of how the race develops in front of him.”