No fans, no problem as Serena wins on return

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Updated 12 August 2020

No fans, no problem as Serena wins on return

  • The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion looked to be flirting with an early exit in the second set

LOS ANGELES: Serena Williams shrugged off the absence of fans to make a winning return from her six-month coronavirus layoff on Tuesday, defeating lowly ranked Bernarda Pera in three sets at the WTA Top Seed Open tournament in Kentucky.

Williams, who before Tuesday had not played a competitive game since a Fed Cup appearance in February, came from behind to defeat American world No. 60 Pera 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in two hours and 15 minutes at the Top Seed Tennis Club in Lexington.

The former world No. 1’s first round victory played out to an empty arena. This week’s tournament — the first WTA event in the US since the COVID-19 pandemic — is taking place without spectators.

Williams, 38, later revealed that the sedate surroundings had suited her game.

“It was a really calm atmosphere, it was really chill,” Williams said.

“I can’t say I disliked it. I didn’t mind it at all. I’ve been through so many things in my career and this was totally different. I think I won today because I was calm for once in my career.

“Kind of reminds me of junior days. Something nostalgic about that. I kind of enjoyed it.”

The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion looked to be flirting with an early exit in the second set, but recovered from 0-40 down at 4-4 before holding and eventually winning the set.

“I just knew I could do better,” Williams said. “It was an interesting game. I just had to get used to her game a little bit. She played really well.”

Williams will now play either sister Venus or Victoria Azarenka in the second round.

Pera had seized an early advantage in the first set, breaking Williams to take a 3-2 lead before holding for the remainder of the set to win 6-4.

Williams was soon in trouble on her service game in the second set, falling 0-40 in the opening game before battling back to hold.

Williams moved into a 3-1 lead with a break of Pera’s serve in the fourth game, but her Croatia-born opponent hit back immediately with a break of her own before holding to level at 3-3.

With the next two games going to serve, Williams looked to be in trouble after falling 0-40 down in the ninth game. But she dug deep to hold for a 5-4 lead and then broke for the set when Pera sent a forehand return wide.

The momentum spilled into the deciding set, and another misdirected forehand from Pera handed Williams a break to move into a 3-1 lead.

Another break took her into a 5-1 lead and she closed out the win by holding to love, wrapping up victory with a cross-court forehand that left Pera stranded.

This week’s WTA tournament is the first to be staged in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the tennis season earlier this year.


Heat oust Celtics, face Lakers for NBA title

Updated 28 September 2020

Heat oust Celtics, face Lakers for NBA title

  • The Heat are the only NBA franchise with six Finals appearances in the last 15 years
  • Game 1 of the Heat-Lakers best-of-seven series is on Wednesday night

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida: It was exactly one year ago Sunday when Jimmy Butler walked into the Miami Heat practice gym, took a seat on a makeshift stage and said he wanted to be part of the team’s next title run.
He’ll have that chance.
The Heat are going to the NBA Finals — surprising many, perhaps, but not themselves. Bam Adebayo scored a season-high 32 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, Butler scored 22 points and the Heat won the Eastern Conference finals for the sixth time by topping the Boston Celtics 125-113 on Sunday night.
“This group, more than anything, they just love to compete,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said during the trophy celebration.
The Heat won the series 4-2 — and now, they’ll see LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers for the title. Game 1 of that series is Wednesday night.
Tyler Herro scored 19 points, Duncan Robinson and Andre Iguodala each had 15 and Goran Dragic added 13 for the Heat.
Jaylen Brown scored 26 points, Jayson Tatum had 24 and a career-high 11 assists, and Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker each scored 20 points for Boston — which fell in the East finals for the third time in the last four seasons.
Miami was down by six early in the fourth before regaining control. A 6-0 burst — Herro had the last five of those points, needing only 31 seconds to do so — tied it at 96. Boston took the lead twice more, with Adebayo answering both times, first with a dunk, then a go-ahead three-point play with 6:16 left.
He smacked the floor in celebration.
It’s like they knew what was coming. They never trailed again. Herro had a pair of baskets in a 9-0 burst that put the Heat up by 10, Adebayo found Butler for a layup and a 116-102 lead everyone on the Heat bench was on their feet.
The Heat are the only NBA franchise with six Finals appearances in the last 15 years. They’re seeking their fourth title, and this chance didn’t come easily.
The Heat had a 5-for-5 stretch from 3-point range in the first quarter, but otherwise struggled again from beyond the arc in the first half. They were 6 for 14 from deep in the first 24 minutes, Boston was 11 for 23 before the break and the Heat took a 62-60 lead into halftime.
And the margin remained two going into the fourth.
Iguodala’s fourth 3-pointer — in as many attempts — with 4:20 left in the third put the Heat up eight, before Brown had five points in a 10-2 Boston spurt to tie it. Dragic had a go-ahead layup on Miami’s final shot of the quarter and it was 88-86 Heat with 12 minutes remaining.
The Celtics scored 10 of the first 12 points of the fourth, surviving a scare in there as well when Brown took an ugly fall after scoring in transition. Brown thought Butler took him out at the legs, no foul was called and — after the Celtics’ medical staff checked out his left knee — Brown stayed in.

TIP-INS
Celtics: Tatum took 15 shots in the first half, the first time in his 270-game career that he’s done that. He had taken 14 on four other occasions. ... Tatum’s top four assist-total games of his career have come in the bubble.
Heat: The Heat are now guaranteed no less than $4,399,686 for their playoff share, and that number would rise to $5,791,041 if they win the title. ... Udonis Haslem is the only player to be on all six Heat teams that have made the finals.

WALKER VS. HEAT
Walker has been to the playoffs three times, and his team has been eliminated by Miami in all three of those appearances — with three different nicknames. Charlotte was still the Bobcats when the Heat swept them in the 2014 first round, the Heat rallied to beat Charlotte’s then-rebranded Hornets in seven games in the 2016 first round, and now this win over the Celtics.

CROSS-SPORT SUPPORT
The Celtics and Heat were getting some support from afar before Game 6. Celtics coach Brad Stevens was pleased to hear video of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick signing off from his postgame news conference Sunday by saying “good luck to Brad and the Celtics tonight. We’ll be pulling for them.” And at the Miami Marlins’ regular season finale, outfielder Lewis Brinson had a Butler jersey (in the popular Heat ‘Vice’ theme) underneath his game jersey.