The return of dominant Serena Williams

Maria Sharapova played second fiddle to Williams effectively after Azarenka was laid low by injury in 2014. But now Sharapova is getting her hits mostly on social media. She posts beach and fashionista pictures as she awaits her hearing following a failed drug test.

Angelique Kerber’s lifelong dream came true when she won a Grand Slam title in Australia in February. The accomplishment complicated Williams’ life, but not as much as Kerber’s. She’s ranked No. 2 and had a nice win at home in Germany at Stuttgart a few weeks ago. But Kerber took first-round losses in Madrid and Rome since then and hasn’t come to grips with the pressure that comes with her newfound status.

As for Agnieszka Radwanska, Garbine Muguruza and No. 5 Simona Halep, the winner at a depleted Madrid event last week, and Petra Kvitova, we really don’t know what to expect. Absent an effective Williams, any of them could win the French Open — or fall in the first round.

The most intriguing name outside Williams is Azarenka, who had been a model of consistency. The virtue was ruined by her string of injuries the past couple of seasons. All seemed well once again this year, and true to form, Azarenka hit the ground running. She won Brisbane, Indian Wells and Miami. She has lost just one completed match this year, which came against Kerber in the Australian Open quarterfinals. Azarenka got payback in the Miami semifinals.

Williams has reason to be wary of Azarenka. The Belarussian respects Williams and knows how to turn that regard into a full assault. There’s a theory out there that Azarenka isn’t really comfortable on clay. The French Open is undeniably her least productive tournament, although she denies that she struggles on dirt.

This is all true for Williams, too. She doesn’t want that kind of talk getting out of hand, though, or giving anyone ideas.

“Honestly, clay has always been one of my favorite surfaces,” Williams said at her news conference after the Rome semifinals. “I love it way more than grass. Always have. For whatever reason, I have six Wimbledons and just three French. So I had that long hiatus of over 10 years, I think.

“I don’t know what happened. I blanked out for 10 years or so, 11 years.”

The tricky thing is that clay has to love you back. It has done so in Williams’ case twice in the past three years. But each of those successful years has been more demanding — and more significant in terms of Williams’ legacy as she hunts for those two elusive Grand Slam titles that would leave her the Open era singles champion.

“The last three, four rounds were extremely difficult for me,” Williams said of her French Open title-run last season. “Honestly, I don’t even know the words for it. I mean, ‘courage’ is beyond anything I could describe. So, yeah, it was just honestly just a miracle.”

Can another “miracle” happen? After what we saw in Rome, why not?

Jason Day wanted to win The Players Championship so badly that he wasn’t going to let anything stop him.

Not the super slick greens that nearly derailed him Saturday. Not the three muffed chips that turned potential birdie into an unsettling bogey as he made the turn Sunday. Certainly not the best field in golf.

With another commanding performance, Day put his stamp on No. 1 in the world by never letting anyone closer than two shots in the final round, playing bogey-free on the back nine of the TPC Sawgrass for the fourth straight day and closing with a 1-under 71 for a wire-to-wire victory.

It was his seventh title in the past 10 months. The 28-year-old Australian wants to win a lot more.

Next up: LeBron James, who hasn’t missed the NBA finals since “The Decision,” and the heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers.

“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Lowry said of making it this far. “It’s too early to even think about it. But to be honest I’ll sit back and relax and talk to DeMar [DeRozan] about it because it’s funny to think about where we were four years ago to where we are now. It’s pretty cool.

“Everybody’s probably a little bit more excited than I am, though, because I want more. I’m at that point where I just really want to keep playing and growing. I’m confident in our team and what we can do. I’m more confident in that than anything.”

After a seven-point performance in Game 1 against the Heat that prompted him to put on a hoodie and shoot until 1:15 a.m. ET, Lowry’s playoff averages stood at 13 points on 30.6 percent shooting — the worst percentage for any player in 50 years. He admitted he wasn’t himself mentally, and physically he had been bothered by a sore right elbow since late March.

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