Serena Williams celebrates winning a point win over Daria Gavrilova during a tuneup tournament ahead of the Australian Open Monday in Melbourne, Australia. Hamish Blair/Associated Press

Serena Williams restarted her lengthy quest for a 24th Grand Slam singles title with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Daria Gavrilova on Monday in a tuneup tournament at Melbourne Park.

There are six tournaments being staged this week to give players some chance at competitive tennis before the first major of the year starts next Monday. Williams is playing in the Yarra Valley Classic, along with top-ranked Ash Barty and defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.

The 39-year-old American and a seven-time Australian Open champion, Williams said she was “pushing the limits” just being fit enough to compete at Melbourne Park.

“I needed every time – I don’t think I would have been here if it was during the regular season,” she said. “So, whew, that was an unwanted blessing, I would say, but it was much needed for me. So I definitely took that time to recover and to just do the best that I can – and so now it’s a lot better.”

Williams played an exhibition match against Naomi Osaka in Adelaide last Friday in her first post-quarantine action.

SKIING

WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: Lara Gut-Behrami outclassed the field once again in a World Cup super-G on Monday at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, winning the last race before the world championships.

In a repeat of Saturday’s race on the same course, the Swiss skier had a clean run on the challenging Kandahar course and extended her lead at each split time before clinching her fourth straight victory in the discipline. Her winning streak comes on the back of an extended drought when she failed to win a World Cup super-G for three years.

Overall World Cup leader Petra Vlhova was the only racer to finish within seven-tenths of a second of Gut-Behrami’s time, coming in 0.28 behind in second for her first career podium in super-G.

Super-G world champion Mikaela Shiffrin sat out the speed races in Germany in order to train for the worlds.

BASKETBALL

WNBA: Diana Taurasi is staying in Phoenix while Alysha Clark is heading across the country to join the Washington Mystics.

Both signed on Monday, the first official day that WNBA free agents could officially ink deals.

The 38-year-old Taurasi has played her entire career with the Mercury and there was no real expectation she wouldn’t re-sign with the team that drafted her in 2004.

“As I’ve said before, as long as Diana wants to play in the WNBA, we want her in a Mercury uniform,” General Manager Jim Pitman said.

Clark helped the Seattle Storm win a title this past season, her second with the franchise. She’s coming off one of her best seasons, averaging 10 points, 2.7 assists and 1.5 steals and shot 55.8% from the field. Clark also led the WNBA in 3-point field goal percentage (52.2) for the second consecutive season.

SOCCER

MESSI CONTRACT: Barcelona defeated Athletic Bilbao 2-1 for its fifth straight Spanish league win on Sunday, moving up to second place in the standings for the first time this season. But the club’s focus was on trying to find out how – and why – Messi’s $673 million contract ended up being disclosed.

It is just the latest mess afflicting Barcelona, which has been mired in debt and political turmoil since last season, its first without a title in more than a decade.

“We have to try to find out how this got to the press,” Barcelona Coach Ronald Koeman said. “If someone from the club leaked this, that person can’t have a future in this club.”

The El Mundo newspaper gained access to the contract that Messi signed with the Catalan club in 2017. It included details of his fixed income and variables payments that could reach nearly $167 million for each of the four seasons it covered. Some saw its disclosure as an attempt to turn Barcelona’s fans against Messi, who last year had his request to leave the club denied but will be free to go at the end of this season.

Barcelona categorically denied any involvement in the leak and said it would take legal action against the newspaper “for any damage that may be caused as a result of this publication.”

FRANCE: French soccer’s latest attempt to replace a collapsed TV rights deal failed on Monday when bids on a new tender fell short.

The news will have depressed already-strained clubs who are facing severe financial hardship from empty stadiums during the coronavirus pandemic.

The French league said it received offers from American-owned Amazon, Discovery and DAZN to show matches from the top two divisions, but said all of the bids fell below the minimum required.

“Given that the reserve price has not been met, the consultations (bids) have been declared unsuccessful,” the league said in a statement on Monday. “The LFP gives itself 48 hours to define the next steps to take in the commercialization of its rights.”

Traditional broadcaster Canal Plus and beIN Sports, which has been showing French games for several years, were tellingly absent from the bidding process.

French soccer remains mired in financial uncertainty months after a huge broadcast rights deal with Mediapro fell through. What should have been worth more than $4.8 billion over four years for the top two leagues capsized after just four months.

FIFA: With 3,000 soccer players due to travel internationally for World Cup qualifying games next month, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on Monday all will conform to health rules in the coronavirus pandemic.

“We will certainly not take any risk for the health of anyone when we play football,” Infantino said in a World Health Organization news conference.

Delays in the 2022 World Cup qualifying program in most continents led FIFA last year to create new games dates next January. They will help make up the backlog in an increasingly tight schedule with broadcasting rights already sold.

In Asia, 40 national teams are due on March 25 to resume qualifying groups that last played in November 2019.

A total of 135 teams are due to play World Cup qualifiers next month, and 48 more have preliminary games for the 2022 African Cup of Nations.

Many of the players who return home for national duty play for clubs in Europe, including in England which is experiencing an aggressive new variant of COVID-19.


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