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Fighting at 40: Older Fans Take Heart in Serena’s Success…

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Fighting at 40: Older Fans Take Heart in Serena’s Success…

NEW YORK (AP) — Imagine if they could bottle a potion called “Just Serena.”

That was Serena Williams’ succinct, smiling explanation for how she’d managed — at nearly 41, and match-rusty — to defeat the world’s second-ranked player and advance Wednesday to the third round of a U.S. Open that so far, doesn’t feel much like a farewell. “I’m just Serena,” she said, to roaring fans.

Clearly there’s only one Serena. But as superhuman as many found her achievement, some older fans in particular — middle-aged, or beyond — said they saw in Williams’ latest run a very human and relatable takeaway, too. Namely the idea that they, also, could perform better and longer than they once thought possible — through fitness, practice and grit.

“It makes me feel good about what I’m doing still at my age,” said Bess Brodsky Goldstein, 63, a lifelong tennis enthusiast who was attending the Open on Thursday, the day after Williams’ triumph over 26-year-old Anett Kontaveit.

Goldstein pursues her passion for the sport more vigorously than most women her age. She plays several times a week and participates in an age 55-and-up USTA mixed-doubles league in New England. (She also plays competitive golf.)

Yet Goldstein, like any athlete, suffers her share of aches and injuries, like a recent knee issue that set her back a few weeks. Watching Williams, she said, shows ordinary folks that injuries — or, in Williams’ case, a life-threatening childbirth experience five years ago — can be overcome. “She gives you inspiration that you can achieve your best, even in your early 60s,” said Goldstein, who also had high praise for Venus Williams, Serena’s older sister, competing this year at 42.

Evelyn David was also watching tennis at the Open on Thursday, And she, too, was thinking about the night before.

“Everybody is going, ‘WHOA!’” said David, who smilingly gave her age as “older than my 60s” and is the site director for New York Junior Tennis Learning, which works with children and teens. She cited the physicality of Williams’ play, and the role of fitness in today’s tennis. “The rigorous training that athletes go through now is different,” David said. “She’s going, ‘I’m not falling over. I can get to the ball.’”

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“A total inspiration,” David termed Williams’ performance — and she had some prominent company.

“Can I put something in perspective here?” former champion and ESPN commentator Chris Evert said during Wednesday’s broadcast. “This is a 40-year-old mother. It is blowing me away.”

Evert retired at age 34 in 1989, well before fitness and nutrition were the prominent factors in tennis they are now. They were even less so when pioneering player Billie Jean King, now 78, was in her heyday.

“For us older ones, it gives us hope and it’s fun,” King said Thursday in an interview about Williams. “Puts a pep in your step. Gives you energy.” She noted how fitness on the tour has changed since the 1960s and 1970s.

“We didn’t have the information and we didn’t have the money,” King said. “When people win a tournament now, they say, ‘Thank you to my team.’ They’re so lucky to have all those people. We didn’t even have a coach.”

Jessica Pegula, the No. 8 seed who won on Thursday, is at 28 a half-century younger than King. She knows well the difference fitness has made.

“It’s been a huge part of it,” she said. “Athletes, how they take care of their bodies, sports nutrition, the science behind training and nutrition — (it) has changed so much. Back in the day, you saw a player drinking a Coke on the sideline or they had a beer after their match. Now … health has been the No. 1 priority, whether it’s physical or mental.” She said she remembered thinking Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Williams were all going to retire, but “they kept pushing the boundaries.”

Federer, 41, hasn’t played since Wimbledon last year because of operations to his right knee, but has said he’ll try to play Wimbledon next year, shortly before his 42nd birthday. And Nadal, 36, known for his intense devotion to fitness, has won two Grand Slam titles this year to raise his total to a men’s-record 22. Nobody would be surprised if he won another major. In contrast, Jimmy Connors’ famous run to the 1991 semis of the U.S. Open when he was 39 was considered an event for the history books.

In the women’s game, a longtime pioneer for fitness was Martina Navratilova, who won her final Grand Slam title, the 2006 U.S. Open mixed doubles, at age 49.

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Of course, fitness is only one building block to greatness — in any sport. Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons, who like Pegula is 28, noted that even though it’s inspiring to see Williams keep an athletic advantage partly through preparation, “not everybody is Serena and Venus Williams. Maybe there’s some genes in there that not everybody else is blessed enough to have, but it’s still cool to know that, hey, even though she is genetically gifted, there are some things that she’s done that have helped her in a tremendous way prolong her career.”

Dr. Michael J. Joyner, who studies human performance at the Mayo Clinic, said Williams shares many traits with other superstar athletes including star quarterback Tom Brady (45 and famously un-retired ) who have enjoyed long careers.

“What you see with all of these people is they stay motivated, they’ve avoided catastrophic injury … or they’ve been able to come back because they’ve recovered,” he said. Also key: They live in “the modern era of sports medicine.”

The question, he asked, is can Williams perform at the same level every other day to win a whole tournament? He hopes so.

Williams fan Jamie Martin, who has worked in physical therapy since 1985 and owns a chain of clinics in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, said she’s seeing many women playing vigorous, competitive sports into middle age and beyond. Some return to their sport, or take up a new one, after years of focusing on work or family.

Williams’ pursuit of another U.S. Open title at 40 is a reminder that women can not only remain competitive longer, but can compete now for the joy of it, she notes.

“She’s really enjoying playing,” said Martin, 59. “That’s what’s fun to watch about it now.”

Brooklyn teacher Mwezi Pugh says both Williams sisters are great examples of living life on their own terms – which includes deciding how long they want to play.

“They are still following their own playbook,” said Pugh, 51. “‘Are you ready to retire yet, Serena?’ ‘I don’t like that word. I would rather say evolution.’ ‘Are you ready to retire, Venus?’ ‘Not today.’”

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“The older you are, the more you should be able to set up your life in the way you like, and what works best for you,” Pugh said. “That’s what the sisters are doing, and they are teaching all of us a lesson.”

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Associated Press writers Maryclaire Dale, Howard Fendrich and Arnie Stapleton contributed to this report.

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More AP coverage of U.S. Open tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/us-open-tennis-championships and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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