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Kenya doping loophole closer to being closed after another star fails test

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Kenya’s first WADA-approved drug-testing laboratory will be operational early next month, anti-doping authorities said Monday as they aim to close a loophole that some fear had allowed athletes from the East African distance-running powerhouse to beat controls for years.

The lab in the capital, Nairobi, will focus on blood analyses, although it will also be able to carry out other doping tests, the Athletics Integrity Unit said.

It is the first World Anti-Doping Agency-approved facility in East Africa, and the only one in Africa after South Africa’s lab had its accreditation revoked last year.

The AIU is the independent unit set up in 2017 to prosecute doping cases in international track and field. It funded the Kenyan lab with help from athletics governing body, the IAAF.

Previously, blood samples taken from Kenya’s world-beating distance runners had to be flown to South Africa or, more recently, Europe to be tested at an approved lab within 36 hours, a challenging race-against-time that led to the regular bending of anti-doping rules, as revealed by The Associated Press in 2016.

Blood doping is especially relevant in distance running, where Kenya has been a powerhouse for decades.

The new lab should stop athletes who train in remote regions in the high-altitude west of the country from being given prior warning of out-of-competition tests by sample collectors.

Out-of-competition checks are meant to be sprung on athletes by surprise.

But the time required to reach athletes and get samples to Nairobi and out of the country to an approved testing lab within the 36-hour limit had meant it became easier for officials to give a group notice a day before to gather at a specific place to be tested together.

Experts say, though, that drug cheats could use the advance notice to dilute their blood — either by drinking copious amounts of fluid or by infusing saline — and beat the test.

Brett Clothier, head of the AIU, alluded to that on Monday.

“From now on, the analyses of blood samples will be performed locally,” he said. “This will give us more efficiency, more responsiveness and less predictability.”

The AIU’s announcement came a day after it confirmed 2017 World 800m bronze medalist Kipyegon Bett of Kenya had failed a doping test.

Bett tested positive for the blood-booster EPO and the 800m runner, world junior champion in 2016, faces a four-year ban.

The 20-year-old athlete had already been suspended for evading a doping test. He is the fourth Kenyan to face doping charges in 2018.

The 2008 Olympic 1500m champion and three-time world champion Asbel Kiprop has been charged with using EPO, while women’s Olympic marathon winner Jemima Sumgong was banned for four years for EPO in November.

They are some of the latest cases that rebut Kenyan claims its top athletes are clean, and doping is confined to lesser-known runners.

The AIU said it collected more than 3,500 blood samples to test in 2017. It expects the new lab to handle between 800 and 1,000 a year from the East African region, including Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Eritrea.

The lab belongs to the Lancet healthcare group. It’s not a fully accredited WADA lab, but the world anti-doping organization allows a facility to handle tests for cost and geographic reasons as long as it meets criteria.

Kenya’s reputation has been seriously damaged by the upsurge in doping cases in recent years, which has been accompanied by multiple incidents of rule-breaking and corruption.

Kiprop revealed in May he received prior warning of his urine test. He also admitted to giving the doping control officer money for tipping him off.

Kiprop also faces a four-year ban. He was elevated to the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after Rashid Ramzi was stripped for doping.

Other Kenyans currently charged with doping include two-time Olympian Lucy Wangui (morphine) and 2017 Athens Marathon winner Samuel Kalalei (EPO).

Ruth Jebet, the Kenya-born Olympic 3000m steeplechase champion and world-record holder, was also suspended this year and charged with using EPO.

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Serena Williams into U.S. Open quarterfinals for 10th straight time

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NEW YORK — Serena Williams reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals in her 10th straight appearance, topping Estonian Kaia Kanepi 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 on Sunday.

Williams finished the first set in just 18 minutes and nearly rallied from two breaks down in the second.

“It wasn’t an easy match at all,” she said. “I was just happy to get through it, to be honest.”

Williams next gets former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, the last woman to beat her at the U.S. Open, in the semifinals in 2016.

“I know she has a big game, but I have a big game, too,” Pliskova said after her 6-4, 6-4 win over Australian Ash Barty on Sunday. “There is always a chance for me.”

Williams could then face defending U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens in the semifinals.

The 36-year-old is trying to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles with her seventh U.S. Open crown. She dropped her first set of the tournament Sunday, two days after routing sister Venus 6-1, 6-2 in the third round.

Williams played Sunday one day after daughter Olympia‘s first birthday. She missed the 2017 U.S. Open due to that pregnancy, which was followed by complications and multiple surgeries.

“I want [Olympia] to sleep in the bed with me every night,” Williams said. “I heard that’s an awful thing to do. We’re already best friends.”

Williams returned to tournament play in February. She returned to Grand Slam tennis at the French Open in May, withdrawing before a fourth-round match with Maria Sharapova due to a pectoral muscle injury.

Then in July, Williams was runner-up at Wimbledon to German Angelique Kerber.

She is ranked No. 26 after missing tournaments for maternity leave. She was bumped up to the No. 17 seed at the U.S. Open.

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Roger Federer rolls at U.S. Open with shot of the tournament around net

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NEW YORK — Roger Federer hit a shot so unbelievable that his U.S. Open opponent wanted to Instagram it.

The highlight of Federer’s 6-4, 6-1, 7-5 win over Nick Kyrgios in the third round was a third-set flick around the side net post that topped out at about a foot off the ground.

The winner caused the talented-but-unpredictable Aussie Kyrgios to raise his eyebrows, pop his eyes and drop his jaw.

“I was trying to tell him that the shot wasn’t that good,” Kyrgios said later, smiling. “I’m probably going to place it on Instagram.”

Federer, on course for a quarterfinal showdown with Novak Djokovic, put it among the most spectacular shots of his career.

“Yeah, I mean, it was definitely one of the more unique ones,” he said. “You don’t get an opportunity to hit around the net post very often, because in practice, you — I mean, you can’t really train them.”

The other memorable ones? Federer reeled them off.

“I definitely think it was a special one, no doubt about it,” Federer said of the Kyrgios shot. “I do believe the smash off the smash against Roddick was special just because it was way back in the court, as well. And then there was one more in Dubai against Agassi on break point. I was able to flick a ball. I still don’t know how I did it today. It went for a lob over him. I don’t know. It was just a massive point on top of it, and it was against Andre. And then the one through the legs here against Novak, just because of the magnitude of the shot, as well. I think it was 6-5, love-30. It was just also a big-time moment in the game, which obviously always matters, as well.”

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