Friday's Sports In Brief - NBC Sports

Friday's Sports In Brief
September 7, 2013, 4:39 am

TENNIS

NEW YORK (AP) Serena Williams was cruising along in the U.S. Open semifinals, serving up another bagel, when, out of nowhere, a competitive tennis match broke out. Didn't last long, though.

The defending champion won the first seven games her semifinal against fifth-seeded Li Na, then actually fell down a break early in the second set, before quickly regaining it on the way to a 6-0, 6-3 victory.

The day's only drama came in the second-to-last game - an affair that went eight deuces and lasted 13 minutes, 49 seconds. Li saved six match points, but it only delayed the inevitable. Williams dropped two points in the next game, but ended it and let out a long, celebratory scream after a 107 mph service winner.

The victory set up a rematch of last year's final against Victoria Azarenka, who beat 83rd-ranked Flavia Pennetta 6-4, 6-2 in the earlier semifinal. Azarenka won a push-fest against Pennetta, winning despite serving six double-faults as part of her 25 unforced errors, against only 15 winners. There were only five service holds over 18 games, though Azarenka got four of them.

AUTO RACING

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Jeff Gordon will try to race his way into NASCAR's playoffs from the pole position.

The four-time series champion turned a track-record qualifying lap of 130.599 mph at Richmond International Raceway to win his 73rd career pole position, and his first this season. His lap pushed Kurt Busch to the outside of the front row, meaning the tension win be palpable once the green flag drops Saturday night for the 400-lap race around the 0.75-mile, D-shaped oval.

Busch is 10th in points, and the top 10 after the race earn automatic berths in the 10-race playoffs to finish the season. Gordon is 11th, six points behind, and needs to pass Busch or one of the other drivers now in the top 10 to assure himself a berth in the Chase for the championship. In all, 10 drivers are fighting for the last five spots.

PRO FOOTBALL

FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) - Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge following his indictment in the killing of a friend authorities say was shot five times in an industrial park.

Hernandez firmly answered "not guilty" to six charges, including murder and weapons and ammunition possession charges. His attorneys agreed ahead of the hearing that Hernandez, 23, will continue to be held without bail, but reserved the right to request bail later. The next court hearing was set for Oct. 9.

Defense attorney Charles Rankin said outside the courthouse that Hernandez's legal team is confident the ex-Patriot will be exonerated during a trial.

BASKETBALL

STORRS, Conn. (AP) - Geno Auriemma is thrilled to be headed to Rio.

After months of denying his interest in coaching the U.S. national team, Auriemma will return for an unprecedented second term as the women's basketball Olympic team head coach. He was introduced at a news conference in Connecticut and will guide the Americans towards the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

He'll be the first repeat coach for the U.S. women's team, which has won five consecutive gold medals at the Olympics. Mike Krzyzewski decided in May he would return to coach the men a third time.

NEW YORK (AP) - New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith was suspended without pay for five regular-season games by the NBA for violating the anti-drug program.

Smith, coming off offseason surgery on his left knee, will sit out the first five games for which he is eligible and physically able to play. Smith had patella tendon surgery and arthroscopy that will keep him from joining the Knicks when they open training camp late this month.

Smith won the Sixth Man of the Year award last season and helped shoot the Knicks into the playoffs before struggling in the postseason. He averaged 18.1 points during the regular season.

GOLF

DAVIDSON, N.C. (AP) - England's Greg Owen shot a 6-under 66 to take the second-round lead in the Chiquita Classic, the second tournament in the four event Web.com Tour Finals series.

The 41-year-old Owen, the winner of the European Tour's 2003 British Masters, had an eagle, seven birdies and three bogeys at River Run. He had an 8-under 136 total.

The bulk of the field is made up of players in the top 75 on the Web.com Tour money list and Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings. The top 25 on the Web.com money list are assured PGA Tour cards, while the other players are fighting for 25 additional cards.

Colombia's Camilo Benedetti was a stroke back along with Kris Blanks, Andrew Svoboda and Will MacKenzie. Benedetti and Blanks shot 67, Svoboda had a 65, and MacKenzie a 68.

SAINTE-JULIE, Quebec (AP) - Dick Mast took the first-round lead in the Champions Tour's Montreal Championship, shooting a 3-under 69 in windy conditions on La Vallee du Richelieu's difficult Rouville Course.

The 62-year-old Mast, winless on the 50-and-over tour, had five birdies and two bogeys.

Kenny Perry, the Senior Players Championship and U.S. Senior Open winner in consecutive tour starts this summer, opened with a 70 on the tree-lined layout. Bernhard Langer was another stroke back along with Mark Brooks, Mike Reid, Tom Pernice Jr. and David Frost.

Mark Calcavecchia, the winner last year on the adjacent Vercheres layout, had a 74. He missed the tour's previous two events because of back problems.

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