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POSTED September 7, 2013 2:15 a.m.

• SERENA BACK IN U.S. OPEN FINAL: NEW YORK (AP) — At the end, and only at the very end, did Serena Williams face anything resembling a challenge in her U.S. Open semifinal. Six times, Williams was a single point from winning. Six times, she failed to come through. All that did, of course, was delay the inevitable. On match point No. 7, Williams delivered a 107 mph service winner, then let out two shouts, a mixture of relief and rejoicing after a 6-0, 6-3 victory over fifth-seeded Li Na of China that put the defending champion back in the final at Flushing Meadows. “I got a little nervous,” said the No. 1-ranked Williams, who will face No. 2 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus on Sunday in a rematch of last year’s final, “but I was able to close it out, finally.” The 31-year-old American can become the first woman to win the U.S. Open without dropping a set since — yes, you guessed it — Williams herself in 2008. She also did it in 2002.

• HERNANDEZ PLEADS NOT GUILTY: FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge Friday 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.

• GORDON WINS POLE: 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 on Friday night to win his 73rd career pole position, and his first this season. “I can breathe now,” Gordon joked after seeing the time hold up. His lap pushed Kurt Busch to the outside of the front row, meaning the tension will be palpable once the green flag drops tonight for the 400-lap race. Busch is 10th in points, and the top 10 after tonight’s race earn automatic berths in the 10-race playoffs to finish the season. Gordon is 11th, six points behind.

• BOLT CLOSES SEASON WITH WIN: BRUSSELS (AP) — Usain Bolt closed out the season Friday with another win in the 100 meters, finishing in 9.80 seconds in the Memorial Van Damme. The time, sluggish by his stellar, world-record standards, confirmed what Bolt himself acknowledges: 2013 hasn’t been a vintage year for the world and Olympic champion. This year, Bolt’s fastest time was 9.77, which he ran in winning the world championships in August. That was still the Jamaican’s slowest season best-time since 2010, when his fastest was 9.82.

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