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Serena Williams cruises into final

Serena Williams, who needed nearly a year to recover from surgery, is putting her best foot forward again and playing like a champion.

Williams moved into the final of the Bank of the West Classic with an impressive 6-1, 6-2 victory over Germany’s Sabine Lisicki on Saturday night at Palo Alto.

It’s her first appearance in a final since winning the title at Wimbledon last year and her first final on American soil since losing to Victoria Azarenka in Miami in March 2009.

The unseeded and 169th-ranked Williams will meet third-seeded and ninth-ranked Marion Bartoli of France, who advanced when Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova withdrew from the other semifinal because of a strained abdominal muscle.

Top-seeded Shahar Peer advanced to the final of the Citi Open by defeating third-seeded Tamira Paszek of Austria, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4, in a match that went more than three hours at College Park, Md.

In the other semifinal match, second-seeded Nadia Petrova of Russia beat American Irina Falconi, 1-6, 6-1, 6-3.

Fernando Verdasco defeated top-seeded Nicolas Almagro, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (2), 6-3, to set up an all-Spanish final against Marcel Granollers in the Swiss Open at Gstaad.

The fourth-seeded Verdasco is seeking his first title of the season. Almagro beat two opponents Friday to reach the semifinals of a rain-delayed event.

The eighth-seeded Granollers defeated Mikhail Youzhny, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, for his first victory against the Russian.

Marin Cilic defeated Fabio Fognini of Italy, 6-2, 6-2, to advance to the Croatia Open final against Ukraine’s Aleksandr Dolgopolov at Umag.

The fourth-seeded Cilic dropped serve only once in the match.

In the other semifinal Saturday, the second-seeded Dolgopolov beat Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain, 6-4, 6-4.

ETC.

Duke investigates possible violation

Duke is investigating whether an NCAA recruiting rule was violated when Coach Mike Krzyzewski reportedly offered a scholarship to a recruit during a summer tournament.

Forward Alex Poythress told CBSSports.com that Krzyzewski spoke to him last week while he was in Orlando, Fla., for a tournament with his AAU team, the Georgia Stars, and offered him a scholarship.

NCAA rules prevent coaches from contacting recruits before they are finished playing in tournaments.

Duke spokesman Jon Jackson said in a statement that the school is gathering facts and that “proper adherence to NCAA bylaws has always been, and will continue to be, a cornerstone of Duke Athletics.”

Poythress is a 6-foot-7 forward from Clarksville, Tenn. He is considered one of the nation’s top high school seniors.

Illinois football Coach Ron Zook said junior linebacker Ashante Williams was suspended indefinitely following a violation of team rules.

No additional details about the suspension were immediately available.

Spokesman Kent Brown said the university wouldn’t comment any further on the violation.

Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull, the Formula One points leader, won the pole position for the Hungarian Grand Prix at Budapest with a time of 1 minute 19.815 seconds on his last lap.

John Force became NHRA’s career leader in No. 1 qualifying positions when he raced to the top spot in funny at the FRAM/Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif.

Force claimed his fifth No. 1 of the season and 139th of his career, which broke a tie with pro stock great Warren Johnson for the most top qualifying positions. Force took the top spot with a performance of 4.060 seconds at a top speed of 311.99 mph in his Ford Mustang.

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