Ser­ena bat­tles back to oust Venus as sis­ters shape up for US Open

No quar­ter given as pair go toe to toe in 31st tour meet­ing Venus strug­gles to re­cap­ture serve that crushed Azarenka

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Si­mon Briggs TEN­NIS CORRESPOND­ENT

Ser­ena Wil­liams is the top seed at the Top Seed Open – an un­fa­mil­iar tour­na­ment staged at the most un­der­stated lo­cal club that these big-name play­ers will ever visit. She is also into the quar­ter-fi­nals, af­ter scor­ing a sweaty and sus­pense­ful 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 vic­tory over sis­ter Venus last night.

The 31st tour meet­ing be­tween Venus and Ser­ena was the first to be played with­out fans. Or was it? One ad­mirer was so des­per­ate to see her hero­ines that she lay flat on the ground be­hind the back fence of the Top Seed Club in Lex­ing­ton, Ken­tucky,

peek­ing through a tiny hole for a worm’s-eye view. Such con­tor­tions might have seemed ex­ces­sive dur­ing the sketchier mo­ments of this match, which saw both play­ers slip in and out of rhythm.

But there were also plenty of ven­omous ral­lies, played at break­neck pace, as well as the clos­est fin­ish to a Wil­liams-Wil­liams show­down for more than a decade.

“I have been los­ing a lot of these tight matches,” Ser­ena told the on­court in­ter­viewer. “I said, ‘I re­ally need to try to win this,’ just for my game and my con­fi­dence, so I just started to fo­cus. When there is no crowd, it kind of makes it su­per re­lax­ing. I have been prac­tis­ing in much hot­ter con­di­tions than this. But Venus played un­be­liev­able.”

Un­usu­ally for a match be­tween two of the best servers in the his­tory of women’s ten­nis, breaks were plen­ti­ful. Venus had an­nounced a shiny new ser­vice ac­tion with a thump­ing win over Vic­to­ria Azarenka on Wed­nes­day evening, but yes­ter­day she strug­gled to re­cap­ture the same flu­ency, send­ing down 11 dou­ble-faults.

Ser­ena had bet­ter statis­tics, land­ing 14 aces. But she, too, would _ reg­u­larly cede the ini­tia­tive by drop­ping serve just when ev­ery­thing looked to be set fair.

The crunch point came af­ter she had trailed 4-2 in the de­cider. When Venus served next, Ser­ena was down 40-15, but pulled out back-to­back re­turn win­ners, both lashed off the fore­hand.

Later, while per­form­ing a Zoom press con­fer­ence, she ex­pressed sur­prise when a re­porter asked her about her come­back. “I for­got I was down 2-4. That’s a good sign. I play bet­ter when I am not fo­cus­ing on the score,” she said.

For Ser­ena, the best news is that she will be able to play again to­day, thus squeez­ing in more match prac­tice as she builds to­wards a US Open that will lack up to a dozen of the world’s best play­ers.

“I want to get match-tough for New York,” said Ser­ena, when asked about her lock­down prepa­ra­tions. “I am re­ally low on ac­tual matches.”

Mean­while, Robert Ry­land, the first black pro­fes­sional ten­nis player and later a coach to Arthur Ashe and Ser­ena and Venus Wil­liams, has died aged 100.

Crunch time: Ser­ena Wil­liams un­leashes a back­hand en route to her vic­tory in three sets

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