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
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