Ser­ena joins No. 1 Osaka on way out of tourney

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY HOWARD FENDRICH As­so­ci­ated Press

Ser­ena Williams’ quest for a 24th Grand Slam ti­tle ended with her ear­li­est loss at a ma­jor tour­na­ment in five years.

Williams was out­played in the third round of the French Open by 20-yearold Amer­i­can Sofia Kenin, who used clean, deep ground­strokes to put to­gether the 6-2, 7-5 up­set Satur­day.

“In that first set, in par­tic­u­lar, she hit pretty much inches from the line, and I haven’t played any­one like that in a long time,” Williams said. “I just saw a player that was play­ing un­be­liev­able.”

It was the sec­ond sig­nif­i­cant sur­prise in a mat­ter of hours: Ear­lier in the day, No. 1 seed Naomi Osaka was elim­i­nated 6-4, 6-2 by 42nd-ranked Ka­te­rina Sini­akova of the Czech Repub­lic. That ended Osaka’s 16-match Grand Slam win­ning streak, which in­cluded ti­tles at the U.S. Open fi­nal in Septem­ber – when she beat Williams in the fi­nal – and at the Aus­tralian Open in Jan­uary.

Osaka was try­ing to be­come the first woman to win three con­sec­u­tive ma­jor tro­phies since Williams grabbed four in a row in 2014-15, a run that was pre­ceded by a sec­on­dround loss at Roland Gar­ros and a third-round loss at Wim­ble­don.

Since those early-for-her de­feats, Williams had won six of the 14 ma­jors she en­tered to sur­pass St­effi Graf’s pro­fes­sional-era record of 22 Grand Slam sin­gles cham­pi­onships. With 23, Williams stands one away from Mar­garet Court’s mark for the most in ten­nis his­tory; Court played in both the pro­fes­sional and ama­teur eras.

Williams, who is 37, sat out four Slams in 2017-18 while she was off the tour to have a baby. Her first ma­jor tour­na­ment back was last year’s French Open, where she with­drew be­fore a fourth-round match be­cause of a chest mus­cle in­jury. She went on to reach the fi­nals of Wim­ble­don and the U.S. Open, be­fore wast­ing match points dur­ing a quar­ter­fi­nal loss at the Aus­tralian Open.

Williams came to Paris hav­ing played only four matches since then; she with­drew from two tour­na­ments be­cause of an in­jured left knee and an­other be­cause of ill­ness.

Williams had said she con­sid­ered not en­ter­ing the French Open at all.

“I’m glad I came, at the end of the day,” she said, “but it’s been a re­ally gru­el­ing sea­son for me.”

She strug­gled through her open­ing match at the French Open, which she has won three times, and again against the 35thranked Kenin, who never be­fore had made it to the round of 16 at a ma­jor.

But Kenin played quite well, never show­ing a trace of nerves. It was Williams whose strokes were off tar­get: Her 34 un­forced er­rors were twice as many as Kenin’s to­tal.

Re­mark­ably, Kenin broke Williams four times, while only ced­ing one of her own ser­vice games.

“Just play­ing against Ser­ena, you’ve re­ally got to fight for ev­ery point,” Kenin said. “She’s such a tough player. I’m just so happy with this win.”

And then, her voice chok­ing on her words, Kenin added: “Ob­vi­ously, you can tell, with my emo­tions.”

Af­ter trail­ing 3-1 in the sec­ond set, Williams ap­peared to be get­ting back into the match, break­ing back and then hold­ing for a 4-3 lead with the help of three aces. Af­ter two of them, Williams stared down Kenin, who had ques­tioned a call ear­lier in that game.

At 5-all, though, Kenin got the last break she’d need with a fore­hand re­turn win­ner off a 102 mph (164 kph) serve. She ran to her side­line seat and pressed a towel against her face.

There was one last key mo­ment: While serv­ing for the vic­tory, Kenin faced a break point, but Williams’ mis­cue let it go by. One last er­ror by Williams – a back­hand that sailed long – ended things.

Like Williams, who dropped eight of the match’s first 10 games, Osaka couldn’t muster a come­back af­ter fall­ing way be­hind.

“I just feel like there has been a weight on me, kind of,” said Osaka, who was seeded No. 1 at a ma­jor tour­na­ment for the first time.

She fell be­hind by a set and a break in ev­ery match at Roland Gar­ros.

“I could see,” Sini­akova said, “that she’s not so con­fi­dent like she was.”

Osaka said Satur­day she felt tired and was deal­ing with a headache.

Sini­akova never had reached the fourth round in sin­gles in 18 pre­vi­ous Slam ap­pear­ances. She is bet­ter known for her dou­bles suc­cess, win­ning cham­pi­onships at the French Open and Wim­ble­don last year and top­ping the rank­ings.

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