*Flushing, NY – The Wakanda squad … just kidding … the Americans (including our honorary Asian-American) of color have shed several hopefuls during the first two rounds of play in Flushing. But those who remain are those whom most would expect to: the Williams sisters, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys and Naomi Osaka.
To be fair to the fallen, its been rough out in these New York streets. Temperatures have soared to 100+ degrees on court causing unexpected upsets of top seeds (Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Andy Murray, Garbine Muguruza, etc), several early retirements, and spawning controversies that have reverberated around all of tennisdom and beyond.
As for the controversies, the USTA had to apologize for giving a female player a code violation warning for changing her shirt on court when she discovered it was on backwards, when the men can practically change their underwear out there without so much as a peep. In fact, the men have been known to elicit applause from the same actions. All feminist hell broke loose in the locker room and across social media.
Also, since the heat rule was in effect for both men and women (players get a 10-minute break between sets if the temperature reaches a certain point) a match between Andy Murray and Fernando Verdasco was suspended for the players to cool down, but during that period Verdasco was accused of strategizing with his coach. That’s a no no according to the rules. Andy Murray lost the match and made the incident “a thing” during his post match press conference, “I had to teach someone the f*cking rules,” he fumed.
Further, a player notorious for bobbing and weaving in and out of sanity during his matches, Nick Kyrgios, was allegedly given an unfair advantage by a chair umpire. Mohamed Lahyani, an umpiring veteran, came down from his post and gave Nick an impromptu pep talk in between games when he thought he “wasn’t himself.” After the chat, Nick – who was first losing – turned things around and won the match. Many of the players have cried foul and are calling for Lahyani’s head on a platter.
So, the heat has folks going stone crazy … but there are some great things going down at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, too.
When the draw first came out, fans were up in arms about Venus and Serena being drawn on the same side of tournament. That meant one would have to eliminate the other before reaching the finals. The kicker, though, was how early that would occur – in the 3rd round. But, they had to get there first.
Venus was seeded 16th and Serena 17th, which made it possible that they could meet early. And tennis players player tennis players, irrespective of their relationship … sister, brother, mother, whatever. They’re the oldest in the draw, with Serena still trying to find her game after returning from giving birth and Venus still managing her Sjogren’s disease. Who knew if they’d even get out of the starting blocks? We’re dealing with the Williams Sisters, though, and obstacles are their motivation.
Long story short, they both did what they needed to do to set up another historic “sister 2 sister” duel. Tournament brass loves it, TV partners love it and the fans are over the moon about it.
Here’s how they did it:
Venus Williams was up first on Armstrong, taking on Camila Giorgi, a feisty Italian who’s as nimble as a field mouse and can hit blazing winners from anywhere on the court. But Venus is no chopped liver with power and movement … she’s just 38 and it was 900 degrees out there. So, it was anybody’s match.
But Venus didn’t win seven Grand Slams on just looks. She knows how to play the game and use her strengths to expose her opponents’ weaknesses, which she did with Giorgi. She shuffled around the court most of the match as if she were gonna fall over dead … until just that right time to pounce. She was expert at conserving her energy and only came alive when she felt like she could win the games needed to win each set and it worked brilliantly. She closed the match in 2 sets, 6-4, 7-5.
She did her part; it was time for Serena to do hers.
Serena Williams hasn’t won the US Open since 2014, but she’s won it six times, making her the reigning queen of New York. So, any match she plays is gonna be on center court, inside Arthur Ashe stadium, and likely at night. That was the case on Wednesday and her opponent was Carina Withtoft (GER). According to the commentators, her opponent was “just as big and strong” as she was, BUT she didn’t have the tennis pedigree of the 23-time Grand Slam champion. Sure, Serena is still a little rusty, but she didn’t make it look that way, smothering the German out, 6-2, 6-2 in a lavender tutu. Her serves were firing, her ground game was sound and her roar was mighty during the victory.
Serena’s triumph set up yet another historic meeting between the legendary siblings.
It will be Venus and Serena’s 29th match against one another, 17 years after playing the first professional match to ever be broadcast live during prime time, men or women. And this forthcoming meeting is being featured during the 50th anniversary of the US Open. It’s milestone after milestone, after milestone for the two, which is not lost on the USTA or the fans.
“It’s early in the tournament, so both of us are going to be looking forward to continuing to play better,” Venus said of the upcoming match. “The last time we played there was an unfair advantage, it was two against one [laughs].”
Sloane Stephens, the girl with the target on her back this year (defending champion), also won her round two match on Ashe during Wednesday’s day session. She faced Ukranian, Anhelina Kalinina.
Sloane’s quest to defend her title made her a little weak in the knees to start the match and Kalinina initially took advantage. The Ukranian won the first set, then the two engaged in a dog fight. The American came to life and was determine not to go down in flames in the second. Sloane is a great defensive player and when her back is against the wall she knows how to defend her way out of it. She defended her way to the US Open title last year, so it’s never over with her until the big-boned lady sings.
After the defend champion took the second set just by a nose, she took advantage of the 10-minute heat rule to get her mind – and her stomach right. She ate a few Sushi rolls during play suspension then came out firing on all cylinders. Kalinini wilted and Sloane closed out the third set and the match, 6-4, 5-7, 2-6.
Her next opponent is Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.
Madison Keys got it done in straight sets over over fellow American Bernarda Pera, on Armstrong while Taylor Townsend and Frances Tiafoe were fighting for their tennis lives. She struggled a bit in the first set, trading lengthy service holds, but she finally squeaked by her tenacious opponent, 6-4. Once she got that first set under her belt, the nerves subsided and the free swinging commenced. Madison sailed to a final scoreline of 6-4, 6-1 and moved on to face diminutive Serbian, Aleksandra Krunic, in the third round.
Naomi Osaka also came out with her guns ablazing and easily blasted Julia Glushko of Israel off the court. The final score was 6-2,-6-0, a beatdown born in Japan, but made in New York.
Taylor Townsend bowed out of singles play on Thursday night. She was taken out by Latvian Jelena Ostapenko, a former French Open champion, on a packed outside court. Her credentials don’t hold a candle to the feisty 10th seed, but she earned some valuable stripes during the defeat. She took the first set in a dazzling display of steadiness and defense turned to offense, lost the second, but found the nerve to come back from a break down and almost take the decider. It wasn’t until the critical ninth game in the third that she dropped her serve and allowed Ostapenko to go up 5-4 and serve it out 6-4, 3-6, 4-6. She fought a great fight, but just couldn’t make it over the hump.
Frances Tiafoe was also overcome by his opponent, Alex De Minaur of Australia. Tiafoe was never really in the match to begin with, dropping the first two sets 4-6, 0-6, but found the temporary will to earn him the third, 7-5. The surge wouldn’t last, however, as he was broken straight out of the gate in the fourth and never recovered. De Minaur proved too much to handle – he was like a human backboard – and took the match 6-4, 6-0, 5-7, 6-2. It was Tiafoe’s first 2nd round appearance.
So, the usual suspects remain, the Williams Sisters, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys and newcomer Naomi Osaka (with an asterisks) to “colorfully” represent the USA. All are fully capable of being left standing with the trophy in the end, so if you’re into betting …
The Williams sisters showdown will air on ESPN tonight (8/31) at 7pm EST.
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