*Flushing NY – It was a rainy day in the big apple (several matches suspended or canceled), but it didn’t stop the marquee matches scheduled for the day at the 2019 US Open. There are now two roof-covered stadiums, Ashe and Armstrong, and otherwise displaced fans piled in to catch some superstar action, including Serena Williams, Venus Williams, and Madison Keys.
The three high profile American ladies were all competing for a spot in the third round.
Venus Williams, the sentimental favorite, was first up to bat for her chance to advance. She was up against 5th ranked Elina Svitolina of the Ukrane. It was known that the match would be tricky, because their head to head was 2-1 in favor of the Ukrainian. Venus Williams is never scared, however, and she tends to put a little extra magic on her play at home at the US Open. They’ve never played each other at the tournament, so it was still anyone’s match.
It was chilly inside Armstrong and Venus came out flat as a pancake. She dropped her first service game without winning a point. She shook it off and pushed Svitolina to 30-all in the next game, but was unable to hold the Ukrainian back from consolidating her early break. The 39-year-old’s next service game was easier, but she then had the task of digging herself out of the hole she’d already dug.
She finally earned a breakpoint in the third game, but squandered it with an unforced error. Svitolina went up, 3-1. Venus then created a little more trouble for herself in her next service game, but dug herself out for 2-3. Svitolina next held for 4-2 and Venus dug herself even deeper into that hole she had started … she got broken again with unforced errors for 2-5. She showed flashes of her all-court game to snatch one break back for 3-5, but the battle was still uphill. Svitolina quickly earned two break-back and set points in the next game, but Venus’s inspired play got her out of trouble and she held for 4-5. The Ukrainian was held just steady enough to serve out the set, however.
It was 1-0, Svitolina.
After the break, Venus made use of the momentum she gained at the end of the first set and managed an early break of the Svitolina serve … then she fought for her life to hold and extend her lead to 3-0. But, another wobble or two cost her the lead and Svitolina leveled the match for 3-all. The Ukraine train ran away from there. Venus lost control of her serve and Svitolina made her pay for it. They played a grueling 16-minute game at 5-3, with Venus on serve and finally holding, but it depleted the American’s tank. The Russian was just too steady and spry to fold. It was hard-fought, but the Ukrainian relied on those attributes and prevailed, 6-4, 6-4.
“She always plays really well against me,” Venus said. “Yeah, I mean, today was a great match. It was well-contested and it was great to have the crowd behind me. It was just a really magical atmosphere.”
“I did a lot of things right today. A lot of great things to build on.”
Forever the enthusiast and optimist, she appears headstrong and determined to stay in the sport for a long time to come.
Madison Keys took to the court next, after Venus had thoroughly warmed it up for her. She was facing Lin Zhu of China (world no. 122) for the first time. She showed up on the grounds in Flushing with a new lease on her game and was ready to go, so there was never really any doubt about the outcome. The former finalist knows how to win in New York, so she had the perfect setup to easily notch a second-round win and get one step closer to avenging her 2017 finals loss … and she got it done with very little sweat.
The world no. 9 started out by dropping serve, but that could be chalked up to jitters. She didn’t panic and it wasn’t long after that she wrested control of the match by getting the break back, then ran away with it, winning 6-4, 6-1. She was too much for the Chinese and shut her out with thumping serves and blistering groundstrokes.
“ I think I maybe started a little bit slow,” Madison said after the match. “I think some of that was just getting used to her and how she was playing. But I feel like after I got broken in the first set, I feel like I played some really good tennis. I was really happy with my performance today.”
Her next opponent is either the dangerous American, Sofia Kenin or Germany’s Laura
Serena Williams took on Queen of the Night duties on Wednesday and played the last match scheduled for Ashe. She was paired against compatriot qualifier, Catherine McNally. Serena typically starts slow and plays her way into tournaments, but after making quick work of Maria Sharapova on Monday night, she was more likely to take the court with focus and her game already fine-tuned.
Both ladies started out with a hold of serve and had to begin the work of figuring each other out. Serena noticeably retired the bodysuit, which was likely for the express purpose putting an unencumbered whipping on Maria Sharapova. Fan support was still gonna favor Serena, although Mcnally got her fair share, being a compatriot. Katy is close friends with Coco Gauff, who’s coached by Patrick Mouratoglou, who coaches Serena. Six degrees of information… without the furor fueling her, it took Serena a spell to deliver the power and precision she’s known for.
They stayed on serve relatively comfortably through 5-4, with Mcnally hanging in there with the 6-time champion, but the match broke open at that point. McNally had pretty much dialed into Serena’s serve and got the first break of the match. She knew where to stand and which serves to punish. Serena was at first unable to do the same. She looked up and said, “I don’t I know which way it’s going!” in reference to the big serve of the teen.
McNally went on to take the set, 7-5.
Serena came back fired up and quickly took care of her first service game, but even though she put pressure on McNally with breakpoints, she was unable to convert. McNally just held steady and stuck with her capable but frustrated opponent. She had nothing to lose and she played like it. But Serena got another crack at it by breaking her awe-less, steely opponent at 3-2 then held to go up 5-2. McNally still wasn’t backing down though; Serena had set points on the teen’s serve, but wasn’t able to convert. Back and forth they went, ad and deuce at 5-2 until McNally took control. Serena was left with having to serve out the set at 5-3 … and she did just that.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion’s massive arsenal of experience came to the fore after she took the second set. Her footing suddenly became sure and she began to fire down aces like she knows how to and to send penetrating groundstrokes across the net, finding line after line. The fight seeped right out of the inexperienced 17-year-old and 37-year-old ran away with the next 5 games. It was the epitome of “winning ugly,” but Serena won, 5-7, 6-3, 6-1.
“I had to stop making errors,” she said of her erratic play. “I made so many errors in the first two sets. It was just too many. You can’t win tournaments making that many errors.”
“I knew I had to play better, and I knew I could.”
She’ll live to fight another round, against either Czech Karolina Muchova or Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan.
“I’ve played Su-Wei before. Muchova did well in Wimbledon. I actually got to see some of her matches, but not enough. It will be a good job for me to watch a little bit,” she said of the prospect of playing either of the two.
Catch Frances Tiafoe, Cori Gauff, Naomi Osaka and Taylor Townsend in action on Thursday (check your local listings).