Venus Williams Venus Falls to Jie Zheng in 3-set Heartbreaker

*In a day match that turned to night, due in part to intermittent rain delays throughout the day, 2-time US Open champion, Venus Williams, was dispatched from competing for a third US Open trophy by China’s Jie Zheng. The nail biting match began on Upset , er … Armstrong court  at 1 pm, but didn’t end until close to 8:30 p.m. in the evening, decided by a tense third set tiebreaker.

The second round contest started promptly at 1, but stopped after only two points were scored by both women at 15-15.   They wouldn’t take to the court again until some 2 hours later as rain came and lingered over Flushing Meadows for that period.  Once it relented and play resumed, Zheng, world no. 56, easily stole the first set from a then discombobulated Williams, 6-3, with her precise shot making, extremely nimble feet and slow, but well-placed serves, keeping elder Williams sister off balance.  But being the accomplished champion that she is, Venus was able to turn the match around in the second set by tightening up her errant forehand, putting more steam behind her erratic serve and pressuring Zheng’s suspect serve with bigger returns.  She broke the Chinawoman twice during the second, having to battle hard to hold her own serve at times, including through falling rain, but ultimately took it convincingly with a closing break of Zheng’s service game at 6-2.

But the feisty 5’5″ firecracker, Zheng, just wasn’t going away.

Williams left the court for a few moments before the start of the third to take a breather, but came emerged from the locker room and immediately dropped serve.  It was just that kind of match for Venus … if she wasn’t battling from behind on her serve, she was battling from behind in the number of games won or blowing break points that could have decided the match much earlier and in her favor.  But unpredictability is sometimes the nature of the beast in tennis.

After falling behind 0-3, Venus, fueled by the enormous crowd support, was finally able to hold, producing a 1-3 score line, then broke … and got broken back … then broke again to produce the tiebreaker. The crowd was going wild and both ladies were going for broke, but the nature of tiebreakers works in favor of the steadier opponent and that happened to be Zheng during this particular contest.  She was simply steadier on her feet and played the bigger points better.  Zheng appeared the hungrier of the two and took the final set 7-6(5).

It was a heartbreaker for Venus, as she hasn’t been past week one of a Slam since Wimbledon in 2011, though she keeps trying. In fact, her run ended the same way in New York at last year’s US Open when she lost in a three-setter to Angelique Kerber of Germany.  After botching a routine net volley and an easy backhand return to lose the match, she looked over at her box, which contained her mother, Oracene Price, her sister Isha Price, and her coach, David Witt, shrugged and made the dreaded trip to the net to shake hands.

It was Zheng’s first win against a Williams sister in as many as 7 tries and Venus was gracious in the defeat as usual.

But all is not lost for Venus at this year’s open, as she’s also signed up to play doubles with her sister, Serena, who saw her second round singles match on Arthur Ashe Stadium canceled due to the pesky New York rain. She’s no doubt thinking that promised roof on Ashe couldn’t come any sooner. The defending champion was poised to play Galina Voskoboeva of  Kazakhstan in a day match on the featured court, but was sent home around 2-ish, after several matches were rescheduled and canceled for the remainder of the day because they couldn’t be squeezed in.  She’ll play at 1pm on today, followed by Roger Federer.

James Blake Speeds to Retirement

James Blake just announced his retirement days ago, and the time has arrived sooner than he likely wanted or expected.  The US tennis veteran fell to Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic, the human serving machine, after being up two sets at the start of the match.  The wheels fell of his game and he dropped the last three, including two lopsided tiebreaks where his game seemed to desert him.   Likely fueled by his desire to prolong his final tournament, early in the match he found a way to break the Croat’s usually impossible serve multiple times, winning the first two sets, 7-6, 6-3, but he crumbled at the most important moments thereafter. He still managed to dazzle with his all-court skills and athleticism, but he just didn’t have enough in the tank to deal with serve speeds of up to 138 MPH  and the record-breaking-at-the-Open 38 aces that were produced by the smooth and steady Karlovic.  The former world no. 4 had no room for mistakes, but …

James Blake bid his final farewell in tears to the fans who were still wildly supporting him even at midnight at Armstrong stadium when the 5-set match finally ended:

“I’ll never forget you guys,” he said.  “If I were just playing in my backyard, it would’ve been different, but playing in front of you guys made it special.”

He won’t soon be forgotten.

Sloane Stephens Passes Bedtime, but Makes Quick Work of Radwanska

USTA darling, Sloane Stephens, was also on the ticket for Day 3 play, with what would have been a prime-time slot on Ashe against younger Radwanska sister, Urszula.  But as of 10:21pm, the Andy Murray/Michael Llodra match that was to precede her play had just gotten underway and Stephens was looking at a near midnight start time. But that’s a day in the life at the US Open.   It wasn’t known how the unexpectedly late night start would affect the up and coming star’s play, especially with it being her first night match on the largest court in the world, but she’s developed a reputation for finding a way to win her first week matches at the Slams … and she did just that.  After the second latest start for a match in US Open history, 12:30, Sloane wiped up the court with Radwanska, 6-1, 6-1, with a sense of urgency and precision that made a serious statement to her forthcoming opponents, sans Serena Williams, who isn’t afraid of anyone.

Her desire to get it done, which she did in just 58 minutes, produced stunning tennis from the 15th seed.  There was no ball she couldn’t track down, chasing down drop shots, smashing lobs, and making very few errors off the ground along the way.  She was ready for bed and had the game to fulfill her desire.  She advances to round three, where she’ll play fellow American, Jamie Hampton.