All posts by garadf

Photo Credit: Margot L. Jordon

Soul of the US Open: Serena Williams Etches Name in History Book With 18th Grand Slam Win

Photo Credit: Margot L. Jordan

Photo Credit: Margot L. Jordan

*An unusually mild Sunday afternoon in Flushing, New York,  just two hours before the 2014 US Open ladies final, found WTA tour besties, Serena Williams, 32, and Caroline Wozniacki, 24, both out on the practices courts, with only a few unused courts separating them, getting in their last bit of practice before the big showdown.

Serena was about her business, trading thumping groundstrokes with her hitting partner, Sascha Bajin, while coach Patrick Mouratoglou looked on, but Wozniacki was a little distracted. She’d hit a few balls back across the net coming from her hitting partner, Marta Domachowska, but then she’d stop and take a glances down the courts at Serena’s pre-match regimen. No doubt a combination of nerves and hope she had to be feeling with each glance regarding the outcome of her first Grand Slam final in 5 years.   This time was against her friend, but more importantly a woman on a mission of redemption and history making, the indomitable Serena.

The pair had played one another on nine different occasions, with Serena winning the head-to-head 8-1 (Miami), but never in a Grand Slam final. In fact, Wozniacki had only been to one GS final in her entire career:  the US Open in 2009, which she lost to Belgian Kim Clijsters.

Wozniacki had held the world no.1 ranking for 67 weeks and was known for her superior defensive skills, which helped her wear down opponents and win matches. But in a Slam, all players are on deck and as she would get deeper in such tournaments, she would face big hitters like Clijsters, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, who would all nullify her defense with match dominating offense. Since then, however, she worked to fine-tuned her game and began to beef up her serve and groundstrokes to better hang with those she couldn’t phase before.

As payoff for her work, whereas her earlier matches with Serena Williams more decidedly one-sided, their last two meeting leading up to this US Open went to three close sets, with Williams still winning, but being pushed to the hilt to do so. Further building the momentum, she, for the first time in all their meetings, knocked out a wobbly, but always formidable Sharapova in the US Open round of 16, gaining confidence she hadn’t had before. Her work to build viable weapons coupled with a return to focus – or personal revenge – after being dumped by her then-fiancee, golf pro, Rory Mcllroy, was paying dividends, finding her with a chance to finally earn her first Grand Slam win that’s been so elusive throughout her career.

She likely wouldn’t have preferred the barrier between she and the top prize be an in-form Serena Williams who arrived at her 8th US Open final without having dropped a set and not allowing her opponents to get more than three games per. But it was what it was and not being one to shrink back from a challenge, she did her due diligence and took to Arthur Ashe court to battle it out with her friend.

Serena came into the hard court season as an emotionally fragile woman. Her 2013 had been perhaps the best tennis season of her life, winning 11 tour titles, 2 Grand Slams and two Olympic Gold medals, but 2014 was a different story. She was knocked out before reaching the semifinals in the three Grand Slams (Alize Cornet [Wimbledon], Garbine Muguruza [French Open] and Ana Ivanovic [Australian Open]) previous to the US Open and her last appearance on grass, at Wimbledon in a doubles match with her sister saw her forfeit the match due to disorientation inducing viral illness.

Never one to take setbacks lying down (her spectacular 2013 season was on the heels of a shocking first round loss at the French Open to a much lesser opponent), she burst onto the US Open Series hard courts winning 2 titles (titles) and reaching the semis of the Cincinnati Open. Her performance even qualified her to win an extra $1 million dollars if she wins the US Open title.

Her “resurgence” had been the story of the late summer and tennis prognosticators were eager to see if it would transfer to the last major of the year, the US Open, where she’s the two-time defending champion. There was understandable uncertainty because regular tour titles hadn’t been her bugaboo in 2014; she’s won more titles this year than any of her WTA cohorts, but she just couldn’t produce at the majors. Her dominance over these two weeks at Flushing Meadows, which has led to her earning the opportunity to compete in the final for her 6th US Open title and history making 18th GS win overall, however, has silenced her critics and assured her fans that she’s still “the one to beat.”

Serena was so dominant in 2013 till even with her lackluster Slam performance this year she’s still guaranteed to hang on to her no.1 ranking beyond the tournament and she’s at no. 1 on the year-end Road to Singapore leaderboard. A woman on a mission she’s been called and, with her 18th major title win, she would be in the minds of many the best female athlete that has ever lived.

That’s the woman who was going to be on the other side of the net from Wozniacki during the final.

Who was hungry enough and had the most to prove to walk away with the win? Was it the GS title-less Dane or the history hungry American?

It was decided in a two-set virtual blow out with Serena Williams digging in to rewrite history and prove to herself and her fans that she wasn’t done. Wozniacki was gracious in defeat, but she was no match for a hungry Serena, arguably the best female athlete the world has ever seen.  Serena dominated nearly every point and had Wozniacki on the run for the entire match, outclassing the Dane in every department.  Serve, check…110 – 120mph.  Groundstrokes, check…too powerful to handle.  Returns, check…punishing serves with clean winners off the cuff.

It’s been said that the outcome of her matches are always on her racquet and her performance on Sunday is why.  Some may trouble her when she’s not fully engaged (as did Wozniacki their last two meetings), but when she decides she must win, she usually does, no matter the opponent.

Photo Credit: Margot L. Jordan

Photo Credit: Margot L. Jordan

Serena won match point, collapsed to the court and covered her face. She had done it, defending the title in just over an hour and took home a tennis payout record total of $4 million in prize money, along with a Tiffany 18k bracelet (representing 18 Slams won) presented to her by Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, whom she now shares a page with in the history books.

“It just means so much to me,” she gushed.  “I just never thought I’d be mentioned with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.”

Congrats to Serena Williams, the reigning “Queen of New York” for winning her 6th total and 3rd consecutive US Open title and 18th total Grand Slam at 32 years young.

serena williams

Soul of the US Open: Serena Williams Earns 4th Consecutive US Open Final Appearance

Serena Williams Back In US Open Final

*It was hot and humid, it was windy and one semifinalist, China’s Peng Shuai, had already bitten the dust as a result of match-ending cramps, but Serena Williams took to Arthur Ashe court directly afterwards to compete for her first final appearance at a Grand Slam this year on Friday afternoon.

The number one seed and world no. 1 was to face Ekaterina Makarova of Russia (1st Slam semifinal appearance) who knocked her out of the Australian open in 2012 and along with her partner Elena Vesnina, knocked she and her sister Venus Williams out of US Open doubles just days ago.

That would likely mean trouble for the Russian, as Serena has been known to relentlessly exact revenge on those who find a way to stop her from achieving her goals (see Sharapova rivalry stats since Wimbledon 2004).

Serena had been getting slow starts in some of her matches during this us open though she was obviously able to flip the switch and right the ship, but she made a vow to Chris Evert during an interview that she would change with her semifinal match.

She did.

Serena started out serving, holding easily by using “the biggest weapon in women’s tennis” to great effect. Makarova was able to hold her own service game directly afterwards, making the score 1-1. Serena, in turn, held again, then broke The Russian to go up 3-1. Serena served her way to another hold again for 4-1.

The pressure began to mount for Makarova, likely frazzled by the enormity of the occasion, and she consequently dropped her next service game. Now up 5-1, Serena, was to serve to close out a potentially stress free first set. And In just 46 minutes, the first set went to the 2-time defending champion, putting her just one set away from the opportunity to secure her 6th us open title and her 18th Grand Slam title. If achieved, the feat would tie legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in the number of Grand Slams won since the open era.

An uncharacteristically wobbly Makarova started out serving in the second set, immediately losing the first 3 points for 0-40 and handing three break points to Serena. She saved one with an ace down the T, but Serena bested her in a rally on the next point, causing an unforced error and broke for 1-0.

Quickly up 30-0 in the next game, Serena fires a 121 mph serve up the T and another at 99 mph to hold and consolidate the break for 2-0. Justifiably deflated, Makarova lost the first point on her next service game but drew an unforced error from Serena on the next point for 15-all. But Serena won the next two points for 40-15, securing another chance to break.

She did. One set in hand and 3-0, Serena.

Two big serves, a deft volley and a drive go-behind volley earned her an likely insurmountalbe 4-0 lead. Then the champion immediately went up 30-0 in the next game with Makarova serving. Makarova took the next with a forehand winner, but had a second serve on the next point punished for 40-15. She brought the score to deuce by winning the next two points and secured her first chance to hold in the second set with another one. Makarova narrowly secured the hold for 1-3.

45 minutes in, Serena is now up serving for a 5-1 lead. She held Makarova to just one point, closing out the game by serving a 91 mph unreturnable out wide.

Makarova was able to overcome a 30-all scoreline in her next service game and hold for 2-5 with two decent serves.

Serena, now up to serve for the match could taste her first final of the year.

She took the first point with an unreturnable serve and won the second with a line-finding groundy to go up 30-0 in the game. But she made errors on the next two points to allow Makarova to even the score at 30-all. Makarova was able to make two great returns to take the next two points and broke for the first time for 3-5.

It was a temporary, though, because what she couldn’t get done with her serve, Serena was more than capable on the day to “return” her way to the win.

Serena rushed out to a quick 30-15 lead on Maks next service game, but the Russian won the next point for 30-all. Serena, however, took the next point in a rally and earned her first match point. She didn’t falter and forced an out wide error form the Russian, taking the match, 6-1, 6-3, and earning her spot in her 4th consecutive US Open final.  And she did it in just one hour (maybe Usain Bolt’s presence in her box urged her to speed things up a bit) and this time without dropping a set.

Serena dropped to her knees  in front of the 20k + fans and let out a champion’s roar, as her theme song this week, “Roar,” by Katy Perry has alluded to these two weeks she’s been campaigning at Flushing Meadows.

“I feel so good! I’m so happy…I don’t even know what to say,” she told her Fed Cup coach, Mary Jo Fernandez, in her on court interview.  “I’m just happy to be here in New York in another final.”

The “oldest woman to hold the number one ranking and to win a US Open (2013)” put in a comprehensive performance and she’ll compete against her friend, Caroline Wozniacki, on Sunday for the title.

“I want to win and make a little history and she’s such a great person and wants to win her first Grand Slam … I will be happy with whatever the outcome, so I’m gonna enjoy it,” she said when asked her thoughts on the final.

(Serena Earns 4th Consecutive US Open Final Spot – Serena Back In US Open Final)
Serena Williams of United States of America celebrates match point womens' singles semi-final match against Sara Errani of Italy during day twelve of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 6, 2013 in Paris, France

Soul of the US Open: Serena Williams Powers Way to First Semifinal of 2014 Season

2013 French Open - Day Eight

*With Serena Williams, you never know how a match is gonna start these days, given her 2014 tennis season.  Sometimes she comes out firing, as she capable of, then sometimes she comes out flat.

Tonight in a prime time quarterfinal match up with 11th seeded Flavia Pennetta of Italy inside Ashe Stadium, she came out flat.

Serena, vying for her 6th overall US Open title, started the match serving, but she immediately dropped that first service game. Her opponent, realizing how important it is to “get it while the getting is good” against the 17-time Slam champion, held her own service game, then broke Serena a second time to go up 3-0.  It was a promising start for the unanimous underdog.

But, the giant awakened.

The next six games went to Serena, as the packed stadium of 21,793 fans watched her fire off thunderous ground strokes and booming serves, neither of which Pennetta could handle to any significant effect.  She reclaimed the lost games and continued on to decisely close the set out at 6-3.

The second set began with a hold of serve by the Italian – accompanied by two aces and a gutsy war cry, which she was able to follow up by pushing Serena to two break points on the champion’s subsequent service game.

But the serve … oh the serve!

Serena quickly erased the break points with 110+ mph serves and leveled the set 1-all.

Pennetta was deflated, but still in the fight.

After winning the first point of her own service game, the frazzled Italian hit the deck and tumbled from trying to contend with the power of Williams. The fall evoked a friendly “are you ok?” from Serena, but once the no. 1 seed got the green light from her opponent that she wasn’t injured, it was back to the thumping business.  Pennetta, her second consecutive appearance in a US Open quarterfinal, was able to hold that opening service game, but Serena followed that up with a quick hold.

Another exchange of games occurred, bringing the score to 2-all, but the very capable tournament favorite cranked things up another notch to break the Italian’s serve in 5th game to go up 3-2 and held her own serve directly afterwards to go up 4-2.

Williams, on a ferocious campaign to win her 18th Grand Slam title, broke Penetta’s serve again at 4-2, earning the chance to serve it out in just over an hour. Flavia pushed the game to 30-all, but a rally produced an unforced error from Penetta’s forehand and Serena went up 40-30.  Serena’s next serve was too tough for Penetta to handle and the match ended just like that with a scoreline of  6-3, 6-2.

The Italian never really stood a chance, and with this win, Serena improved her record against her to 6-0, in the cool of the New York night with her team, including sister Venus Williams and fashion mogul Anna Wintour, supporting her.  Baller, Kevin Garnett was also spotted in the crowed taking in the night match at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

When Serena Williams plays her game – with passion, focus and determination, there’s no stopping her and she displayed those three elements during the match against Penetta.  She may have double-faulted she and her sister’s doubles match away on Tuesday night (against her next opponent Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina of Russia), but no such luck for Penetta on Wednesday; she was firing on all cylinders.

The 2-time defending champion’s most formidable competition, Victoria Azarenka – who she’s had to battle with in the last two US Open finals  that she’s won, was eliminated today by Makarova, who she’ll next play.  And although the Russian has beaten her before at a Slam (Australian Open) her current form makes her the favorite in that match up. If she does make it through, she’ll face either China’s Peng Shuai or her “tour bestie” Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark – who’s taken her to three sets in their last two matches – in the final.

“It feels so special to be back in the semifinals in my home country!” she said after the win.

“Honestly I’ve had a tough year in the majors so you can never underestimate anyone,” she said when asked her thoughts on her upcoming “unlikely” opponents.

*American Hopefuls Taylor Townsend and Donald Young were eliminated from the mixed doubles competition earlier in the day on Ashe, 6-3, 6-4.*

serena williams

Soul of the US Open: Serena Williams Breaks Quarterfinal Drought; Advances in Straight Sets

serena_williams

*It’s long been said that Serena Williams is most vulnerable during the early rounds of major tournaments. And that’s never been more evident than this 2014 tennis season; she never advanced past the 4th round of any major (including a wacky Wimbledon meltdown) … until today at the US Open.

Taking on Kaia Kanepi of Estonia in a 4th round match up, Serena, the 2-time defending champion, was finally able to break her Grand Slam quarterfinal drought by beating her deflated opponent 6-3, 6-2.

Kanepi, known for her powerful ground strokes, advanced to this stage of the tournament by saving match points in the third round when taking out Aussie Sam Stosur, who beat Serena for the championship title in 2011.

She had no such luck against the world no. 1 and the tournament’s no. 1 seed.

Serena started the match with her massive serve firing ( mostly above 110 mph unlike earlier in the week when it stayed mores in the 90s), holding for the 1st game. Kanepi was up next, but nerves from being on the big stage inside Ashe caused her to give up three service points, giving Serena a chance to break and grab the early momentum. Serena was a touch tentative on her returns and ground game, however, so she couldn’t convert and Kanepi held. Back on serve, Serena followed that up with an easy hold for 2-1. They traded holds for the next four games, but Serena was able to secure the break at 4-3 to go up 5-3. She relatively easily held and secured a set-ending break at 5-3 to take it 6-3.

Kanepi opened the second set by being broken in the first game for 0-1. But Serena botched and easy overhead on the first point and set the tone for losing her serve at love. Back level at 1 all, Kanepi felt compelled to return the favor and gave Serena the break right back for 2-1. The ladies each held for the next 2 games to reach 4-2, but Serena broke again to go up 5-2.

Now serving for the match, Serena let her nerves get the best of her. She let up on the gas and made a backhand error, then double faulted twice to lose the game and failed to close out the match. But as it is in tennis, it’s sometimes easier to break to close as the pressure is on the server who’s down in the set. Serena took advantage of that concept and broke Kanepi at 5-3 to excitedly advance in straight sets to the next round of the US Open while her doubles partner Venus Williams looked on from the stands.

In her on court interview after the win, she was jubilant over the results:

“I finally made it to a quarterfinal at a grand slam, yay!!” she emoted. “I kept telling myself, whatever happens here, at least I’m still in doubles.”

As it usually happens, she’s the last American left in the singles competition, men or women. *Taylor Townsend and Donald Young are still alive in mixed doubles.*

Looking to secure her 18th Slam title and 6th US Open, she’ll next meet Flavia Penetta of Italy, who she has a 5-0 head to head over. If she makes it through that match, she’ll meet either her most formidable rival Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and have a rematch of last year’s final or young Serbian qualifier, Aleksandra Kunic who’s vanquished two seeded players, Madison Keys and Petra Kvitova, on her way to the fourth round.

For complete results, click here.

serena williama (us open win over sloane stephens)

Soul of the US Open: Serena Williams Defeats Compatriot to Achieve 4th Round Berth

serena williams

serena williams

*It was a fairly complicated day at the office, but 2-time defending US Open Champion, Serena Williams, was able to power her way through the typical Ashe Stadium wind and her Fed Cup teammate Varvara Lepchenko to earn a fourth round berth at the tournament.

“I can’ t believe I’m in the second week, it’s like a dream come true,” she said, with a touch of sarcasm. “I’ve been a casualty at Grand Slams this year, so I hope to keep hanging in there.”

Playing in a afternoon session inside Arthur Ashe, things started out pretty routinely for the champion. After holds of serve by both players for the first three games, Serena secured the break in the 4th game to go up 3-1. Lepchenko, however, broke right back with her deceiving big lefty forehand for 2-3 to get back on serve then held for 3 all – although facing several break points against her that Serena just couldn’t take advantage of. The top seed took it in stride, however, and held in her next service game for 4-3.

Lepchenko was playing above her normal level, as she had only managed to take 3 games off the 17-time Slam champion in previous matches, but she ultimately succumbed to Serena’s pressure and dropped her next service game for 3-5. Williams was able to summons her legendary big serve and easily closed out the set at 6-3.

Things got a little dicey from there for Serena, however, who’s looking to break her recent challenges with going deep in the Slams as has been her reputation. Of the 3 major tournaments she’s been in during the 2014 season, she hasn’t advanced past the 4th round. And in the second set, her trepidation was evident, because she wasn’t going after the ball as she normally would, her serves were hovering in the 80 and 90 mph range and she often had to face the wall for a few beats to calm her nerves.

She struggled to race out to a lead as she normally does after taking the first set off her opponents. Lepchenko wasn’t deflated by losing the first set and started the second as the steadier of the two. She was hanging with Serena on groundstokes and earning free points with an effective lefty serve. It was a tense trade off of games – with Serena raising the decibels of her grunts and celebrations of points won – up until the sixth, when Serena finally secured the break to go up 5-3, earning a chance to serve it out.

The challenge had spurred a raise in level from the champion and she got the biggest weapon in women’s tennis working again – her serve – to easily close the match.

The tournament favorite, Serena had only lost 5 games total in her previous two matches in week one, but her sometimes hitting partner was able to manage 6 games against her during their blustery match.

“I definitely had to fight to find my rhythm today, but she was playing pretty well … she was going for her shots,” she said. “She gives 100% on the court and … she’s an incredible fighter.”

In doubles action, the formidable Williams sisters easily took out Spaniards Garbine Muguruza and Carlo Suarez-Navarro on Sunday, 6-1, 6-0. It was Garbine Muguruza who knocked Serena out of this year’s French Open shockingly early, so the win over the duo was presumably sweet revenge. Both Venus and Serena were spot on with their volleys, their groundstrokes were consistent and the serves from both were hovering somewhere between 110 and 120.

With the number one doubles seeds, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, having been bounced early, it’s a safe bet to pencil the sisters in as the tournament winners if they continue with their current form.

 

(Soul of the US Open: Serena Williams Defeats Compatriot)

Venus Williams of USA leaves the court dejected after her womens singles first round match against Elena Vesnina of Russia on day one of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 25, 2012 in London, England

Soul of the US Open: Venus Williams Suffers Heartbreaking Third Round Loss

venus_williams_sony_ericsson_open

*Another tournament, another heartbreak for 7-time Grand Slam champion, Venus Williams, 34.  She fell at the US Open to doubles expert and clay courter, Sara Errani of Italy, in a three-set thriller that had the crowd inside Arthur Ashe Stadium on the edge of their seats.

Venus and Serena played a grueling doubles match on Thursday – the night before, pulling it out in three hard fought sets, but while Serena can bounce back from such, Venus has more dire considerations. Dealing with the fatigue inducing Sjogren’s disease, she never knows when she’ll be zapped of all her energy, which could’ve been the case this Friday afternoon.

When she started the match against 13-seeded Errani, she was as flat as a pancake. Balls were flying by her and her movement between points was at a snail’s pace. Sporadic call outs were coming from the crowd for her to “wake up!” but there seemed little she could do to pump herself up.  The feisty Italian, was well aware of the situation and took full advantage.  She bounced around the court as fast as the balls were flying and romped Williams 6-0 in the first.

But Venus dug deep and answered the call.

The 19th seeded Williams held her serve in the first game – which she hadn’t been able to do before that point – and raced to the end of the set with steadily increasing energy.  She somehow found a way to turn the tables and likewise romp Errani with the same score of 6-0.  And being the hometown favorite with a compelling back story, the electrified crowd on Ashe were totally behind the 2-time champion.

Set three was an all out thriller.

Venus was in full swing, finding lines and hitting winners and Errani was in full fight mode, being the lesser of the two in power and dictating points. The two traded styles, making for a set full of exciting contrasts.

There was much back and forth with breaks of serves in the last set, but the trade-offs ended in a tense tiebreak duel. Tiebreaks arguably favor the biggest server, which would’ve been Venus, but Errani used her astounding doubles prowess to throw Venus off her game. She broke Venus for the first point, but Venus was able to recover it by breaking her back. One thing led to another and it came down to Errani holding a 6-5 lead in the end, on Venus’s serve. Venus was in control of the final exchange, but the Italian surprised her by ending the intense rally with a down the line shot that ended the match.

The crowd was deflated, Venus suffered her fourth heartbreak (all three-setters) within a relatively short period and Errani was elated to have beaten a Williams sister for the first time in her career. The loss was very untimely, because while Venus was on court, her most formidable opponents left in her side of the draw, Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep were both on their way out of the tournament as well.

Venus Williams is still alive in doubles with her sister, but one more victory at Flushing would’ve been a story for the ages, given her circumstances. Maybe next year.