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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

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*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.

Sloane Stephens

Soul of the US Open: Brutal Round Two Leaves Sloane Stephens …

Soul of the US Open: Brutal Round Two Leaves Sloane Stephens

Sloane Stephens of the United States returns a shot to Johanna Larsson of Sweden during her women’s singles second round match on Day Three of the 2014 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 27, 2014 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City

*Two questions have already been answered at this year’s US Open: Will Donald Young break his performance drought and go deep in the tournament? No; bounced in first round.

Will Sloane Stephens break HER recent performance drought and live up to expectations? No; bounced in the second round along with big-hitting compatriot Madison Keys.

The latter questions bears a little discussion, though, since expectations for Young fizzled years ago and Keys is still in the early stages of building a name for herself. She was supposed to be the next Serena Williams, right?

With that, what’s troubling Sloane Stephens’ game?

She’s sure not gonna help in figuring it out. After a puzzling loss to Johanna Larsson in the second round of the US Open, on Arthur Ashe court, she was very tight lipped in her presser. Obviously agitated, she was short with her answers and defiantly adamant that the loss was “just a little speed bump” and she just “needs to keep working hard.”

Meanwhile her peers are beginning to pass her by.

Sloane played a topsy turvy first set in the match she ultimately lost, but was able to turn things around and take it, 7-5 when Larsson was up 5-4, but failed to serve it out. The erratic play could’ve been attributed to the heat, as it was close to 100 degree on court, but when asked if the heat was a factor, she replied with a simple, “no.”

She started off the second set by holding serve, indicating that she had found her groove and was poised to run away with the rest of the match, but the scripts got mixed up. Instead of going for her shots and playing inside the baseline, Stephens became reactive, which is a good way to lose a match. Larsson was able to break down her game from that point on with consistency and deep hitting, drawing error after error from the usually dominant American. Stephens seemed to lose her resolve and faded away. She tumbled out of the tournament 7-5,4-6,2-6.

Stephens is known for making deep runs at majors, even taking out a *granted* hobbled Serena Williams in Australia a couple of years back, but her latest string of Grand Slam results have been dismal in comparison. She lost in the early rounds in Australia and Wimbledon and managed the only the 4th round at the French Open … now round two in New York. She changed coaches after Wimbledon, dropping Paul Annacone and picking up Maria Sharapova’s, Caroline Wozniacki’s and Li Na’s former coach, Thomas Hogstedt, but it doesn’t seem to be making a difference. It’s too early to say that her career is on the decline, but it’s fair to say that her 2014 season has been a bust – though she begs to differ:

“There is a lot of the year left. There is probably like seven more tournaments after that. It’s far from over.”

Sloane’s reputation for not getting up for regular tour tournaments was already common opinion, but expectations of the young American hopeful at Majors are now even beginning to slip.

Another unexpected early departure from the tournament was Poland’s Agniezska Radwanska. She surprisingly lost on Armstrong to China’s Peng Shua. The world no. 4 has never done extremely well at the US Open, but expectations are well beyond a second round exit. She was in the same part of the draw as Sloane Stephens, leaving that section wide open now for a dark horse like Lucie Safarova, Angelique Kerber or Jelena Jankovic to gallop into week two.

Additionally, Sam Stosur (to Kai Kanepi, 6-3,3-6,6-7), Ana Ivanovic  (to K. Pliskova, 5-7,4-6) – both in Serena’s part of the draw and one’s who normally trouble her, and Madison Keys (to A. Krunic, 6-7,6-2,5-7)  all went down in flames on Thursday – and it wasn’t even the hottest day of the tournament so far. It WAS windy and those players who typically use power and finding the lines to get them through , such as the fallen trio, were SOL on the blustery and bloody Thursday.

Conversely, Venus Williams and Serena Williams both skated their way into round 2, comprehensively beating Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky and fellow American Vania King respectively on Ashe court.

Venus played her round two match on Wednesday night, with very pleasant temperatures and to a packed stadium. The conditions were just right for her to call upon her all court game in dispatching her otherwise solid opponent. She easily won the match, in vintage form, 6-1,6-4.

Serena played her round two match on Thursday afternoon, and though she struggled with her serve in the swirling wind, she all but completely shut King out, smothering her with power, winning the match at 6-1,6-0.

On the doubles front, while longtime fan Gladys Knight looked on from the stands, the Williams sisters were challenged by the no. 7 seeds and 2014 Wimbledon finalists, Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic, in their first round match. The first two hard fought sets went to a tiebreaker, but in the third, the sisters found their groove and ran away with the match. Serena tossed in an unusual amount of double faults during the match, when it really mattered, she was able to find her powerful serve and assist Venus, the steadier of the two, with securing the win, 7-6 (0), 6-7 (4), 6-1.

The seedings on the women’s side have been decimated at Flushing, and it’s only the second round. The men, however are performing true to form, with no real upsets to mention. Round three play begins on Friday.

For full results click here.

For scheduling information, click here.

venus & serena

Soul of the US Open: Venus, Serena Williams Advance to Second Round; Most Seeds Follow

venus & serena

*Round one of the 2014 US Open has come to a close, with struggles for sure, but not very many surprises.

The Marquee players, Serena Williams, Roger Federer John Isner, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, Ana Ivanovic, Victoria Azarenka, Venus Williams, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Maria Sharapova, Sloane Stephens, Simona Halep, Agnieszka Radwanska, Ana Ivanovic, John Isner, Gael Monfils, Eugenie Bouchard, Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniaki, David Ferrer and Jo-Wilifred Tsonga, all pulled through their first round matches, but things weren’t that straightforward for some of them.

Romanian Simona Halep started on day one on Arthur Ashe against a young American qualifier, Danielle Rose Collins, who came out playing “lights out” tennis against the jittery world no. 2. Halep lost the first set, but found a way to turn the match around and she escaped an early departure with the score line 6-7,6-1,6-2.

Venus Williams had nearly the same narrative, except she started strong then the wheels fell off early in the first set. She was up a game with three break points to lead 2-0 against the oldest woman in the tournament, 43-year-old Kamiko Date-Krumm of Japan, but she couldn’t convert; the first set was all down hill from there. Venus couldn’t find her rhythm and the unforced errors began to mount, causing her to lose the set 2-6. She recovered at the beginning of the second, however, by securing an immediate break, then went on to comfortably take it, 6-3. She built on that momentum and cruised all the way to a 5-0 lead in the third, but the wheels, once again, began to fall off. She couldn’t close the set out and allowed Date-Krum to stage a mini-comeback, drawing closer to the former champion’s score. But as tensions rose for Venus, Date-Krumm ultimately succumbed to her own and handed Venus the win through unforced errors while serving at 3-5 in the third. The final scoreline was Venus, 2-6,6-3,6-3.

Andy Murray was similarly met with turbulence on day one, but it was of a different nature. He comfortably took the first set, 6-3, but then experienced a loss of concentration and inexplicable discomfort that turned the match into a drama-filled seesaw. The Brit, who’s struggled the entire 2014 season, ultimately ended up on top, but not before dropping a set and trailing 0-4 in another against his unseeded opponent. Murray sealed it with a 6-3,7-6,1-6,7-5 scoreline, but now has plenty of questions to answer about his erratic play.

Caroline Wozniaki of Denmark (aka Serena Wiliams’ tour “bestie”), Angelique Kerber (GER) and Jo-Wilifred Tsonga (FRA) all dropped sets as well on day one, but were able to come out with first round wins, Wozniacki’s by retirement.

Also on day one, Russia’s Maria Sharapova and Serbia’s Novak Djokovic both cruised to easy wins over Russia’s Maria Kirilenko (aka Sharapova’s former “bestie”) and D. Schwartzman respectively; Agnieszka Radwanska completed her first round drubbing of Canadian Sharon Finchman in just 48 minutes, with a 6-1,6-0 scoreline; and American, Sloane Stephens, true to form for her at Grand Slams, took her opponent, Germany’s Annika Beck to the woodshed with a 6-0,6-3 beat down.

On Tuesday, the legend that is America’s Serena Williams played the future of American tennis, Taylor Townsend, in a night match on Ashe. It was relatively highly anticipated due to strides Townsend has made on the WTA tour recently, but she was unable to trouble Williams, a veteran, not only on the tour, but at the US Open. Williams has won it five times and obviously knows her way around the at-times-hot-and-blustery Ashe stadium court. The top seed and two-time defending champion easily dispatched the youngster, sealing deal with a 6-3,6-1 scoreline.

Another accomplished US Open seed, however, wasn’t so fortunate. Dominika Cibulkova, the tournament’s no. 12 seed was eliminated after a three-set battle with a 15-year-old American. Catherine Bellis qualified for the tournament by winning a junior’s tournament, but played well beyond her age in sending the Slovakian packing. Bellis is now this year’s Cinderella story on the order of USA’s Melanie Oudin, who toppled several top players on her way reaching the quarterfinals back in 2009.

The only other remotely surprising outcomes of the first round were American Donald Young going out in the first round to Slovak, Blaz Kavcic in straight sets, 7-5,6-4,6-4; 21st seeded Mikhail Youzhny being taking out by Australian teen sensation Nick Kyrgios 7-5,7-6,2-6,7-6; former US Open champion, 20th seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova, going out to unseeded New Zealander, Marina Erakovic, and Jack Sock retiring due to injury against Spaniard Pablo Andujar. Krygios had already earned a name for himself by decisively taking out then world no. 1, Rafael Nadal recently during the Wimbledon championships and his ascension continues. The young Aussie, whom they call “wild thing” plays a mature game, but his age shows in his temperament as he was issued three code violations on Monday for tantrum-throwing (launched a ball out of the stadium, spewed audible expletive and racquet abuse). He came just one violation shy of being booted from the tournament.

For a full list of Round One results, click here.

For the schedule for Round Two play, click here.

serena & novak1

Soul of the US Open: Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic Lead Fields

Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic Lead Fields in 2014 US Open

Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic

*As of today, Monday, August 25, the world’s most attended sporting event (1 million fans expected this year) has officially begun. The top tennis players in the world from both the ATP and WTA tours, 128 total from each organization, have all ascended on New York City to fight and scrap for arguably the most rewarding prize of the tennis season, the 2014 US Open trophy.

The US Open, the last of the four annual Grand Slams, is held at the Billie Jean King Tennis center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and is considered by many of the players as the most challenging to win. The fans are rowdy and obtrusively passionate, planes continually fly overhead disrupting concentration, and the weather is wholly unpredictable – from intense heat to intermittent rain, making for a tumultuous road to the finish line.

Only the strong survive.

And speaking of strong, leading the field on the women’s side as the number one seed, defending champion and 2014 United Emirates US open series winner is Serena Williams. The 17-time Grand Slam champion’s resume’ speaks for itself, but on her way to amassing that impressive number of Slam wins, she’s conquered New York five times. She’ll open this year’s bid against fellow American Taylor Townsend, a former US Open junior champion whose expected to be among the WTA elite in the future.

Serena Williams is coming into the week riding a wave of momentum. After a disappointing year of Slam performances thus far and a zany 2014 Wimbledon bid, she turned things around by winning “Road to the US Open” tune-up titles in Stanford and Cincinnati and by reaching the semifinals in Montreal before being taken out by her surging sister, Venus Williams. Her recent turn in fortunes also earned her a chance to win an additional $1 million in prize money if she’s the last woman standing at the end of these next two grueling weeks.

Click here for the complete listing of WTA contenders and draw.

On the men’s side, in the absence of last year’s champion and world no. 2, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic will lead the field as the current ATP world no. 1 and the tournament’s no. 1 seed. Djokovic currently owns a single US open title and is looking to claim no. 2 to cap off a topsy turvy season that has some questioning his resolve. He’ll open the 2014 US Open against Argentinian, Diego Schwartzman to begin proving one way or the other.

Novak Djokovic’s fortunes haven’t been so great in 2014, coming into the week having been bounced early in his most recent tournament, leaving him very little match-play preparation for this last push of the season in terms of Grand  Slams. In his favor, however, is his ability to grind his way to Slam finals despite performance otherwise and the fact that the man he’d typically meet on the other side of the net of a final, Rafael Nadal, is out nursing a wrist injury he sustained during practice. As a result, Novak becomes this year’s favorite by default.

Click here for the complete listing of ATP contenders and draw.

There are a number of dark horses, sleepers and “favorite adjacents” on both the men’s and women’s sides, including Venus Williams, Petra Kvitova, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens, Eugenie Bouchard, Simona Halep, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Milos Raonic, Stan Warwrinka, Jo-Wilifred Tsonga, Tomas Berdych, Grigor Dmitrov etc, who all have their compelling narratives, but most bets are on the number one seeds on both sides.

Keep up with the Soul of the US Open as the tournament progresses to see who actually wins and to get answers to the scintillating questions of:

*Can Serena Williams salvage her Slamless 2014 season and take home the big prize in New York to finally make a legend-matching 18 slams?
*Will a lines person or chair umpire rub Serena the wrong way and cause a New York meltdown as has happened on two occasions before?
*Will Novak Djokovic’s new wife and baby steal his concentration and stall him at just one Slam this year?
*Will Venus Williams clinch one more Grand Slam before retiring or will father time, Sjogren’s or both keep her talents at bay?
*What fashion statements will be made by the Williams sisters and others who are known to shock with their tennis fashions?
*Will the tournament reach the anticipated and unprecedented crowd attendance number of 1 million fans?
*Will Sloane Stephens break her recent performance drought and live up to expectations?
*Will Donald Young break HIS performance drought and go deep in the tournament?
*Will any of the young US hopefuls on the women’s side finally breakthrough at this year’s US Open?

and more…

Check your local listings for tournament play or click here for scheduling information.