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Serena Williams Ends Indian Wells Boycott

Serena Williams of USA talks to the media during previews for the WTA Finals at the ArtScience Museum on October 19, 2014 in Singapore

Serena Williams of USA talks to the media during previews for the WTA Finals at the ArtScience Museum on October 19, 2014 in Singapore

*It’s the end of an era … or an error thought to be made by tennis fans in Indian Wells, California.  After 13 years of boycotting the BNP Paribas tournament held there at the Tennis Gardens due to what she, her sister and the rest of her family deemed to be overt racism, Serena Williams has decided to at last return to compete.

The story goes: Both sisters advanced to semifinal round, which would’ve found them playing one another. Venus got injured and had to pull out right before the match started, giving Serena a walkover.  The fans were angry that the match was canceled, feeling as if it were fixed, and … what happened next seems to differ in the minds of the Williamses,  the “angry fans” and Indian Wells organizers.  The Williamses recall boos, jeers and racist names being  shouted from the crowd as Serena took to the court  play in the final and her family made their way to their seats, while many of the accused deny it happened that way.  Whatever the case, Serena Williams won the tournament, but fled the stadium in tears shortly thereafter as a result of her perception of what happened.  Her father and at-that-time coach Richard Williams and sister Venus Williams unequivocally attest to Serena’s version of the events.

You decide:

But what’s done is done and – sans what’s going on outside the tennis world right now #SAE – it’s a new day.

Indian Wells isn’t a Grand Slam, but it is a Premier Mandatory Master’s level tournament that features all the top players.  And 2015’s competition will be all the more momentous due to women’s tennis’ biggest and most bankable star’s return. 

Serena Williams will be joined by fellow Americans, Taylor Townsend, Madison Keys, and Sloane Stephens, and her arch nemesis, Maria Sharapova, world no. 2 is also scheduled to play.  She will also be joined by her “friend” and most formidable opponent on tour, Victoria Azarenka, who’s not too long back from injury.  AND the Belarusian will be on deck with who used to be Serena’s trusted hitting partner, Sascha Bajin.  Her long-time friend and colleague defected to Azarenka’s camp sometime after this year’s Australian Open with – according to twitter – no hard feelings:

@bigsascha @vika7 don’t have too much fun without me congrats Sasha

— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) March 4, 2015

He tweeted back:

Thank you @serenawilliams you know @vika7 and me won’t be having any fun. Lol! Thank you for 8 unforgettable years, what a ride it was….

— sascha Bajin (@BigSascha) March 4, 2015

Azarenka joined the tweet-vo in appreciation of Serena’s “coolness” about the change:

“@serenawilliams: @bigsascha @vika7 don’t have too much fun without me congrats Sasha” all love and respect! Thx for being cool

— victoria azarenka (@vika7) March 4, 2015

Could it have really been that simple?  Hmmmm … but, if the two meet, which could only be in the final, it should make for a very interesting match.

“It wasn’t an easy decision.  Sasch said he wanted to be more of a coach, so yeah, he decided to do that,” she said – in short – of the split during her presser.

Back to Serena’s return, IW tournament staff had been reaching out to the Williams sisters for years in an attempt to illicit a change of heart, but no dice from either.  Even in the face of annual fines (due to mandatory tourney), STILL no dice.  But fast forward to today – when racial tensions in the nation are arguably on the rise again – where you’ll find Venus still in boycott mode, but Serena having gone against the grain and forgiven … but would like to forget:

“The whole point of me coming back was not to necessarily focus on what happened 13 years ago,” she told the press.  “It was more or less to focus on how I felt, if it was the right opportunity for me to come back now and for me to be at this tournament.”

As part of her return, which she partly attributed to the late Nelson Mandela’s biography, the 19-time Grand Slam champion even issued a challenge to her fans to donate to her charity and earn a chance to win a free trip to support her as she makes her “desert debut” of sorts.  Kinda like a being a born again virgin; done it before but it’s been such … you get the picture.

“I read the book about a year ago and then I saw the movie,” she said.  … that hit me hard, because I met Mr. Mandela a couple times, and we had some interesting conversations. I just really thought that he made such an impact on my life and the things that I do with charity as well as having an opportunity to meet him. “

“I thought it just — in reading the story, it really hit me in an interesting way.”

Serena will serve her first ball as a mature, 19-time GS winning world no. 1 on Stadium 1 tonight, Friday, at 7 p.m. PST against Monica Niculescu of Romania.  It’s sure to be standing room only, but no word if Richard or Oracene will also show up in support.

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Lincoln Partners With ESSENCE to Honor Exceptional Black Women in Hollywood (Photos)

Jurnee Smollett, Jeanette Jenkins, Tracee Ellis Ross, Tia Mowry, and Holly Robinson-Peete with the Lincoln MKZ at ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood

Jurnee Smollett, Jeanette Jenkins, Tracee Ellis Ross, Tia Mowry, and Holly Robinson-Peete with the Lincoln MKZ at ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood

*BEVERYLY HILLS – Lincoln Motor Company was the presenting sponsor for ESSENCE’s 8th Annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, which took place yesterday at The Beverly Wilshire.

The 2015 ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon honored outstanding women in the television and film industry. The following were this year’s honorees: “Beyond The Lights” actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw; actress, Regina King; costume designer, Ruth Carter; and the cast of the Netflix Original Series, Orange is the New Black.

Lincoln presented Gugu Mbatha-Raw with the 2015 Black Women in Hollywood Best Breakthrough of the Year Award. The award was co-presented by “Selma” actor, David Oyelowo.

The event was attended by notables in the industry including, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Laverne Cox, Alfre Woodard, Ava DuVernay, Uzo Aduba, Kelly Rowland, Mara Brock Akil, Tracee Ellis Ross, Shonda Rhimes and many, many more.

Mariah Howard, the lucky winner of Lincoln’s #shinelikeastar Instagram contest was able to attend the event and take in the Lincoln experience with a guest. Celebrity guests like Ava DuVernay, Bevy Smith, Lorraine Toussaint, Uzo Aduba and others arrived to the event in 2015 Lincoln MKZ’s and Navigators.

Now in its eighth year, the ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon is noted as one of the must-attend events during Oscar week.

Model Chanel Imam attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon presented by Lincoln.

Model Chanel Imam attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon presented by Lincoln.

 TV Producer/Writer Shonda Rhimes attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood luncheon presented by Lincoln

TV Producer/Writer Shonda Rhimes attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood luncheon presented by Lincoln

 Michelle Ebanks (President, ESSENCE Communications), Shawn Thompson (Marketing Manager, Lincoln), Tracee Ellis Ross, Guest, Vanessa Bush (Editor in Chief, ESSENCE Magazine)

Michelle Ebanks (President, ESSENCE Communications), Shawn Thompson (Marketing Manager, Lincoln), Tracee Ellis Ross, Guest, Vanessa Bush (Editor in Chief, ESSENCE Magazine)

Lincoln host Bevy Smith chats with Shawn Thompson, Multi-cultural Marketing ManagerLincoln, at ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood

Lincoln host Bevy Smith chats with Shawn Thompson, Multi-cultural Marketing ManagerLincoln, at ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood

Tia Mowry and husband Cory Hardrict with the Lincoln MKZ at ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood

Tia Mowry and husband Cory Hardrict with the Lincoln MKZ at ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood

Producer Robi Reed attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon presented by Lincoln

Producer Robi Reed attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon presented by Lincoln

Star of “Belle” Gugu Mbatha-Raw attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Lincoln presented by Lincoln

Star of “Belle” Gugu Mbatha-Raw attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Lincoln presented by Lincoln

TV Producer/Writer Mara Brock Akil attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood luncheon presented by Lincoln

TV Producer/Writer Mara Brock Akil attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood luncheon presented by Lincoln

Academy Award nominee John Legend walks the carpet at ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon presented by Lincoln

Academy Award nominee John Legend walks the carpet at ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon presented by Lincoln

Kelly Rowland attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon presented by Lincoln

Kelly Rowland attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon presented by Lincoln

Star of “Orange Is The New Black” Uzo Aduba on the red carpet at ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood presented by Lincoln

Star of “Orange Is The New Black” Uzo Aduba on the red carpet at ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood presented by Lincoln

Academy Award nominee Ava DuVernay attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon presented by Lincoln

Academy Award nominee Ava DuVernay attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon presented by Lincoln

Alfre Woodard attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon presented by Lincoln

Alfre Woodard attends ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Luncheon presented by Lincoln

Star of “Orange Is The New Black” Laverne Cox and ESSENCE Magazine Editor In Chief Vanessa Bush attend ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood presented by Lincoln

Star of “Orange Is The New Black” Laverne Cox and ESSENCE Magazine Editor In Chief Vanessa Bush attend ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood presented by Lincoln

Academy Award nominee Common on the carpet at ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood presented by Lincoln

Academy Award nominee Common on the carpet at ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood presented by Lincoln

Star of “Selma” David Oyelowo attends the ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood event presented by Lincoln

Star of “Selma” David Oyelowo attends the ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood event presented by Lincoln

About Lincoln
The Lincoln Motor Company is the luxury automotive brand of Ford Motor Company, committed to creating compelling vehicles with an exceptional ownership experience to match. The Lincoln Motor Company is in the process of introducing four all-new vehicles in four years starting with the all-new MKZ in 2013. For more information about The Lincoln Motor Company, please visit media.lincoln.com or www.lincoln.com. Follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/lincoln.

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Is BWIM the New Oscars? Essence and Lincoln Motors’ Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon Set for Feb. 19

oprah-winfrey-ava-duvernay*Oscars week is heating up, with preparations in Hollywood underway at the Dolby Theater for the show to air live this Sunday (Feb. 22). But the hoopla surrounding this years’ ceremony has tongues of color wagging with disapproval. Many in the black community feel The Academy (AMPAS) has taken leaps backwards this year in terms of diversity, despite the organization being helmed by a black woman, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, as its president.

In actuality, cries of “whitewashing” and minority exclusion are a huge part of the organization’s historic narrative, but a turning point was seemingly reached in 2001. That year – astonishingly – Denzel Washington and Halle Berry both took home the top awards, Best Actor and Actress in a Leading Role, which had long seemed out of reach.  After that historic year, a steady stream of minority entertainers received nominations or wins  – including a jaw-dropping Best Original Song win in 2005 by rap group Three 6 Mafia (“It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from Hustle and Flow). Not that there weren’t nominations and even wins before then, but the strides made in the concentrated period from ’01 thru ’14 created what some would call a false sense of assurance that the Academy was finally committed to playing fair – until this year.

When the list of nominees for the 2015 ceremony was released, black talking heads’ cries of systemic exclusion were again ignited. The list was a virtual whiteout, including the perceived “snubbing” of the creative forces behind “low-hanging-fruit” film, Selma. The Oprah Winfrey-supported and acted movie managed to eke out Best Picture and Best Song (“Glory” by John Legend and Common) nominations, but was shut out in every other category. The buzz generated from the usually predictive Golden Globes indicated that – movie Annie aside – at least a Best Director nomination was in view for first time black female director, Ava DuVernay; but no such honor was given.  It felt to many like AMPAS, comprised of mostly older white males, had returned to its old ways.

But alas … despite how the Oscar nominations shaped up this year or before, there are organizations that consistently make it a point to recognize and honor the contributions of blacks in the film industry (as well as other areas of entertainment).

Essence Magazine, fueled entirely by celebrating black women, and Lincoln Motor Company are two such companies that demonstrate their commitment to shining the spotlight on black achievement. As one example, these longstanding organizations join forces each year (since ’07) to host the Essence Black Women  in Hollywood Luncheon (BWIM) during the week leading up to the Oscars. The event honors an outstanding group of black women who have made noteworthy impact each year leading up to the luncheon. The illustrious list of honorees from previous years includes industry luminaries such as Oprah Winfrey; Halle Berry; Diahann Carroll; Kerry Washington; Taraji P. Henson; Pam Grier; Nichelle Nichols; Gabrielle Union; Lupita Nyong’o; Ava DuVernay; ironically, AMPAS President, Boone Isaacs and many more.

From a black perspective, it seems that BWIH “is the new Oscars” with the unparalleled caliber of the event and the star power it boasts.  And in keeping with that theme, this 8th annual installment of the luncheon will honor the cast of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black as well as actress/director Regina King; actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw and costume designer Ruth E. Carter.  Former honorees Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay will be among the presenters.

BWIH is the hottest ticket in town and on-site access is limited, but fans can gain exclusive digital access to the luncheon by visiting Essence.com to check out exciting luncheon highlights, some of the happenings from behind the scenes and live streaming of interviews with the stars from the red-carpet. Access begins at 11:00 a.m. PST/2:00 p.m. EST and re-air at 6 p.m. PST/9 p.m. EST.

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.*