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Serena Williams’ shoulder ‘feels solid,’ looks even better

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NEW YORK — So about that inflamed right shoulder that was supposed to hinder Serena Williams at the U.S. Open as she seeks a record 23rd major title: It sure seems to be just fine.

“Definitely feels solid,” Williams said.

Not sure? There’s plenty of evidence. No need to take her word – or her coach’s – for it.

Look at the way Williams beat 47th-ranked Johanna Larsson 6-1, 6-1 on Saturday to reach the fourth round at Flushing Meadows and collect the 307th Grand Slam match victory of her career, surpassing Martina Navratilova for most by a woman in the Open era and equaling Roger Federer for most by anyone since 1968.

Williams reached 121 mph on a serve. She had a half-dozen aces, bringing her total this week to 31. She faced only one break point – her first of the tournament – and saved it. She smacked seven return winners. She compiled a 24-5 total edge in winners.

“Tennis-wise, I think it was very satisfying in all aspects. It’s not perfect, of course,” said her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. “But for someone who didn’t play much matches in the last two months, I think she’s competitive.”

Now there’s an understatement.

“There is no pain. Maybe she feels a little. I don’t know; I’m not in her shoulder. But I see she plays normal. She serves normal. At practice, she serves the quantity that we usually do, full power,” Mouratoglou said. “So I don’t see any problem. And she doesn’t even talk about it. I know it’s under control now.”

That sounds like bad news for upcoming opponents, starting with 52nd-ranked Yaroslava Shvedova, who advanced to the round of 16 in New York for the first time by beating Zhang Shuai 6-2, 7-5.

Monday’s other fourth-round women’s matchups will be Williams’ older sister Venus vs. No. 10 Karolina Pliskova, No. 5 Simona Halep vs. No. 11 Carla Suarez Navarro, and No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska vs. Ana Konjuh. Venus Williams advanced comfortably Saturday night by beating No. 26 Laura Siegemund 6-1, 6-2. In that half of the draw, only the players with the last name Williams have won a Grand Slam title; the sisters could meet in the semifinals a year after Serena eliminated Venus in the quarters.

Two past men’s champions, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro, moved into the fourth round.

Murray, who won the 2012 U.S. Open, had trouble in each of the first two sets, but eventually became more patient during baseline exchanges and took control for a 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Paolo Lorenzi. Murray joins Kyle Edmund – who won Friday to set up a match against No. 1 Novak Djokovic – to give Britain two men in the round of 16 at the American Grand Slam tournament for the first time since 1966, when it was known as the U.S. Championships.

A third British man, Dan Evans, came within a point of also making the fourth round but failed to complete what would have been a significant upset, fading in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (8), 6-2 loss to No. 3 Stan Wawrinka. Evans held a match point at 6-5 in the fourth-set tiebreaker, but Wawrinka erased it, then took that set and raced to a 4-0 lead in the fifth.

Wawrinka next faces No. 14 Nick Kyrgios or Illya Marchenko, who were playing in the night’s last match in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

There’s only one American man left: Jack Sock, who faces No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Sunday. That’s because 19-year-old qualifier Jared Donaldson’s run ended with a straight-set loss to 37-year-old Ivo Karlovic, the oldest man to reach the fourth round in New York since Jimmy Connors was 39 in 1991. Karlovic plays No. 6 Kei Nishikori next.

Del Potro’s resurgence continued with a 7-6 (3), 6-2, 6-3 victory over No. 11 David Ferrer. The 2009 champion in New York missed 2 1/2 years’ worth of major tournaments because of three operations on his left wrist, and he’s ranked only 142nd, which is why he needed a wild-card invitation to get into the field.

Williams is 4-0 against Shvedova, who is best known for the first “golden set” in the Open era, which began in 1968: She won all 24 points of the first set against Sara Errani at Wimbledon in 2012.

“She’s dangerous,” Mouratoglou said. “But I think Serena is even more dangerous.”

Larsson would probably agree.

“You’re out there, you’re trying to find ways to win,” Larsson said, “but sometimes, it’s just not happening.”

Mouratoglou said Williams’ shoulder began bothering her a day or two after Wimbledon, where she teamed with Venus to win doubles and tied Steffi Graf’s Open-era record with Grand Slam singles title No. 22.

This was Williams’ first daytime match of the U.S. Open, so she debuted a new outfit – a white dress accessorized with neon pink compression wraps on her arms, which she called “my `Wonder Woman’ sleeves.”

“I feel this design, in particular, really is kind of like a superhero design,” Williams said. “Like a really powerful, strong character that is strong, but yet isn’t afraid to be soft at the same time.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Serena Williams returning to competition for US Fed Cup team

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) The U.S. Tennis Association says Serena Williams will return to competition for the first time in more than a year at the country’s Fed Cup matches against the Netherlands next month.

Williams has not played an official match since winning the Australian Open in January 2017 for her 23rd Grand Slam singles title. She was pregnant during that tournament and gave birth to a daughter on Sept. 1.

Joining Williams on U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi’s roster announced Tuesday is older sister Venus, a seven-time major champion. The siblings have not played on the Fed Cup team together in three years.

Also on the team: CoCo Vandeweghe, a semifinalist at the Australian Open and U.S. Open last year. A fourth member of the U.S. squad will be announced next week.

The U.S. won last year’s Fed Cup.

The matches against the Netherlands will be held on an indoor hard court in Ashville, North Carolina, on Feb. 10-11.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Injured Nadal out of Australian Open; Cilic into semifinals

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) An injured and visibly struggling Rafael Nadal retired while trailing in the fifth set of his Australian Open quarterfinal match against Marin Cilic.

Top-ranked Nadal fended off five break points in the last game before Cilic broke his serve, then the 16-time major winner went to shake hands with the umpire and his opponent, and angrily hurled his headband into his equipment bag.

No. 6-seeded Cilic advanced to his first semifinal in Australia since 2010 with a score of 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 2-0, retired.

Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, will next play No. 49-ranked Kyle Edmund, who beat No. 3-ranked Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time.

Nadal limped into a news conference about a half-hour later, still wincing when he stepped up onto a platform. He said he felt muscle pain in his upper right leg in the third set but played through it. In the fourth set, chasing a drop shot, he felt the pain get worse “but didn’t realize how bad.”

“Tough moments -not (for) the first time here,” he said. “I’m a positive person, but today is an opportunity lost to be in a semifinal for a Grand Slam and fight for an important title for me.

“It’s really tough to accept.”

Nadal said he’d have medical scans Wednesday to determine the exact location and extent of the injury, which he could only describe as being high on his right leg but not in the hip.

“Unbelievable performance from both of us and really unfortunate for Rafa,” Cilic said. “He’s such an unbelievable competitor. He always gives his best … it’s very unfortunate for him to finish this way.”

It was only the second time Nadal had retired during a Grand Slam match – the last time was also an Australian Open quarterfinal, in 2010 against Andy Murray.

On Tuesday night, he needed a medical timeout after going down 4-1 in the fourth set for treatment on his leg.

Nadal returned but was clearly bothered by the injury, limping and taking as much time as possible as he tried to stretch between points.

He called the trainer again after losing the fourth set, and lasted only two further games.

Cilic had only previously beaten Nadal once in their six previous matches – in their first match at Beijing in 2009.

Nadal had a delayed start to the season because of an injured right knee, but appeared to be in good form through the first four rounds. He now hasn’t won back-to-back Australian Open quarterfinals since 2008 and ’09, the year he won his only Australian title.

“I worked hard to be here,” said Nadal, who skipped tournaments in Abu Dhabi and Brisbane, Australia, while his knee recovered at the start of the season. “We did all the things that we believed were the right things to do.”

His absence also means there’s only one of last year’s singles finalists remaining in the tournament. Roger Federer, who beat Nadal in five sets last year, is playing Tomas Berdych in a quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Serena Williams didn’t defend her title, deciding she hadn’t had enough time to prepare following the birth of her first child last September. Her older sister, Venus Williams, was beaten in the first round.

On top of that, six-time champion Novak Djokovic was upset in the fourth round.

There’ll be a British man in the Australian Open semifinals for the seventh time in nine years, but it won’t be five-time finalist Murray – who skipped the season-opening tournament to have surgery on his hip.

Edmund had never played in a major quarterfinal, had never won five consecutive matches at tour level, had lost both of his previous matches against Dimitrov and had never beaten a top five player.

He checked all those boxes on Rod Laver Arena.

“I am loving it right now, just the way I’m playing,” Edmund said. “My first Grand Slam semifinal. First time I played on one of the biggest courts in the world. To beat a quality of player like Grigor. They’re great feelings. So, yeah, I just try to enjoy it as much as possible.”

After breaking Dimitrov’s serve in the ninth game of the fourth set, Edmund set up match point with an ace. Then he had to wait before a video challenge confirmed that Dimitrov’s last shot – a floating backhand – was out.

“I just held my nerve in that last game and prayed that last ball would be out,” Edmund said. It was out. And so was Dimitrov, who lost a five-set semifinal here last year to Nadal.

“Everything went his way today,” Dimitrov said. “It’s hard to hide a disappointment. It hurts, and so it should.”

Edmund, who had a first-round upset over U.S. Open finalist Kevin Anderson, is now the center of attention for the tennis-loving British public.

“I know what it feels like to be Andy Murray the last eight years,” he said. “It’s probably the first time I’ve done well on my own, so there’s more attention there. Of course you take it in stride.”

Elise Mertens is facing a similar experience.

Mertens upset fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-0 to extend her winning streak to 10 matches, becoming the first Belgian since Kim Clijsters in 2012 to reach the semifinals here.

Mertens, who trains at Clijsters’ academy, said: “Kim, thanks for watching. I’m trying to be in your footsteps this week.”

In the semis, she’ll play either second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki or Carla Suarez Navarro.