Serena Williams’ comeback extends Grand Slam try at US Open

AP Photo
0 Comments

NEW YORK (AP) Even if her latest troublesome first set had finished only an hour earlier, it seemed a distant memory by the time Serena Williams smacked a cross-court forehand passing winner on the run and wound up doing the splits behind the baseline.

She leaned forward, yelled and shook both fists, victory nearly hers.

Yes, Williams knows as well as anyone that you can’t count her out, no matter the deficit, no matter how the pressure might be mounting as she closes in on completing tennis’ first true Grand Slam in 27 years.

Eight times this season at major tournaments, Williams has dropped the opening set. Eight times, she has won.

The latest comeback came in the third round of the U.S. Open on Friday night, when Williams figured out a way to deal with a tricky opponent and get her own game going before it was too late, eventually emerging to grab the last eight games for a 3-6, 7-5, 6-0 victory over American wild-card entry Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

“Getting out of it so many times definitely helps me,” Williams said. “It’s definitely not something I want to do, though. But, hey, a win’s a win, I guess.”

Sure is. Williams ran her Grand Slam record to 24-0 in 2015, and 31-0 since her last defeat at a major, at Wimbledon in June 2014.

At 5-all in the second set, Mattek-Sands was two games from completing the upset. She would not win another game.

“She’s a great closer,” Mattek-Sands said. “Always has been.”

After they left Arthur Ashe Stadium, Rafael Nadal failed to close out a victory despite taking the first two sets, the first time he has blown that big a lead in a Grand Slam match. The eighth-seeded Nadal’s 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 loss to the 32nd-seeded Fabio Fognini of Italy also ends the Spaniard’s 10-year streak of winning at least one major title per season. He lost in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and the French Open, then the second round at Wimbledon.

The No. 1-ranked Williams, meanwhile, is trying to become the first tennis player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in the same season. And now that milestone is four wins away.

Williams, who is 33, was asked whether she remembers watching Graf on television back then.

“Seriously? I mean, I’m old, but come on. Geez,” Williams said, rolling her eyes. “I mean … I was 6. Get serious.”

Add in her title last year in New York, and Williams is bidding for a fifth consecutive Grand Slam title and 22nd overall, which would equal Graf for the most in the professional era, which began in 1968, and second-most in history behind Margaret Court’s 24.

Williams also can become the first woman since Chris Evert in 1975-78 to win four U.S. Opens in a row.

“I don’t know what to expect. I’ve never been on this train,” Williams said, then heard her own words and cracked herself up by noting: “I love metaphors.”

Next up is a fourth-round match Sunday against yet another American, 19th-seeded Madison Keys, who lost to the 33-year-old Williams in the Australian Open semifinals in January, so knows what she is up against.

“Her determination is unlike anyone else’s,” Keys said. “You could be watching a match, and she’d be down 6-0, 5-0, 40-love, and you still don’t think she’s going to lose. You think she’s going to come back and win.”

Get past Keys, and Williams’ quarterfinal opponent could be older sister Venus, who reeled off the last five games to beat 12th-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland 6-3, 6-4.

Did Venus get any family advice before facing Bencic, who is responsible for one of Serena’s two losses in 53 matches in 2015?

“Yes, but that’s between us,” Venus said, breaking into a wide smile. “I think it worked.”

There were moments when it appeared that Mattek-Sands, who is ranked 101st as she comes back from two hip operations, would stop Williams’ streak with a varied, attacking game.

“She went for everything. She played her style, her `Bethanie Mattek-Sands tennis,”‘ said her husband, Justin Sands, who pointed out that Williams “is never, ever out of a match.”

One issue for Williams was that she managed to convert on 3 of 16 break points through the first two sets. In the third, though, she was 3 for 5.

She also compiled a 12-1 edge in forehand winners in that decisive set.

“Usually, when I’m down, I mean, I feel like if I’m not playing well,” Williams said, “I know I can take it to another level.”

 

Djokovic to start 2023 in Adelaide ahead of Australian Open

Getty Images
0 Comments

MELBOURNE, Australia – Novak Djokovic will open his 2023 campaign in Adelaide as he prepares for a shot at a 10th Australian Open crown a year after having his visa revoked on the eve of his title defense.

The 21-time major winner has been granted a visa by the Australian government and has been listed to play at the Adelaide International, which starts Jan. 1.

Serbia isn’t contesting the inaugural United Cup team competition, leaving Djokovic free to play regular warmup tournaments head of the Jan. 16-29 Australian Open.

He’ll be joined in the men’s draw at Adelaide by Russians Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada and Andy Murray.

Ons Jabeur, Aryna Sabalenka will headline the women’s draw.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles last month confirmed Djokovic had been granted a visa to compete in Australia in January. The 35-year-old Serbian had been facing a possible three-year ban after being deported last January over his stance against COVID-19 vaccination.

Djokovic has won the Australian Open a record nine times, including the last three times he played. Rafael Nadal won this year’s title in Djokovic’s absence.

Djokovic was not vaccinated against COVID-19 when he arrived in Melbourne ahead of the 2022 tournament, but Australia has since lifted strict rules for unvaccinated travelers.

Karolina Pliskova reuniting with Sascha Bajin

Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

Two-time Grand Slam finalist Karolina Pliskova is reuniting with coach Sascha Bajin ahead of the 2023 season.

Pliskova posted on her website and her Twitter account about the move, which comes about six months after she and Bajin stopped working together. The pair originally teamed up in November 2020.

While Bajin was her coach, Pliskova reached the final at Wimbledon in 2021 before losing to champion Ash Barty. Pliskova also was the runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open, where she defeated Serena Williams in the semifinals before being beat by Angelique Kerber for the trophy.

After splitting from Bajin in July, Pliskova was coached by Leos Friedl. Their results together included a quarterfinal run at the U.S. Open.

Bajin has worked as a coach or hitting partner with several top tennis players, including Grand Slam title winners Williams, Naomi Osaka, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki.

“Thank you for having me back,” Bajin wrote on Twitter. “Let’s go get it.”

Pliskova is a 30-year-old from the Czech Republic who reached No. 1 in the WTA rankings in 2017 and finished this season at No. 31 after going 21-21 with no titles.

Her team also includes fitness specialist Jez Green and physiotherapist Martin Salvador.

Next year’s first Grand Slam tournament, the Australian Open, begins Jan. 16.