Serena Williams loses in most lopsided defeat of career

Getty Images
5 Comments

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Serena Williams walked off the court offering waves to a supportive Bay Area crowd that certainly didn’t expect to see the 23-time Grand Slam champion’s early exit.

In the most lopsided defeat of her career, Williams’ disappointing night ended in less than an hour as she lost her opening match of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic on Tuesday night to Johanna Konta, 6-1, 6-0.

When the 52-minute match ended on Williams’ forehand into the net, she quickly grabbed her gear and headed off the court. She had never won only one game – she won her serve for the initial game Tuesday then not another. She got two games at the 2014 WTA finals in Singapore, falling 6-0, 6-2 to Simona Halep.

“I know I can play a zillion times better so that kind of helps out, too. I have so many things on my mind I don’t have time to be shocked about a loss that clearly wasn’t at my best right now,” Williams said. “When I was out there, was fighting. That’s the only thing I can say, I wasn’t just like giving it away and I was moving a lot better. So I’m just trying to take the positives out of it.”

While Williams was encouraged by her court coverage, she hardly looked like herself on a cool summer evening. She double-faulted and landed drop shots in the net. Williams missed returns and sprayed her groundstrokes long and wide.

Konta, who captured her first WTA title two years ago at Stanford, got on a roll with a quick first set and didn’t take a chance in letting Williams get back in it. Konta closed the first game of the second with consecutive aces under 100 mph.

“I think she played well in the second set,” Williams said. “I wasn’t sharp at all in the first set and I think she got confident and clearly ran away with it.”

The sixth-seeded Williams is a three-time champion in the Bay Area. This marked the fifth tournament for the 36-year-old Williams since giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia, last September. It’s her first tournament since her straight-set Wimbledon loss to Angelique Kerber.

Williams shrugged in disbelief when things went well, and when they didn’t. She gestured with her hand when the ball hit the lowest part of the net.

Williams had moments of brilliant shot-making to win long rallies, then would put a drop shot into the net and sigh in disappointment.

The good shots were to be celebrated.

She pumped her left arm and yelled “yes!” after winning the first point of the second game in the second. Williams then outlasted Konta for a long third point but was unable to hold serve.

“It’s difficult, I guess. It’s not I guess, for sure,” she said of trying to find that consistency again.

Williams, wearing a long-sleeved red dress and headband and cheered by the pro-Williams crowd, lost her second service game in the initial set and Konta then held for 3-1 as Williams made unforced errors with her timing not quite consistently there on the serve and ground game.

In the sixth game of the first set, Konta hit a 101 mph ace for ad then Williams got it back to deuce before Konta held for 5-1.

Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, returned to the Bay Area event for what is the former Stanford WTA stop that moved to San Jose State University for the first time.

Big sister Venus is also playing here this week.

From here, Serena Williams goes to Montreal next week as she received a wild card into the Rogers Cup.

Following her loss in the Wimbledon final to Angelique Kerber, Williams said she had proven to herself that she could still compete to win Grand Slams.

Her next Grand Slam title would tie her with Margaret Court for the most with 24. She already has the most major trophies in the professional era.

Williams was treated for frightening blood clots after having her baby. At the All England Club, she wore special compression leggings as a precaution.

Rybakina, Sabalenka to meet in Australian Open women’s final

australian open
Mike Frey/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

MELBOURNE, Australia — What all seemed so different, so daunting, even, about trying to win a Grand Slam title to Elena Rybakina a little more than six months ago is now coming rather naturally.

And if she can win one more match, she will add a championship at the Australian Open to the one she collected at Wimbledon.

Rybakina, a 23-year-old who represents Kazakhstan, reached her second final in a span of three major tournaments by beating Victoria Azarenka 7-6 (4), 6-3 at Melbourne Park on Thursday, signaling a rapid rise toward the top of tennis.

“Everything was new at Wimbledon,” Rybakina said after hitting nine aces in the semifinals to raise her tournament-leading total to 44. “Now I more or less understand what to expect.”

That could come in handy Saturday, when she will face No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Sabalenka reached her first Grand Slam title match at age 24 by beating unseeded Magda Linette 7-6 (1), 6-2 in Thursday’s second semifinal.

Sabalenka improved to 10-0 in 2023, winning all 20 sets she has contested this season.

More importantly, the victory over Linette gave Sabalenka her first taste of success in a Slam semi after going 0-3 at that stage until now, losing each previous attempt by a 6-4 score in the third set.

Rybakina and Sabalenka employ a somewhat similar brand of tennis, relying on big serves and big hitting at the baseline. Sabalenka is far less cautious, though, and her penchant for high-risk, high-reward play was evident against Linette, who had never before been past the third round in 29 appearances at majors.

Sabalenka finished with a whopping 33-9 edge in winners, but also compiled more unforced errors – including a trio that led to a break at love by Linette in the opening game.

The key to both semifinals turned out to be a first-set tiebreaker. Azarenka lost the mark on her strokes, for the most part, making things smoother for Rybakina, while Sabalenka raced to a 6-0 lead in hers. It wasn’t the case that each and every shot Sabalenka hit landed right on a line, but it must have seemed that way to Linette.

“In the tiebreaker, I really found my rhythm,” Sabalenka said. “Started trusting myself. Started going for my shots.”

Rybakina’s win over Azarenka, the champion at Melbourne Park in 2012 and 2013, added to what already was an impressive run through a string of top opponents. She also beat No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 17 Jelena Ostapenko – both owners of major titles – and 2022 Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins.

“For sure, they’re very experienced players,” said Rybakina, whose parents and sister have been in town throughout the Australian Open. “I knew that I have to focus on every point.”

She delivered serves at up to 117 mph (189 kph) and stinging groundstrokes that she used to close points seemingly at will on Thursday. Her performance was particularly noteworthy against a returner and defender as established on hard courts as Azarenka, a former No. 1 and a three-time runner-up at the U.S. Open.

“Kind of hard to digest,” Azarenka said. “Obviously, I had quite a few chances that I gave myself.”

Rybakina is just 23, 10 years younger than Azarenka, and the future sure looks bright at the moment.

Rybakina might be seeded just 22nd in Melbourne, and ranked just 25th, but those numbers are rather misleading and not indicative at all of her talent and form. She did not get the usual bump from her title last July at Wimbledon, where zero rankings points were awarded after the All England Club banned players from Russia and Belarus because of the invasion of Ukraine.

Rybakina was born in Moscow; she switched to Kazakhstan in 2018, when that country offered to fund her tennis career.

It was breezy and chilly at Rod Laver Arena from the start of Rybakina vs. Azarenka, with the temperature dipping below 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).

That had a role in the way the first set was as much of a seesaw as can be, with each player seeming to gain the upper hand – and then ceding it just as quickly. Both found the conditions slowed down the tennis balls.

“Kind of misjudged a lot of balls,” Azarenka said.

Rybakina encountered similar issues and her occasional inconsistency was encapsulated by the very first game. She began, inauspiciously enough, with a double-fault, before holding with the help of three aces.

Azarenka nosed ahead by breaking for a 3-2 lead on a leaping, full-extension volley winner with both women at the net. Rybakina, though, broke right back, and then once more to go up 5-3.

Azarenka saved a set point at 5-3 with a terrific down-the-line forehand passing shot, wound up taking the game with a backhand she accented with a shout of “Let’s go!”

A mistake-filled tiebreaker ended with Azarenka pushing a forehand wide to cap an 11-shot exchange, and the set belonged to Rybakina. She broke at love for a 2-1 lead in the second, and while they competed for another 25 minutes, the outcome was never really much in doubt.

Sure, Rybakina again faltered for a bit while trying to serve out the victory at 5-2. No one expected Azarenka to go quietly. But one last break, aided by a double-fault from Azarenka, allowed Rybakina to take another step toward another trophy.

“Ready,” she said, “to give everything I have left.”

Paul, McDonald on US Davis Cup team; Nainkin interim captain

us davis cup
Mike Frey/USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul and the player who eliminated Rafael Nadal at Melbourne Park, Mackenzie McDonald, are among the players picked by interim captain David Nainkin for the U.S. Davis Cup team’s matches at Uzbekistan next week.

Nainkin’s appointment was announced Friday, three weeks after Mardy Fish’s tenure as captain ended.

Nainkin has been with the U.S. Tennis Association since 2004. He will be assisted against Uzbekistan by Dean Goldfine, who coached 20-year-old Ben Shelton during his quarterfinal run at the Australian Open.

Paul beat Shelton in that round before losing to Novak Djokovic on Friday night.

The other members of the U.S. roster are Denis Kudla, Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek. Kudla replaces Jenson Brooksby on the team.

The matches will be played on indoor hard courts on Feb. 3-4.