Serena Williams likens loss to ‘dating a guy you know sucks’

Getty Images
0 Comments

NEW YORK — Serena Williams let lead after lead slip away, so she figured it was her own fault when yet another match stretched to a third set and she started getting cramps in her weary legs on the way to a surprising loss at the Western & Southern Open.

“I don’t think that helps mentally, when you know the match is over and you won the match, and now your legs were already tried and now they’re even more tired,” Williams said. “I put myself in a bad situation. It’s like dating a guy that you know sucks.”

Early on, Williams got flustered when she got called for taking too much time between points. Later, she flung away her racket after letting the second set get away. In the end, she finished rather meekly in a 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-1 upset against Maria Sakkari on Tuesday night.

This was Williams’ fifth match since professional tennis resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic after a hiatus of nearly six months – and all five have gone three sets. She is 3-2 in that stretch.

The result against No. 13 seed Sakkari was hardly promising for Williams as the U.S. Open’s start approaches next week.

“It’s hard to play the way I’ve been playing and to stay positive. And to play nine hours in a week is too much. I don’t usually play like that,” Williams said. “I literally should have won that match. There was no excuse. It was tough, but I had so many opportunities to win. I have to figure that one out – how to start winning those matches again.”

The Western & Southern Open is usually held in Ohio but was moved to the U.S. Open’s site in Flushing Meadows this year to make for a two-event, no-spectator “bubble” during the pandemic.

Williams was seemingly in control early, serving for the first set at 5-3, 30-0, when things began to unravel. She missed two backhands in a row, then put a forehand into the net to set up a break point, and walked over to the stand holding her towel at the back of the court (the ball people normally handle towels for players, but not during COVID-19).

That’s when chair umpire Aurelie Tourte called a time violation. On the following point, Williams sailed a forehand long to get broken.

At the ensuing changeover, the 23-time Grand Slam champion argued with Tourte, saying: “I mean, I’m getting my own towels. That’s not fair. You should tell me on the sidelines next time if I need to play faster. Believe me, I will. … You didn’t even give me a warning.”

While Williams eventually did grab that set, she again frittered away a 5-3 lead in the second, plus a 4-1 edge in the tiebreaker. When she sat after the second set, the 38-year-old American tossed her racket over her shoulder the way an office worker might flip a crumpled piece of paper toward a trash can.

Williams came out flat in the third set, as if she’d rather be anywhere else. She double-faulted four times in the second game, including on Sakkari’s eighth break chance, to make it 2-0 and that was pretty much that.

Hours earlier, Novak Djokovic’s neck felt much better, and his tennis looked much better, in a 6-2, 6-4 victory over unseeded American Tennys Sandgren that improved the No. 1-ranked man to 20-0 in 2020.

Djokovic was treated by a trainer and played sluggishly in his opening match Monday, but he was at his best from the outset against Sandgren and saved all four break points he faced.

Djokovic will face 34th-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff in the quarterfinals. The other quarterfinal in the top half of the draw will be defending champion Daniil Medvedev against No. 8 seed Roberto Bautista Agut.

Reilly Opelka, a 6-foot-11 American who is ranked 39th, delivered 19 aces and knocked off 2019 U.S. Open semifinalist Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 7-6 (4). Opelka next meets No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, whose 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4) win over No. 16 John Isner was interrupted by a rain delay of nearly 1 1/2 hours late in the first set.

Also interrupted by the weather was three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray’s 6-2, 6-2 loss to 2016 Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic, who has held all 29 games he’s served so far in the tournament.

“It was poor. Didn’t play well. It was not a good day,” said Murray, who hadn’t competed since November because of a pelvic injury and is playing on a metal hip after two operations on that joint. “The positives are that I got three matches in. Physically, I pulled up OK.”

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
Getty Images
2 Comments

SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

Getty Images
3 Comments

LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”