Serena, Venus Williams lose in first round of U.S. Open doubles

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK – Serena and Venus Williams traded fist bumps or palm slaps and chatted between points. They smiled while conversing in their seats at changeovers.

When their first doubles match together in 4 1/2 years ended with a loss at the U.S Open, the siblings hugged each other, then left the court to a standing ovation.

The Williams sisters were eliminated by the Czech pair of Lucie Hradecka and Linda Noskova 7-6 (5), 6-4 at Flushing Meadows.

“I was speechless when I found out I’m going to face these two. I mean, they’re legends. And I was always such a big fan of them, especially Serena. She has been my idol since ever, probably,” said Noskova, a 17-year-old making her Grand Slam debut in doubles. “So I was really happy, excited, but kind of scared, to face them.”

Arthur Ashe Stadium had never hosted a first-round doubles match – for women or men, during the night or day – until this one featuring two members of one family who have combined to claim 14 Grand Slam titles in doubles.

“It’s something incredible, because playing first round in a huge stadium, with 23,000 people, is something amazing,” said the 37-year-old Hradecka, who won major doubles trophies with Andrea Hlavackova at the 2013 U.S. Open and 2011 French Open. “I don’t think (when) we played the final here, it was packed like this.”

The Williams sisters, who did not do interviews after the match, were partnering up for the first time since the 2018 French Open. This was their fourth first-round doubles defeat at a Slam; the most recent had been at the 2013 French Open.

“I’m still in shock that we won,” Hradecka said in an on-court interview right after the match’s conclusion.

Speaking to the sellout crowd of 23,859, she said: “I’m so sorry for you that we beat them, but we are so happy that we did it.”

The fans were not nearly as boisterous as they were for each of the two victories in singles this week for Serena, who has hinted that this will be the final event of her career.

Serena plays Ajla Tomljanovic in the third round of singles; Venus was bounced from that bracket in the first round.

After a rather subdued entrance from the locker room by Hradecka and Noskova, who were competing as a team for the first time, a video tribute to the Williams-Williams pairing played on the Ashe videoboards, with a narrator introducing “two of the greatest athletes on Planet Earth” and, in a reference to Serena’s looming retirement, saying, “It’s not too late to change your mind.”

There was footage of them through the years, including as kids with white beads in their hair (like Serena’s daughter, Olympia, wore on opening night) and, later, winning titles.

Olympia, who turned 5, was not there for this one, Serena’s husband, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian was, as were the sisters’ mother, Oracene Price, and their sister, Isha.

During the pre-match warmup, the announcer noted that the sisters are 14-0 in Grand Slam doubles finals and declared: “They’ve transformed and elevated the sport as we know it.”

The spectators saved their biggest cheers for some of Serena’s best efforts, whether aces or putaways or an on-the-run forehand winner. The sisters went up 5-4 early and held two set points there on Noskova’s serve, but could not convert either.

The loudest moment probably arrived after a 19-stroke point won by the sisters during the first-set tiebreaker, featuring three swinging volleys by Serena. That put them ahead 4-3, and soon it was 5-3.

But Hradecka and Noskova grabbed the next four points to claim that set. They then jumped ahead 3-0 in the second, and after the Williams sisters made it 4-all, the Czech team pulled away.

The Williams siblings received a wild-card entry into this year’s doubles field. Serena, who turns 41 next month, and Venus, who turned 42 in June, won doubles trophies at the U.S. Open in 1999 — the year Serena won her first major singles trophy at age 17 in New York — and 2009.

They have a total of 30 major trophies in singles: 23 for Serena, seven for Venus.

“Playing against the Williams sisters,” Noskova said, “is a special moment for everybody.”

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
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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

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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.”