Serena Dominates Sevastova, Reaches Ninth U.S. Open Final

NEW YORK, September 7, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

Serena Williams got her first Top 10 win of the year when she beat former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open on Tuesday. Perhaps, it merely was a portend of positive things to come for the 23-time Grand Slam champion, who is chasing after the record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles set by Margaret Court.

On Thursday evening, with the roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium closed because of rain, the No. 17 seed Williams had the motivated look of someone locked in against her semifinal-round opponent, Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia.

Although it took two games for the six-time U.S. Open champion to get on track, once she did, Serena thoroughly dominated the No. 19 seed Sevastova by winning 12 of the last 13 games of the match. It added up to a 6-3, 6-0 rout in her favor. The victory advanced Williams to her ninth U.S. Open final and first since 2014. She has reached the final of the last two majors.

If there were any weaknesses with Serena’s movement that Sevastova could expose, it didn’t happen from the third game on during their 66 minute match played before another packed – and, sometimes, noisy – crowd inside Ashe.

Williams hit 31 winners, which included four service aces, controlled the net by winning 24 of 28 opportunities, and broke Sevastova five times in 10 tries. She controlled play from all areas of the court – and left no doubt of her desire to win it all, again.

“I’ve been working hard on my volleys. I have won a few doubles championships, so I know how to volley,” said Williams during an on-court interview after her victory, which improved her record in Grand Slams this year to 15-1 since returning from maternity leave. “I usually only come in to shake hands. However, I wanted to try something different today and it worked in my favor.”

By comparison, Sevastova won just three points at the net, broke Williams only once, and mustered a mere 10 winners. Williams outpointed Sevastova 60-40. She has dropped just one set during the fortnight, against Kaia Kanepi back in the fourth round.

“A year ago I was fighting literally for my life at the hospital,” said Williams, who gave birth last September to her daughter, Alexis Olympia. “So, every time I step out on this court, I am so grateful that I have an opportunity to play this sport. So, no matter what happens in any match, semis, finals … I just feel like I’ve already won.”

Looking ahead to her 31st major final on Saturday afternoon, the 37-year-old Williams said, “I’m just beginning you guys, this has only been a few months. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the year, and next year. I’m really looking forward to the possibilities. This is just the beginning.”

Osaka beats Keys

Meanwhile, No. 21 seed Naomi Osaka played steady if not dominating tennis in defeating Madison Keys of the United States, 6-2, 6-4, in the second semifinal to become the first Japanese woman to reach a Grand Slam final. It was Osaka’s first win in three tries against Keys, a 2017 U.S. Open finalist, who was the highest remaining seed of the four semifinalists at No. 14.

Osaka, 20, showed incredible composure and consistency – with more precise ground strokes – throughout her one hour and 25 minute semifinal showdown against Keys. She gutted out a 13 minute hold of her serve during the second game of the second set, in which she fought off six break points from Keys that set the tone for the remainder of the match. In all, Keys was 0-for-13 in break points won.

Although Osaka hit just 12 winners and hit 20 unforced errors, she pressured Keys into committing 32 unforced errors and broke her opponent three times in four opportunities. Osaka was clutch from beginning to end, winning 63 percent of her first-serve points (38 of 60). She backed it up by securing 58 percent of her second-serve points (15 of 26).

Osaka remained calm and cool throughout, which will serve her well when she faces Williams in the final. In their only previous meeting, Osaka defeated Williams in a first-round match last March in Miami.

During her on-court interview that followed her semifinal victory, Osaka was asked how she managed to save all 13 break points she faced against Keys. She said, “This is going to sound really daft, but I was just thinking ‘I really want to play Serena!’” Asked “why?” by the interviewer, ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, Osaka replied, “Because she’s Serena!”

Men’s doubles final set

With a day of rest for the four men’s singles semifinalists – Rafael Nadal, Juan Martín del Porto, Kei Nishikori and Novak Djokovic – the four remaining men’s doubles teams took to Louis Armstrong Stadium on Thursday to play their semifinal-round matches.

After finishing 2017 as the No. 1 doubles team in the world, No. 7 seeds Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil, one of three seeded teams that reached the semifinals, faced alternates Malek Jaziri of Tunisia and Radu Albot of Moldova.

After splitting sets, Jaziri’s serve was broken in the fourth game of the third set from which Kubot and Melo never looked back. Although Jaziri and Albot fought off one match point in the eighth game, Kubot served out the third set and he and Melo won on their second match-point opportunity, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3.

The Jaziri/Albot team, formed during Wimbledon earlier this summer, gained entry into the U.S. Open when 2016 finalists Pablo Carreño Busta and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez withdrew on opening day. The Tunisian and Moldovan beat 2017 U.S. Open champions Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau and 2016 U.S. Open champions Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares en route to becoming the first players from their respective countries to reach a Grand Slam semifinal in either doubles or singles.

The second semifinal matched No. 3 seeds Mike Bryan and Jack Sock of the United States, the reigning Wimbledon champions, against No. 5 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both of Columbia – the longest-running team on the ATP World Tour – who were making their 28th Grand Slam appearance.

Like the first semifinal, Bryan and Sock were pushed to three sets by Cabal and Farah before prevailing 6-2, 6-7 (1), 6-4. The Americans won the match on a break-point opportunity by converting their 50th winner of the two hour and 15 minute match.

Bryan and Sock have made a formidable duo in the absence of Bryan’s twin brother, Bob, who is away nursing a hip injury. Mike Bryan and Sock are vying to be the first team to win consecutive Grand Slam titles since the Bryan brothers won four straight from the 2012 U.S. Open through 2013 Wimbledon. Next week, it’s likely Bryan and Sock will play the doubles rubber in the U.S.-Croatia Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group semifinal tie.

The U.S. Open men’s doubles final will be played Friday afternoon on Arthur Ashe Stadium beginning at noon Eastern Time (5 p.m. GMT).

Sweating the details

On Wednesday night during the Novak Djokovic-John Millman quarterfinal match, played under very humid conditions on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Millman approached Djokovic at the net with the score at 2-all in the second set and essentially said, “Do you mind, mate, if I go and just change my clothes because they’re entirely wet?” Djokovic agreed to the request, waving him on, and said in so many words, “I could do with the rest.” It turned into a 10-minute interlude in which Millman grabbed an entirely fresh kit out of his equipment bag – including shoes – and retired to a restroom just off the court to change out of his soaking wet clothes and shoes. Meanwhile, Djokovic was captured by TV cameras and photographers with his shirt off, sitting relaxed and at ease at his bench – smiling profusely – and enjoying the unexpected respite.

“I’ve never seen anything like this happening before,” said BBC5 Live’s David Law, co-host of The Tennis Podcast. “Basically, they agreed between themselves that ‘this is crazy, it’s too humid, we’re burning up here.’ Djokovic also was in need of some salt tablets, which his wife eventually retrieved for him. My goodness, this is dramatic and bizarre!”

Law’s co-host, Catherine Whitaker, agreed. The Amazon Prime Video U.K. presenter said, “Yes, completely, and if John Millman weren’t universally recognized as the nicest guy in tennis, that request might not have gone down quite as well. You can’t question John Millman’s sportsmanship.”

Later, the U.S. Open issued an official statement on the Djokovic-Millman match. It read: “At two games all in the second set of the Novak Djokovic-John Millman match, Millman approached the chair umpire to note his excessive sweating and the moisture it was leaving on the court. The chair determained that the surface was dangerous enough to invoke the ‘Equipment Out of Adjustment’ provision in the ITF Duties and Procedures for Officials and allowed Millman to go off court to change clothes/shoes. Both players agreed that he should do so.

“Because the chair umpire deemed the situation within the ‘Equipment Out of Adjustment’ provision, Millman was not charged with an official change of attire or bathroom break.”

What they’re saying

In an interview with Tennis Channel on Wednesday, USTA Chairman and President Katrina Adams said, this year’s U.S. Open “has been so much fun. There’s so much excitement around here; there’s so many new things.” Adams pointed to the opening of the new Louis Armstrong Stadium and the record-setting crowds attending the U.S. Open. She also noted that night matches, which have featured many of the top tennis stars each night – Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, to name a few – separates the U.S. Open from other majors. “It’s a great feeling under lights when the players come out and the crowd goes wild. This is New York! It’s showtime, it’s like Broadway. When you have a match like Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem finishing after 2 a.m. – and to see this building erupting – that’s what New York is about; it’s what the U.S. Open is all about.”