NEW YORK, August 27, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Together, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova have shared a combined 340 weeks ranked No. 1 in the world. On Opening Night Monday at the United States Open, inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, the two celebrated former champions met in a first round match that was full of energy and excitement for the six-time champion Williams only. She played focused and determined from first ball to last ball and Sharapova never stood a chance.
The eight-seeded Williams from the United States improved her career head-to-head against the 87th-ranked Sharapova of Russia to 20-2 with her 19th consecutive victory, 6-1, 6-1, that was over in just 58 minutes. The 37-year-old Williams hit 16 winners to 12 unforced errors and won 78 percent (21 of 27) of her first-serve points. She broke Sharapova on five of six opportunities and won all 10 points off of Sharapova’s second serve. Meanwhile, Sharapova, 32, won just 52 percent (14 of 27) of her first-serve points, hit just six winners and committed 20 unforced errors. She was 0-for-5 in break-point opportunities. Williams outpointed Sharapova 56-28 as she won her 812th career victory and 20th match of the season.
“It’s really important because it’s good to have tough matches,” Williams said of her win over Sharapova during her post-match news conference, quoted by the WTA Tour website. “It’s good to get through tough matches, especially for me. I really sometimes tend to start slow. It actually almost helps me.”
Sharapova said, “It’s not an easy road. It’s never been. But I went through a shoulder procedure about four months ago. To find myself playing at a night match at the US Open with people excited about the matchup, it’s a pretty big deal. I’m fortunate to be a part of that.”
The win was a great performance and great start for Williams. Next, she will face fellow American Caty McNally, 17, a wild card, who beat former Top 10 player Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland, 6-4, 6-1.
Around the US Open
• According to the WTA Insider, four WTA players have a chance of being World No.1 after this year’s US Open:
Current No. 1 Naomi Osaka of Japan, No. 2 Ashleigh Barty of Australia, No. 3 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic and No. 4 Simona Halep of Romania. Two of the four were in action on Opening Day Monday afternoon.
In her 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 first-round win over Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, Barty did not face any break points in the second or third set after losing a one-sided opening set.
After her win, Barty said, “I just didn’t give myself a chance in that first set,” she said, as quoted by the WTA Tour website. “Sort of appalling, probably made a set’s worth of errors. We were able to find a way after that to get into the match and be more patient and really just lock down and wait until I got the right balls and right patterns that I wanted. That was probably the biggest change in the second and third – I was able to get more of those patterns more regularly and in the end build pressure to create more opportunities to break.”
Meanwhile, Pliskova advanced over fellow countrywoman No. 138 Tereza Martincova, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (3) thanks to hitting 35 winners and causing her opponent to hit 30 unforced errors.
“Not perfect today, but I’m through so that’s important,” said Pliskova after her win, quoted by the WTA Tour website. “Of course, the first rounds they are always a little bit nerve-wracking, I would say, for most of the players. It doesn’t help that I played somebody from my country, because then it adds some extra nerves, which maybe they would not be there if she’s from China or somewhere else!”
• Courtney Nguyen, senior writer and podcaster for the WTA Tour website and the WTA Insider, is the recipient of the International Tennis Writers Association’s Bud Collins Award.
The award, named after the late Bud Collins, who was a celebrated American journalist and long-standing member of the ITWA, recognizes individuals working within the tennis industry who have been particularly helpful to journalists.
By the numbers
• Despite outpointing her opponent 105-93, No. 14 seed Angelique Kerber’s 7-5, 0-6, 6-4 first-round loss to No. 54 Kristina Mladenovic marked the second time the German has been ousted in the first round of a major this year. She previously lost in the first round at Roland Garros to Anastasia Potapova of Russia, 6-4, 6-2.
• Coming into Monday’s Opening Night showdown, Serena Williams had made 47 US Open night appearance and won 39 times, while Maria Sharapova had won 23 of 24 US Open night matches.
What they’re saying
Germany’s Alexander Zverev on his current coaching arrangements: “There is nobody I trust more than my father, so I have that voice. I have that person around me. So it’s not like I’m alone right now.”
What they’re tweeting
Brad Gilbert (@bgtennisnatiion): “I am all for the coaching. I liked what they did in the qualifying but I do believe it will be coming next year.”
What they’re writing
Tumaini Carayol, tennis writer for The Guardian of London, on American teen sensation Coco Gauff:
“A few weeks after Coco Gauff’s scene‑stealing run to the fourth round of Wimbledon, the 15-year‑old made her next move. Gauff was announced as a participant in the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. but the announcement came with a caveat – her ranking was too low and the WTA’s age eligibility rules meant she was unable to receive another wildcard, so her participation in the competition was in doubt. She would head to the capital to host fan activities and to showcase her best at practice sessions. The hope was that enough players would withdraw at the last minute to offer her a spot in the qualifying draw.
“Gauff’s prayers were answered and she refused to waste the opportunity. She entered the singles qualifying draw at the 11th hour, where she qualified for the main draw and then won her first WTA event in doubles alongside the 17-year-old Caty McNally. Gauff’s presence brought a record crowd to the tournament’s qualifying rounds and her doubles matches overflowed with frantic spectators as the singles matches on the main courts were empty. In a sport that does not survive without the stars that generate ticket sales and attention, a new one had been born.”