Finding Balance Is Not Easy But Serena Williams Is Finding It At The US Open

NEW YORK, September 2, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

When six-time United States Open champion Serena Williams beat No. 22 seed Petra Martic of Croatia, 6-3, 6-4, on Arthur Ashe Stadium Sunday afternoon, it marked the 16th time the American legend has reached the US Open quarterfinal round in 20 years and it was the 52nd major quarterfinal overall. That’s consistency.

However, finding balance between being arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time and a first-time mother is not easy. Two years to the day after Williams, now 37, gave birth to her daughter Olympia – round by round – she’s making her mark at this year’s final Grand Slam event with her eyes on the championship prize that would give her a record-tying 24th major – a mark currently held by Margaret Court. Williams has yet to win a major since returning from maternity leave in spring 2018. During her on-court interview with ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi after her win, Williams said, “I’m doing it for all of us,” a reference to winning on behalf of all mothers.

“Every single match I have played, people come and they play their best,” Williams said later during her post-match news conference, as quoted by the WTA Tour website. “For me, I have to be the greatest whether it’s against the second seed, the No. 1 seed, or the No. 80th player in the world. I have to show up or else I’m going to go home.

“I feel like in this tournament, I guess, I have definitely turned a different zone. I’m not sure if I can articulate what zone that is. But it’s not about kind, it’s not to myself, it’s not about anything in particular. It’s definitely something different, though.”

The Williams-Martic matchup marked the first time the eighth seed Williams and Martic, a Top 25 foe and the Croatian No. 1, had faced each other. While the outcome went according to the seeding of the two players, Martic, who had never advanced past the second round in seven previous US Open tries, was solid in defeat, and Williams put a scare into the outcome when she turned her right ankle at 2-all in the second set that required a medical time out during the fifth-game changeover.

“I feel fine right now physically, and obviously my state is super intense,” said Williams, as quoted by the US Open website. “I’m always incredibly intense. Just trying to keep moving forward.

“I usually know if it’s horrible early on,” said Williams in describing the condition of her ankle. “I mean, I had a really bad ankle sprain in January. I was like, instantly, ‘No, this can’t happen. I’m finally healthy.’ But I’ll see tomorrow. So far I’m good. I have been managing it. We’ll see tomorrow.”

Williams won nearly 80 percent of her first-serve points and finished with 38 winners against just 19 unforced errors. She closed out the match with her fourth ace. The victory improved Williams’ outstanding US Open fourth-round match record to 16-2 and she’s now advanced to the quarterfinals in her last 11 appearances at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

With both No. 2 seed Ashleigh Barty and No. 3 seed Karolina Pliskova both losing on Sunday, Williams has a very good chance of achieving a rematch of last year’s US Open final against World No. 1 Naomi Osaka. The top seed will be in action Monday on Arthur Ashe Stadium against 13th seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland in a round of 16 match.

Career-best win as Wang upsets Barty

No. 18 seed Wang Qiang of China has never played in the second week of a Grand Slam. However, there’s always a first time. Sunday on Louis Armstrong Stadium, she pulled off a stunning upset of No. 2 seed Ashleigh Barty from Australia, 6-2, 6-4, in one hour and 22 minutes to advance to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

“I think I’m really focused on the court today,” the 27-year-old Wang said after her victory. “I really enjoyed the way I played.”

During her post-match remarks, Wang paid tribute to her late coach Peter McNamara, who passed away earlier this year. “He helped me a lot. Is really tough to me to hear he passed. I think he’s always been there with me, yes. He told me how to play the match. He took me to the professional tennis. He always believed in me. He told me I can be the top player.”

The World No. 2 Barty, 23, who was the only female player to reach the second week of all four 2019 majors, gave props to Wang’s clutch performance during her post-match news conference. “I felt like she was able to put the ball with great depth in difficult positions for me,” she said, as quoted by the WTA Tour website. “I still was able to create opportunities – just very frustrating that on the big points today, Q played a lot better.”

Barty was zero-for-nine on break point opportunities against Wang and she hit an uncharacteristic 39 unforced errors. Meanwhile, Wang made the most of her opportunities – converting three break points – despite hitting just 11 winners.

“I think I probably missed, on the slice in particular, half a dozen in a standard rally ball where they just float along, just clip the tape,” said Barty. That’s frustrating with things like that. It’s not missing by massive margins. There were times where I pressed, and I did miss by big margins. Q also forced me to do that with her depth, her depth control a lot of the time.”

Although Barty held off three match points, Wang won on her fourth match point and became the first Chinese player to advance to the US Open quarterfinals since Peng Shuai in 2014. Next, Wang will face Serena Williams in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.

Svitolina, Konta reach quarterfinals

Fifth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine reached her first US Open quarterfinal with her 7-5, 6-4 win over 10th seed Madison Keys of the United States that lasted just 74 minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium Sunday night.

“It was a very good performance from me, very solid from the beginning to the end,” said Svitolina during her post-match press conference. “I felt very good today and it was very special to play in front of so many people.”

Svitolina won 92 percent (36 of 39) of her first-serve points and dropped just 12 points overall – two of them on double faults – throughout her 11 service games against the 2017 US Open finalist. She faced no break points, finished with 10 winners and hit just 13 unforced errors. By comparison, Key connected on 32 winners but committed 39 unforced errors.

Svitolina is the first Ukrainian since Kateryna Bondarenko in 2009 to reach the US Open quarterfinals.

Next, Svitolina will face 16th seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain, who also reached her first US Open quarterfinal with a 6-7 (1), 6-3, 7-5 comeback win over third seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic that took two hours and 19 minutes to decide.

“Whatever the game asks of me, I’m prepared to be out there and play for as long as I need to – I will either do well or I don’t,” said Konta. “I don’t feel any pressure to be out there for a short amount of time. I’m happy to stay out there for a long amount of time. I think a lot of matches now, the way they are, there’s a lot of very tough, long battles that a lot of players are having. I feel prepared to be out there if I need to.”

Konta finished her victory over Pliskova with 45 winners to 36 unforced errors, and Pliskova hit 36 winners but committed 39 unforced errors.

When they meet Tuesday, Svitolina will carry a 4-0 career head-to-head advantage over Konta into their quarterfinal round match.

By the numbers

• With her win over Petra Martic on Sunday, Serena Williams now has 99 career US Open singles wins, which is her best Grand Slam total. By comparison, Williams has won 98 matches at Wimbledon, 86 at the Australian Open and 65 at the French Open. Only Chris Evert (101) has more match wins at the US Open.

• Elina Svitolina has now reached the quarterfinals or better at all four of the Grand Slams, with her career-best major result coming earlier this summer when she made the Wimbledon semifinals.

• Johanna Konta has now reached the quarterfinals at each of the Grand Slams – and this year’s US Open result is her third major quarterfinal of the season. She’s the first Briton since Jo Durie in 1983 to reach the US Open quarterfinals.