Top Seed Open Loses Its Top Seed, Williams Stunned

WASHINGTON, August 15, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

The last time Serena Williams lost to a player ranked outside of the Top 50 was back in 2017 to Madison Brengle at Auckland. You have to reach back further to find the last time she lost to someone outside the Top 100 like she did against 116th-ranked Shelby Rogers on Friday. It was eight years ago at Roland Garros and the opponent was No. 111 Virginie Razzano.

While Rogers has struggled against Top 10 competition, posting just a 2-8 career record before she played Williams in a rain-delay quarterfinal match at the WTA Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics in Lexington, Ky., the American wild card from Charleston, S.C., came in with the mentality of “if you don’t think you can win …”

Well, as it turns out, Rogers did think she could win – and she did, coming back from a set down to stun Williams 1-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), in two hours and seven minutes. The start of the match was delayed three hours by rain. It marked the first time Rogers had faced Williams and while it wasn’t always pretty, with her victory she’s in very select company as someone with a career winning record against the 23-time Grand Slam champion.

During her post-match Zoom video conference, Rogers said it was important for her going on court think she could win “and knowing I could take care of my service games. Because [Williams] has probably the best serve of all time, and when she wants to, she can win a point on her serve.”

Williams, who was playing in her third three-set match of the tournament, won points often on her first serve – at a 79 percent clip including three aces – and was broken only once.

“I just tried to control what I could control, and that’s mostly my service games,” said Rogers, who won 12 of the 14 games on her serves, “and then, if I had an opportunity, I tried to capitalize. I think the few that I did have today, I was able to do that.”

Rogers won 78 percent of her first-serve points and 68 percent overall. She matched Williams in many different statistical categories. Surprisingly, though, she was outpointed by Williams 89-83.

When she was asked what turned the match around in her favor, Rogers said, “I changed the way I was playing a little bit in the second and third [sets]. I was missing too much in the first, going for too much. I just tried to, honestly, make balls in the second. I don’t think anybody’s really playing their best tennis right now. So, it’s just really finding a way to win, get one more ball back in.”

Teichmann prevails on seventh match point

On Saturday, Rogers will face unseeded No. 63 Jil Teichmann of Switzerland. While Teichmann’s win Thursday over No. 5 seed Yulia Putintseva, ranked 33rd, was her first victory over a Top 100 player this year, her 6-2, 6-4 win over American Catherine “CiCi” Bellis on Friday ensured her of reaching her first hard-court semifinal.

While Teichmann has enjoyed past success on clay, winning two titles last year, at Palermo and Prague, she decided to come to Lexington in order to get match ready on hard courts in anticipation of playing in New York at the Western & Southern Open and the US Open.

Although Teichmann wrapped up her win over the 302nd-ranked Bellis in one hour and 21 minutes, it took seven match points to wrap up the victory. Just one game before she won, Teichmann and Bellis battle through a 26-point marathon game that lasted 17 minutes and featured six match point opportunities for Teichmann and five break points for Bellis. Match point No. 6 featured a back-and-forth, 14-shot rally that Bellis won to temporarily halt Teichmann.

“Yeah, that was a really long game. Obviously, my nerves got up,” said Teichmann via Zoom. “CiCi was playing without any fear and putting a lot of pressure on me. The game had a bit of everything. I’m really happy I won it in two sets.”

Indeed, it was Teichmann who finally prevailed in what turned into a game of mind versus body.

Brady: Three wins all in straight sets

Unseeded American Jennifer Brady has been lights out this week – three wins, all of them in straight sets, and each of them registering barely over an hour on court. On Friday, the 49th-ranked Brady was impressive as she advanced to the semifinals with a 6-1, 6-2 win over 48th-ranked Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic in one hour and four minutes.

Brady came in 5-2 against Top 50 players in her last seven outings. Although Bouzkova was looking to reach her second semifinal of the season, after previously reaching the final at Monterrey in March, it would not be her day. Instead, Brady’s six service aces, 84-percent efficiency in winning points on her first serve and ability in converting five break points against Bouzkova all contributed to her success.

“The way I’m playing, I’m playing aggressive, playing smart, playing well,” said Brady during her Zoom press conference. “I’m happy to be in the semifinals.

“Each match I’m playing I’m getting better. My competitiveness is improving.”

Gauff figures out Jabeur under pressure

The same can be said for Brady’s semifinal opponent, unseeded American teen sensation Coco Gauff. The 53rd-ranked Gauff won her second consecutive three-set match this week and 10th of her career after defeating No. 8 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, the last seed remaining after top seed Serena Williams bowed earlier in the day.

Two days after rallying for a 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-4 win over No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka in the longest match she’s ever played at two hours and 44 minutes, Gauff figured out how to tame the brilliance of  the 39th-ranked Jabeur’s array of slices, spins and drop shots. From 2-4 down in the second set, Gauff turned her quarterfinal match around by winning 10 of the final 11 games of the one hour and 58-minute thriller.

“I like playing under pressure. Pressure is a privilege,” said Gauff during her Zoom video press conference with reporters.

Although Friday’s win wasn’t a statistical gem as Gauff’s 11 double faults can attest, the 16-year-old’s heart and desire – not to mention her determination – willed her to the finish line and advanced her to the second semifinal of her young professional career.

“I don’t know if age has anything to do with it, but staying positive definitely kept me in the match today,” said Gauff. “I’m always going to fight hard and try to do my best.

“Having these tough matches will definitely prepare me for the US Open and getting as many matches in as possible is a goal right now.”

Passing shots

• The first doubles semifinal was won by fourth seeds Hayley Carter of the U.S. and Luisa Stefani of Brazil over the Russian pair of Anna Blinkova and Vera Zvonareva, 7-5, 6-1.

• Five of sixteen Americans who began the tournament on Monday remained by the quarterfinal round. That group is down to three for the semifinals.

• Saturday’s semifinals begin at 11 a.m. Eastern Time (5 p.m. CEST) and will be broadcast on Tennis Channel. First on Center Court will be Shelby Rogers against Jil Teichmann followed by Jen Brady against Coco Gauff. Finally, the second doubles semifinal will pair top seeds Alexa Guarachi of Chile and Desirae Krawczyk of the U.S. against Jil Teichmann and Marie Bouzkova.